Greed, bullets, and racial injustice
Written by Charles Gardone, the play No Place to Be Somebody is an interesting take on the tried and true “troubled business owner” tale.
The play is a Point Park Conservatory production and is set in New York City. The incredible set design, complete with projector screens, helps the storyteller, Gabe Gabriel, engage the audience in the opening act.
The show is set in a bar owned by Johnny Williams, a man who anxiously awaits the prison release of Sweets Crane, who served as a father figure to Johnny. Crane’s return from prison means Johnny can finally leave his bar-front life and get back into the black market with his own gang.
His love life is juggled from woman to woman with Dee Jacobson serving as a constant nuisance but an occasional source of profit. Johnny is the pimp for Dee and her acquaintance Evie Ames. Johnny’s bar is not making the money it used to, so he demands that his ladies work for him to help keep the place running.
Dee has psychological issues stemming from past failed relationships and a miscarriage that led her to the streets. She is madly in love with Johnny, who keeps up the pretense of a relationship in exchange for the money she brings in.
Gabe is a constant visitor of the bar as a struggling actor with dreams of doing “big things.” He even boasts that someday he may become president of the United States. Since Gabe is African-American, this was a far-fetched dream at the time the play was written.
Most of the acting up to this point was adequate, but none of the actors really bring Gordone’s words to life until the character Sweets Crane enters. Crane is released from jail and hobbles into Johnny’s bar unrecognized. When Crane opens his mouth to speak, the audience hears the voice of a broken man, worn down from jail life. His shabby clothing and unsteady walk resemble none of the characteristics of the hard criminal Johnny remembered and looked up to. Disappointed, the already cruel-hearted Johnny wants nothing to do with the impostor.
Instead, Johnny courts the heart of a fiery Mary Lou Bolton, daughter of Judge Bolton, a man known for making shady deals in his courts. Mary Lou has access to files that will help Johnny earn his street credibility by incriminating a member of the Mafia.
Meanwhile, Sweets returns to Johnny’s bar attempting to win Johnny over. He tries to explain that the life Johnny is looking for is nothing but “Charlie fever” and a foolish dream to reach for. Sweets reveals that he is handing over all of his estate and holdings to Johnny, his “sonny boy.” The will makes Johnny realize how sick Sweets has become.
However, while Sweets and Gabe are eating in Johnny’s bar, two guests begin to cause trouble. Mafia member Mike Mafucci and the judge discover Johnny’s plot and decide to rid themselves of the pest he has become. Using Mary Lou as an eyewitness, they force her to lie and incriminate Johnny.
Suddenly, guns are drawn and three people are killed, including Sweets Crane. Johnny takes the will from Sweets’ jacket and is determined to go through with his plan. Gabe confronts him with a gun drawn, trying to make Johnny contemplate the consequences of his actions.
The lessons and themes of racial injustice and conflict run rampant throughout the two-act play. Charles Gordone was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for this play, which was the first time the honor had been bestowed upon an African-American playwright.
Johnny’s bar was decorated with paraphernalia from the 1970s. Although the stage was visually appealing, audience members sitting farther from the stage may have had a difficult time hearing the actors.
The Point Park production could have been improved if the stage area had better acoustics, but the performances of Sweets Crane and Mike Mafucci highlighted the potential of this show having a great run.
The play, which closed Nov. 16 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, drew many crowds to the box office for what some have called an “experience of ultimate humanity.”