Sharecropper Tale Makes for Taut Drama
NEW YORK — ALL GOD'S DANGERS Play by Theodore Rosengarten, Michael Hadley, and Jennifer Hadley, based on Mr. Rosengarten's ``All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw.'' Directed by William Partlan. Starring Cleavon Little. At the Lamb's Theatre. `ALL GOD'S DANGERS'' was inspired by the life of Ned Cobb, a courageous black Alabama sharecropper whose success story included the triumph over an oppressive system. And Cleavon Little's inspired performance is a tribute to the unassuming hero rechristened Nate Shaw in the stirring biographical play. The work was adapted from Theodore Rosengarten's 1974 award-winning volume of taped interviews with Cobb.
The play's authentic origins inform everything about ``All God's Dangers'' - from the condensation itself to the meticulous details of Mr. Little's portrayal. This fine actor draws the spectator irresistibly into the life of an ex-slave's son who, long before the civil rights movement, took his own stand for human dignity and individual liberty.
Put to the plow as a nine-year-old by a brutal father, Nate began as early as 19 to reject the inequities his father was prepared to endure. Later on, this spirit of courageous independence prompted Nate to join a recently formed sharecropper's union and to fight an exploitive mortgage system. In a confrontation with sheriff's deputies while defending a neighbor, Nate was shot, arrested, and sentenced to 12 years in prison (a sentence he served in full).
Nate Shaw was sustained by the support of a loving wife and by his own resilience, summed up in the credo: ``If anything tries to master me, I wish to remove it.'' In fact, ``All God's Dangers'' is a kind of black man's Horatio Alger story. Besides recounting the dangers he faced, Nate can recall with quiet satisfaction the prosperity that not only made him a farm owner but that enabled him to buy the sewing machine, record player, and automobile that symbolized the rewards of his hard work. Nor has he quite stopped working. As he unfolds his tale, the octogenarian memorist weaves a cotton basket and replaces the seat of a straight-backed chair.
Under William Partlan's direction, Mr. Little's performance becomes an absorbing 80-year chronicle, often humorous and always appealing. Little, whose many credits include ``Blazing Saddles'' on the screen as well as ``Purlie'' and ``I'm Not Rappaport'' on stage, acquires new acting dimensions at the Lamb's.
The ramped setting by scenery and costume designer G.W. Mercier features wooden farm buildings, a pump, and a couple of chairs. Tina Charney lighted the production, which premi`ered at the Cricket Theatre in Minneapolis and was further developed at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.