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Program cover for Harlem, 1929

Wallace Thurman (Playwright)
William J. Rapp (Playwright)

21 October 1929 (16 performances)

Adapted from Thurman’s short story, “Cordelia the Crude,” originally published in Fire, the quarterly edited by Thurman is a huge melodrama composed of sixty characters. The story centers on Cordelia, a “selfish, lazy, sullen” woman, shepherding around a cast of similarly flawed persons.  The arch of the play’s story leads to no major character changes. It ends with the cacophony of a rent party, a murder, the framing of an innocent man for said murder (the true murderer being Cordelia’s new beau) and the murderer’s sudden death by falling from a window while under police pursuit. Together, the dramatics of the film served to illustrate the “devastating social dilemma” of the rural, Souther Black person’s attempt to adapt to a low-income, urban milieu. It is notable for its social realism; considered to be a significant departure from the “quaint” and “picturesque” portrayals of Black life that had dominated “Negro drama” at the time. (Source: “The Great White Way: Critics and the First Black Playwrights on Broadway” by Doris E. Abramson; Theorizing Black Theatre: Art Versus Protest in Critical Writings, 1898–1965 by Henry D. Miller)

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