Director Bob Bartlett is working with a large canvas, moving 20 actors through a constantly shifting sequence of scenesthe play runs almost two hours without intermissionin the life of Bigger Thomas (JaBen A. Early), a struggling young African-American man in late 1930s Chicago. Bigger lives in a one-room tenement apartment with his religious mother (Renee Charlow) and a younger brother and sister; he's resentful over the family's poverty, mad at the world, and has been in trouble with the law.
Bigger lives in a world of strict divisions of race and class. When fate gives him a step up as chauffeur to wealthy, self-consciously "liberal" Henry G. Dalton (Mick Tindle), Bigger is puzzled both by the condescending kindness of Mrs. Dalton (Danni Stewart) and the attempts by their politically radical daughter Mary (Julie Roundtree) to understand his life experience. His situation is a catastrophe waiting to happen, and it does soon enough.
Early succeeds in carrying this immense role, and the entire production, on his shoulders. Most of the other performers have little chance to make much impact, but Bud Stringer stands out as the Communist lawyer who eloquently defends Bigger in the ultimate battle for his life.
Michael Null and Trena Weiss-Null have created a fluid scenic design that uses a few pieces of furniture in a sequence of settings. Still, this movement adds to the length of the performance to minimal effect. Ed Mose's sound design does a good, economical job in setting the scene.
American Century Theater