cover image Black Thunder: An Anthology of African-American Drama

Black Thunder: An Anthology of African-American Drama

Amiri Baraka, William B. Branch, August Wilson. Signet Book, $6.99 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-451-62844-2

Given the ferment in black theater since 1975, the period covered by this nine-play anthology, the offerings here are disappointing. The opening and closing plays, George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum and August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom , are by far the best works included, the former a coruscating attack on the cliches of black popular culture, the latter a taut examination of the dynamics of a group of black musicians in the late 1920s. What comes in between alternates between family melodramas derivative of O'Neill and Lorraine Hansberry (Steve Carter's Eden ; Leslie Lee's The First Breeze of Summer ) and failed avant-gardism redolent of the Off-Broadway of the early 1960s ( General Hag's Skeezag by Amiri Baraka and The Taking of Miss Janie by Ed Bullins). At their worst, several of the plays here offer casual anti-Semitism (the Baraka and, in a more guarded context, the Bullins) or vicious homophobia (P. J. Gibson's messy Long Time Since Yesterday ) . Playwright Branch's introduction begins promisingly, with an account of the first African American theater ventures, but quickly degenerates into a catalogue of titles and dates. (Feb.)