Black Student Union members and non-members alike performed a series of sitcom scenes Saturday night as part of a retrospective – “From Good Times to Girlfriends and The Rebirth of the ‘90s” – to commemorate Black History Month. The choice of showcasing prominent black sitcoms by decade reflected our recent entry into the – what are they calling them – the ‘10s?
The show, which started at 8:30 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom, moved from the ‘70s to the ‘00s, stopping at each decade in between for a few scenes from a popular black sitcom. “Good Times” and “Girlfriends” were unsurprisingly chosen for the opening and closing scenes. From the ‘80s, students chose “The Cosby Show,” and from the ‘90s came both “Martin” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
With the lights low and the scene set, the “Good Times” cast took the stage, as one then smiled and waved to the audience. From this moment forward, however, it was clear that these students were not professional actors, and were participating in a community theater endeavor, not a stage production. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The real disappointment was that the format of the show did not seem to acknowledge the distinction. As a community theater piece, it could have worked within its limitations; botched lines would have been forgiven, for those limitations ended up dominating the performance.
Most noticeable were the technical gaffes, which occurred as each actor was outfitted with a personal microphone. Multiple and extremely distracting sound failures proved not only that the microphone system was terribly flawed, or at least terribly implemented, but that the actors were perfectly capable of projecting their voices without them.
Lights also went on and off at seemingly random moments. During one incident, the end of a scene was followed by one set of lights going off and on, and then another, and then the first ones again, and then finally the correct ones – it was not hard to imagine the nervous crew member flipping each switch trial-and-error style.
Then there was the performance which lacked in memorable and digestible segmented scenes. Entire episodes were incautiously processed into a confounding structure of scene and narrated summary. Instead of actors cast based on their best character impersonations, they seemed to go mostly with physical resemblance.
Before each act, a representative of the BSU delivered a disorganized, unfocused summary of each decade’s civil rights history before mentioning the fact that there was a particular style of fashion associated with that time period and said “you know what I’m talking about,” proceeding to list popular fashion trends. Even though this was always the last part of the speech, it never correlated with what followed on stage.
In fact, very little attention was paid to detail in the costume department, which ought to have been a particular focus of the organizers. Dr. Huxtable swapped his signature sweater with a tweed jacket, the Fresh Prince substituted hiking boots for Air Jordans, and J.J. from “Good Times” was recognizable only by his hat. For a performance all about the proud history of black television, the students did not seem to take much pride in the shows’ iconography.
Adding to the viewers’ frustration was the pace of the show. With only four costume changes, an extremely repetitive and uninteresting set, a cast of about 20 and a maximum of maybe seven actors in any one skit, it is inexplicable that the scenes could not flow seamlessly into one another. Instead, the audience was forced to listen to minutes at a time of DJ Relly Rell, who was, at the time, behind a curtain.
However, this did not prevent audience members from having a good time. The event was certainly not worth the $6 entry fee, but it was enjoyable in spite of itself almost the whole way through. Fumbled lines, uncooperative technology, crew incompetence and, yes, occasionally the intended humor of the original sitcom had the audience in hysterics for two solid hours.
Maybe next year they will correct their mistakes and earn those laughs. Really, our only hope is that they will have an Urkel.
Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]