The Negro Ensemble Company has launched its current ``Classics Series'' with a solid revival of Lonne Elder III's funny and moving ``Ceremonies in Dark Old Men.'' The first stage presentation of the work since its New York premi`ere in 1969, ``Ceremonies'' has arrived at Theatre Four after a three-month national tour and will continue there through June 16. Director Douglas Turner Ward re-creates the role of Russell B. Parker, a onetime vaudevillian turned unsuccessful barber. Before her death, Parker's long-suffering wife had become the mainstay of the family, a burden daughter Adele (Patty Holley) has struggled to assume. The Parker family also includes wastrel sons Theopholis and Bobby (Ruben Hudson and Walter Allen Bennett Jr.), who get the family involved in the criminal pursuits that lead to tragedy.
``Ceremonies in Dark Old Men'' deserves its place of honor in the Negro Ensemble Company celebration. One in a series of landmark plays, it takes a searching, unsentimental look at certain aspects of black America in this turbulent century -- moral values, family relationships, the role of black women, and the imperatives of survival in a crime-threatening situation.
Mr. Ward gives a wonderfully rich performance as the paterfamilias whose memories bring little comfort and whose gullibility proves no match for the slick criminal operator (Keith David), who takes over not only the barber shop but the Parker sons. Other members of a cast that gives lively immediacy to this particular ensemble company classic include Graham Brown as Parker's contentious but clear-sighted checkerboard rival and Tracy Camila Johns as the good-time girl with whom the lonely and susceptible Parker becomes briefly infatuated.
The all-purpose Harlem interior has been efficiently designed by Charles Henry McClennahan, with lighting by Shirley Prendergast and costumes by Judy Dearing.