COBINA VAN STRIVEN: African-American. She is eighteen and a
student at Radcliffe College. She greatly desires to escape her
parents world of “phoney bolonies.” Yet she feels obligated to
dutifully adhere to her parents plans for her debut into
society. For the past year she has secretly been spending
time with Chuck.
ROWENA: African-American. She is nineteen or twenty, with a
searching stare in her eyes. She is Tillie’s niece. She
most desires that someone will really listen to her, to validate her
BEULAH: African-American. She is a loose swaying girl of
twenty-two. She enters a room and “would silence a telephone”
with her loud, brash and bold disruptive presence. The actress
will need to be comfortable dancing a Lindy Hop with Joe.
SOPHIE: African-American. A rather chic, casual andif
extremely informal maid in her late-twenties/early thirties.
She’s been married four times and is currently single, happily mingling
with Joe Smothers. The actress will need to be comfortable
briefly singing a melody without accompaniment.
LILY: African-American. She is somewhere between twenty and
thirty, exotic and glamorous in a sort of theatrical yet genuine
way. For she truly loves being “onstage” and thinks of it as an
act of generosity that can lead her to connect with her audience,
wherever that may be. She is a successful stage actress who has
appeared in African-American productions of Shakespearean plays.
The actress will need to be comfortable doing bits of Shakespeare and
some African & folk dancing.
MRS. LOUISE DAVIS: African-American. She is the long-loving
and long-suffering wife of Dr. Davis. She is also in her thirties.
DOLLY VAN STRIVEN: African-American. A well-bred,
youthfully forty-ish matron of the Afro-American elite that descended
from “Pre-Civil War Black and White Romeos and Juliets" in Rockland
County, New York. She is addicted to being perceived as a leading
socialite within the African-American community.
TILLIE PETUNIA: African-American. A high-powered forty-ish,
uppity “do wager”. She radiates disarming superiority that is
more calculated than real. She is the editor & chief of a
Gossip Newspaper called The Black Dispatch.
RUBY JACKSON: African-American. She is a happy, smiling
woman of thirty-nine. She is a former “first class cook for a
Forest Hills family”, who recently won a large sum of money from a
horse sweepstakes contest and is set on changing the residential
surroundings in her life. She is the angel of the
play. When asked by Mrs. Pace what she possesses that makes her
worthy, her reply is “goodness”.
MRS. PACE: African-American. Dolly’s mother. A very
cold and stately woman of sixty who is Dolly’s mother. She is
extremely correct in her manner. People say her eyebrows are
optical wings of social deportment. She comes from a long line of
affluent African-Americans who settled in Rockland County, NY.
She is a retired former Dean of Women at Skidmore College.
CHUCK: African-American. A bashful boy of about twenty, who
boldly intercedes on behalf of his affection for Cobina. Faced
with the objections of Cobina’s parents and their view of the world, he
unleashes within himself a voice of unabashed integrity.
ED: African-American. He is a young man of about
twenty-five. He thinks rather highly of himself and most women
find him irresistible, but not Cobina. His father is a respected
JOE SMOTHERS: African-American. He is about
twenty-five. A man about town, anyway a man about certain towns,
or if you will, certain parts of all towns. His associates call
him a “hepped cat”. He refers to himself as “Joe The
Jiver”. Professionally he is a “sud-buster”, a dishwasher.
The actor will need to be comfortable dancing a Lindy Hop with
Beulah. The actor will also need be adept at doing rhyming
couplets, similar to today’s Rap.
DR. LEON DAVIS: African-American. He is in his
thirties. His hands are unable to resist female contact.
OSCAR VAN STRIVEN: African-American. A business-like man
about forty-five years of age. Though he speaks with absolute
sincerity, his mind seems to be somewhere else. He has, to his
family’s financial detriment, allowed himself to continually feed his
wife’s addiction to the perception of elitism in the African-American
PROFESSOR HENNYPEST: African-American. He is a humble man,
somewhere between forty and fifty, who has traded his youth for
wisdom-he has gained more than he has lost in the bargain. He is
the Chair of Zoology at Tuskeegee University. His favorite things
in life are food and women.
ON STRIVER'S ROW and the AMERICAN NEGRO THEATER
Oscar and Dolly Van Striven are hosting their
daughter’s debutante party in their townhouse on Striver's Row, but the
success of the social event of the season is by no means guaranteed. A
scheming socialite from Brooklyn, a judgmental grandmother, a secret
boyfriend, a presumptuous lottery winner, and none other than 'Joe the
Jiver' all want to come to this party.
The first major production of the American Negro Theatre in 1940 is
described as a satire on African-American social climbing. But
Mr. Hill’s play is actually a “complex work masquerading as a farce,
dealing with issues of class, gender roles and intra-racial
On June 5, 1940 American Negro Theatre (ANT) was formed in Harlem
housed in the basement of the 135th Street branch of the New York
Public Library. The goal of it’s co-founders, Abram Hill and
Frederick O’Neal, was to produce high quality productions of original
plays that offered an honest portrayal of the life and concerns of the
African-American community, and that “utilized it’s resources to
develop racial pride in the theatre, rather than racial apathy.”
Some of ANT’s iconic alumni include Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Alice
Childress, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, to name a