Off-Broadway offerings range from sadly tragic to mildly amusing

'Weep Not for Me', Tragic drama by Gus Edwards. Directed by Douglas Turner Ward. The disarray of a "messed up" South Bronx family climaxes tragically in the lurid new drama being presented by the Negro Ensemble Company at Theatre Four. Gus Edwards appears to intend "Weep Not for Me" as a parable play with implications not necessarily limited to its immediate blighted neighborhood.

The title comes from the New Testament verse in which Jesus admonished, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves, and for your children." The amoralities and hostilities of the Hendricks-Adams household accumulate and multiply to the ominous offstage accompaniment of police sirens and demolition jackhammers. With one exception, the Adams children have grown up to be delinquent adults.

Bill Cobbs gives a thoughtful and deeply felt performance as Jake Hendricks, the retired marine who accepted a family man's responsibilities when he married a mother of four, and then sadly watched the family disintegrate. "You're all beyond redemption," says the disillusioned Jake. In contrast to the customary picture of black maternalism, Ethel Aylers's Lillian Hendricks, with her selfishness and casual infidelity, creates the figure of a mother who is part of the problem instead of the solution. The other actors contribute believably with portraits that range from the comic and pathetic to the morally debased.

Like the family it depicts, "Weep Not for Me" eventually disintegrates as drama. Meanwhile, its insistent obscenities tend to get in the way of the author's serious intentions. Yet there is no mistaking that seriousness. The production was directed by Douglas Turner Ward, with scenery by Wynn Thomas, costum es by Judy Dearing, and lighting by William H. Grant III.

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