The Hadley Players venture “This Way Forward”

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“This Way Forward” is the
latest offering of The Hadley Players, a community theatre group nestled within
the Harlem School of the Arts, located on 142nd Street and St
Nicholas Avenue, and founded by 97-year-old Gertrude Jeannette, a denizen of
the arts.

 Ms. Jeannette is the playwright
of “This Way Forward,” starring Colette Bryce, Maxx Carr, Khadim Diop, Albert
Eggleston, Ivan Goris, Gary Lawson, Ralph McCain, Louise Mike, Janet Mitchell,
Kimberlee Monroe, Ward Nixon, Arjenis Mora, Chantal Ngwa, Malek Ogee, Stacey
Pryor, Jared Reinmuth, Sharon Shah, Rodney Sheley, Kalina Singleton, Kalvin
Singleton, Donnell Smith, Nzintha Smith, Valarie Tekosky, Joan Valentina and
Cookie Winborn.  Ward Nixon directed the

 Having written five plays,
“This Way Forward” is the first play written by Ms. Jeannette per the
suggestion and encouragement of Lee Strasberg, an American
actor, director and
acting teacher who had a profound influence on the American theatre and with
whom Gertrude studied directing and playwriting.  Strasberg was the director of the Actors
Studio and the founder of
the Lee
Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York and in Hollywood.  Included among his students were: Marlon
Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, James Dean and
Elia Kazan. Naturally Gertrude wrote about what she knew, so penned details of
having grown up in Arkansas on a large family farm. Although, in the play,
there is no specific region mentioned other than the southwest.  “This Way Forward” featuring a 24-character
cast, is based on accounts from Miss Jeanette’s childhood when both whites and
Blacks sharecropped and had large families to help provide the labor to work
their farms.  Therefore, few children had
the luxury of an education beyond the fifth grade. 

 Naturally every generation
wants their children to do better, so Bertha Crawford (Valarie Tekosky), the
wife of Dan Crawford (Ralph McCain) the central characters in the play, was determined
to extend the community’s all-black school to the level of 9th grade.
More educated than her husband, Bertha initially had to convince her husband
and then eventually the rest of the community who were more concerned with
survival than education, of the importance of a higher education. Although the
Great Depression did not hit until 1929, there was a small recession in 1924
and then another one in 1927.  Naturally,
whatever affected whites, affected Black people twice as much.  But this play did not dwell on material
poverty but rather poverty of the mind. 
Bertha saw education as a way of giving black children opportunity and a
choice outside of sharecropping. 

 Dan Crawford had gone as far
as the fifth grade and believed he had all the book learning he needed since he
had acquired a large farm.  He was
generous in giving his time and labor to his neighbors, but was the kind of
proud man that would not ask anything of his neighbors ― preferring to run his
farm primarily by the sweat of his brow and that of his two sons ―  Herman (Gary Lawson) and Floyd (Donnell Smith).
The Crawford neighbors were played by Albert Eggleston as Rev. Jackson, Tom
Williams (Ward Nixon), Stacey Pryor as Sarah, Kimberlee Monroe as Minnie and
Cookie Winborn as Aunt Effie (Louise Mike alternated).  The ladies often got together to form
sewing-bees and gossip. Segregation was still in effect during the era of this
play, thus making Aunt Effie essential to the life and death of the community
as their midwife since oft-times Black folks were barred admittance to
hospitals. While the ladies gossiped, their husbands joked and drank, but the
younger men found their recreation occasionally on the seedier side of town
where they found their entertainment in the form of liquor, dice, cards, loose
women and the occasional fist fight.  This
often frightened Bertha whose ambitions for her older son Herman were not
shared by him. Her constant efforts to push her son to stay in school only
caused him to dig in his heels and misinterpret his mother’s intentions toward
him.  Eventually this divide brought
about tragic results. 

 This production has a limited
engagement with the last show on Sunday, May 27th at 2:30 pm.

 Community theatres are
struggling all throughout New York and it is up to us the theatergoer and
lovers of art to keep our theatres thriving. 
In doing so, we keep our history alive and our stories told.  Open your wallets and send your donations to
the Hadley Players, c/o St. Philips Church, 204 West 133th Street, NYC, 10030, so
that we can live into perpetuity through our art forms. 

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