Black & Bluestein

Review by Willard Manus

With the Obama-related issue of Race in the political air these days, Jerry Mayer's new play, BLACK & BLUESTEIN, comes off as acutely relevant even though it deals with integration issues in St. Louis, circa 1963. Mayer, who grew up in that midwest city and spent twelve years in the family construction business there before giving it all up to become a TV writer, has based his play on something that actually happened to him.

After having built a cluster of new homes in an all-white, mostly-Jewish suburb of St. Louis, Mayer (Jeff Bluestein in the play, acted by Loren Lester) is faced with a tough question: should he sell one of the units to an African-American bio-chemist, Dr. Daniel Black (John Eric Bentley)? Despite the fact that Black is upper-middle-class, wealthy and personable (with a beautiful, equally successful wife, Kimberly Arland), letting him buy in might, in the parlance of those uptight, racially-prejudiced days, spoil the neighborhood. Property values would plunge, whites would panic and take flight.

Jeff understandably wants to protect his investment. He's also

being pressed hard by those around him--his wife (Kelly Lester), the head of the homeowner's association (Lenora May), an uncle (George Coe), a neighbor (Larry Gelman)--to play it safe and turn Black down. But Jeff is no ordinary businessman, having been brought up in a liberal Jewish family that valued decency and democracy above all.

Jeff's battle with society--and himself--is the central conflict in BLACK & BLUESTEIN. He fights hesitantly at first, fending off salty Jewish wisecracks and criticism, but gains in strength and courage along the way, becoming something of a mentsch. (Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St. 800-838-3006 or 310-459-1548)