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Avery Brooks' scene from Paul Robeson ring true


Performing selections from Paul Robeson,

written by Phillip Hayes Dean.

Accompanied by Ernie Scott on piano.

Presented by the Abramowitz Lecture Series.

Kresge Auditorium, Thursday, April 5.



ALTHOUGH THE EVENT was billed as "an evening of performance and commentary," it turned out to be mostly performance and little commentary. Avery Brooks, accomplished actor, director, musician, and teacher, filled Kresge last Thursday night with selections from Phillip Hayes Dean's Paul Robeson, the title role of which Brooks has performed since 1978. The play chronicles the life of the internationally-renowned socialist, civil rights advocate, singer, and actor.

Brooks' opening rendition of "Old Man River" was exceptionally moving and more than hinted at the vibrancy and resonance that was to follow as he sang and acted virtually nonstop for the next hour.

The first few scenes portrayed the young Robeson arriving as a freshman at Rutgers University and encountering the prejudice offered him by the all-white community there. The scene in which Robeson unsuccessfully tried to elicit from passersby the location of the campus cafeteria -- until he posed as a cafeteria worker named Rufus -- rang quite true, as Brooks himself was the first black MFA graduate in acting and directing from Rutgers. This event, however, was not as humorous as Robeson's rejection from the Glee Club due to a nonexistent "pitch problem."

Ernie Scott, Brooks' accompanist on piano for the evening, deserves recognition not only for his fine piano playing and vocal support, but also for his portrayals of various characters, most notably the Senator in the congressional hearing scene.

Brooks closed his performance by inviting all to join in singing "Climbing Jacob's Ladder." The audience, numbering approximately 650, responded by giving Brooks a much-deserved standing ovation. Brooks is truly an amazing artist, and I hope to have the opportunity to watch him perform again in the near future. MIT is fortunate to have had the opportunity to share in his magnificent talent.