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Gang violence resonates in Black Spectrum’s ‘Samson’

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The play, now at the Black Spectrum Theatre, is a revival, and director and playwright Fulton Hodges has tightened and toughened the action substantially. His cast rises to the occasion. Among them are Simone Black, who's both hilariously funny and heartbreaking as Miss Leslie, who's raising her wayward younger brother Quentin after the death of their mother and the desertion of both their father and her husband. Quentin, played with wonderful truculence by Allan Ranchrejee, now styles himself as Que, and is so out of control that he's the reason his sister's marriage broke up.Hodges himself appears as Mister, who believes in a firm hand in child-rearing (actually, a firm foot) and runs the community center named after his late wife, herself a victim of street violence. Mister at first comes across as an authoritarian buffoon; later, the audience will see the depth of his caring and his fears for the often reckless young folks around him. Marcha Tracey, who's usually the Black Spectrum's costume designer, appears as Sasha, the loving and fierce mother of Samson and his two sisters, Trish, played with a sort of passionate dignity by Samantha James, and the still-desolate Olivia, played movingly by Tamara Wills. Natafa Brown is Trish's boyfriend, Sharif, whose usual levelheadedness is compromised by the grief he sees around him. He actually offers to join the gang run by Patch and Switch just to find out who killed Samson. Steven Moore and Malik Howard are excellent as the two gangbangers; Moore plays Patch (named for the menacing eyepatch he wears) as a vicious waste of space who makes Marlo on "The Wire" look like the Dalai Lama. Howard's Switch is only a degree less brutal. The scene where they beat down Mister and threaten Samson's still-grieving father Maurice (Patrick "Fryday" Mitchell) is truly terrifying. It's the one scene in the play that announces that sooner or later someone is going to die - again.Jamilah Mahdi, Brittney Tate and Tenai Banks are excellent as the three "good" girls who arrange for Samson's memorial service at the community center, and Phylicia Powell, Aliyah Syphrett and Faith Vann are just as good as the molls of Patch and Switch. Powell's performance as Pebbles, the girl who harbors a nasty secret that involves Samson, is outstanding. Tom Martin is mostly comic relief as T.K. Johnson, the swishy reporter who hangs around the neighborhood trying, in his own goggle-eyed way, to find out the identity of Samson's murderer. Usually dressed in a suit and bowtie that recall the Fruit of Islam, at one point Johnson puts on what he thinks is hip-hop attire to try to blend in. He looks ridiculous and can barely keep his pants up - Martin's performance is a scream.Jay Johnson is a good lighting designer, and Ajene D. Washington's set design says much about both the neighborhood and the Willis' middle-class home. Derek Galloway provides the appropriate music; the scariness of the music that heralds the arrival of Patch and Switch is perfect.Eventually the identity of the killer is revealed, and things in the play "get a little crazy," as Hodges admitted in a post-curtain call speech. Actually, things get a lot crazy. And devastating."Samson's Way" is a must-see. It'll be at the Black Spectrum through April 20.If You Go:'Samson's Way' - A play by Fulton C. Hodges.When: Friday, April 18, 4 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 19, 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 20, 4 p.m.Where: Black Spectrum Theatre, Roy Wilkins Park, 177th Street and Baisley Blvd, JamaicaCost: $12, 1 teacher free for every 20 studentsFor More: 718-723-1800 or www.blackspectrum.com

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