Leslie Uggams and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. in the Primary Stages production

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of The Old Settler by John Henry Redwood and directed by Harold Scott
If there is a theater award for best evocation of a memory, it would have to go to John Henry Redwood’s “The Old
Settler” at the Primary Stages Theatre on West 45th Street.   And though popular demand has extended its stay until
January 2, I am missing Redwood’s play already and hoping another theater gives it a home.  The set, framed by the
stage, is like one of those stunning portraits you find while sorting through old family photo albums.  There’s a feeling
of belonging, of a connection to a family history that does not pass away too easily after the book is closed and put back
in the trunk.  It’s Redwood’s world but it’s our  family history, too.  This Brooklyn native’s portrait, lovingly captured
by set designer  Bob Phillips, resembles us and is a window on a time when Harlem was our mecca, and  we relied on
— and trusted — ourselves, our families and our friends to get us through.
Which is why I can’t wait to see Mr. Redwood’s play, described in the press kit as a bitter-sweet comedy set in
1940’s Harlem.  It tells one story in a long ago world when the language was just as show-stopping as the style.  A hot
dog was called a “pimp’s steak,” pot liquor was a kind of home-cooked health food tonic and in the black parlance of
the time, an Old Settler, was a woman in her forties with no prospects for romance in sight.
In the play (culled from the press kit notes)   two middle-aged sisters — unmarried, steadfast Elizabeth Borney (Leslie
Uggams) and the divorced, complaining younger Quilly (Lynda Gravatt)  — are living together in the older sister’s
(Elizabeth’s) Harlem apartment.  When Husband (Godfrey L. Simmons Jr.) a young man, newly migrated from the Deep
South, arrives and rents a room in the apartment,  the sisters’ lives are turned upside down. Husband is looking for his
darling Lou Bessie who came North eight month’s before.  He soon finds there’s not even a fading resemblance to the
young woman he fell in love with back in South Carolina.  On the rebound, an affection between him and Elizabeth
begins to develop and their relationship evolves into something unexpected.  ( See full Review of Redwood’s work in
the January issue of Our Time Press.)
Call  Primary Stages box office for scheduled of performances:  (212) 33-4052.  Also, don’t forget to trade in the
“Old Settler” advertisement on these pages for a special $5 discount on your tickets. Primary Stages is located 354 West
45th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue. BG

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