Broadway offers Melba Moore in an urban folk tale
New York — Inacent Black, Starring Melba Moore. Comedy by A. Marcus Hemphill. Directed by Mikell Pinkney. "Inacent Black" employs elements of frolicsome miracle play and urban folk fable for what the Biltmore Theater Playbill terms "a heaven-sent comedy." The description may be loftier than the event. But the cheers and laughter that greet Inacent's earthly sojourn leave no doubt that playwright A. Marcus Hemphill and his unflagging actors must be doing something right.
The farcical fantasy stars diminutive Melba Moore as the Inacent of the title , a guardian angel sent to earth to straighten out the troubled lives of Mama Essie Rydell (Barbara Montgomery) and her four sons (Gregory Miller, Reginald Vell Johnson, Count Stovall, and Bruce Strickland). The formidable widow heads the family's troubled real estate business, bequeathed them by a revered husband and father. Essie still converses with his ghost who is toasted daily and ceremoniously by the household.
Posing as an unworldly Georgia country girl, the other-worldly Inacent pursues her assignment with gospel quotes and beguiling lack of guile. Miss Moore, who portrayed the adorable Lutiebelle in the musical version of Ossie Davis's "Purlie," is the equally adorable heroine of Mr. Hemphill's extravagant fable. In its spoof of types and stereotypes, "Inacent Black" has tapped many of the same sources of black folk humor. The spectacle of the country bumpkin outwitting the city slickers (with or without supernatural aid) is, of course, as immemorial as farce itself.
The supercharged playing serves the antic cartoon caricatures of the tale with the handsomely matriarchal Miss Montgomery and the ineffable Miss Moore to prevent the shenanigans from getting entirely out of hand. In addition to her other responsibilities, Miss Moore raises her amazing voice in two gospel numbers (by McFadden & Whitehead & Moore) and wins the current season's record for sustained notes. Responding to the demands of their humorously christened characters are Ronald (Smokey) Stevens (Pretty Pete), Joyce Sylvester (Carmen Casteel), and Lorey Hayes (Sally-Baby Washington).
The action (sets by Felix E. Cochren) takes place mostly in the handsome two-story study of the Rydells' Long Island mansion. Marty Pakledinaz designed the costumes and Tim Phillips devised the celestially tinted lighting.