Dense and potent new drama from the Negro Ensemble Company; Zooman and the Sign

Play by Charles Fuller. Directed by Douglas Turner Ward. This is a dense and complex play whose genuine concerns are matched by its deep discernments. It provides remarkable insights into the black citizens of the plot, their personal dilemmas, and their relationships with the larger world outside the vulnerable security of their neat home.

Expressive concern for the origins and effects of a family tragedy mark the powerful new drama, which is mounted by the Negro Ensemble Company at Theater Four. The playwright skillfully counterpoints hate-filled recitals by the murderous Zooman of the title with scenes in which the bereaved family of his 12 -year-old victim struggles to cope with its grief and to redress the wantonly criminal act that killed Jinny Tate.

Set in present-day Philadelphia, the drama opens with the foul-mouthed braggart Zooman callously describing the gun battle in which Jinny was accidentally shot because she happened to be sitting on her front porch at the time. Zooman's view is that any family stupid enough to let its children out in a "war zone" deserved what it got. The Tate family soon begins to discover that none of their neighbors who were eyewitnesses to the killing intend to come forward to help solve the crime.

In the hope of challenging the apathy, Reuben Tate, the father, hangs a large sign outside his house. It reads: "The killers of our daughter Jinny are free on the streets because our neighbors will not identify them." Instead of attracting help, the sign infuriates the neighbors and leads to increasing stress within the already troubled Tate household.

Whether dealing with Zooman, who lives by the law of switch-blade and Saturday-night special, or the middle-class black residents of a deteriorating neighborhood, Mr. Fuller writes with a broadly embracing and perceptive humanity.

The first-rate Negro Ensemble Company cast is headed by Giancarlo Esposito as the desperate Zooman, Ray Aranha and Mary Alice as Mr. and Mrs. Tate, Alvin Alexis as their troubled young son, and Carl Gordon and Frances Foster as visiting relatives. Rodney J. As an ensemble effort, this is in every respect an impressive production.

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