Channel 2 contest winner 'Relative Stranger' invokes a universal theme


February 23, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

Perhaps the most interesting thing about "A Relative Stranger," this year's winning play in WMAR-Channel 2's annual Black History Month playwright's contest, is that the Chekovian drama by Monalisa DeGross transcends any strictly racial theme.

The play, the station's 10th annual collaboration with The Arena Players, airs at 7 tonight, starring Cynthia D. Francis-Forbes, Loretha Myers and Joan Coursey.

Set in 1955 Baltimore, the story has its racial elements, including a clear tension between "leading families" of the black community and less privileged residents of "the colored sections" of town.

But its central theme, that one cannot escape one's past because it shapes us irrevocably, is universal.

Francis-Forbes plays the unsubtly named Lena Faraway, a social worker about to be married to the son of a woman (Coursey) who is prominent in black society circles. Her lawyer offspring (never seen) has political aspirations and might be able to make great strides for blacks in the community.

But knocking at the door one day comes Oscina (Myers), an unwelcome reminder of Lena's past in far-away Freshback, S.C. The girl has spent three years seeking the mother who abandoned her as a baby, always moving north and living in a succession of towns and taking odd jobs.

What follows is an emotional exploration of the tangled ties of parenthood, the ugly secrets which sometimes result, and the belated recognition that, as Oscina says early on, "you can't change who you are just by saying it."

Within the confines of this forum -- limited time, number of characters and settings -- "A Relative Stranger" is one of the best products of the Annual Drama Writing Competition for Black Writers.

As often with serious plays produced on the stage for television, it is quite "talky." Not much happens visually. Yet some eternal questions are dealt with sensitively, and the drama's ending -- not really a surprise if one has been paying attention -- generates considerable emotional power.

Myers has a winning stage presence and Francis-Forbes overcomes initial stiffness by the later scenes. The Arena Players' Robert Russell and WMAR's Greg Massoni collaborated on the direction.

Original theater is usually worth a look anywhere it occurs, and finding it on TV is pretty rare.


A CABLE THRILLER -- The underlying implications are worth serious concern, but "Flight of Black Angel" doesn't give you much time to think until it's all over.

The new world premiere movie on the Showtime premium network (at 9 tonight) is a supersonic sizzler that combines some of the elements of "Top Gun" or "Firefox" with your basic cool-killer-on-the-loose hypnotic crime drama, like "Day of the Jackal."

It has a lot of airplanes flying around -- some of the same ones, in fact, we've been seeing on the news from the Persian Gulf for months now -- but forget politics. The battles taking place here are in the convoluted communications of the mind.

Peter Strauss stars as Lt. Col. Matt Ryan, a crackerjack fighter pilot who instructs fledgling fliers at a Nevada Air Force base. William O'Leary is Capt. Eddie Gordon, a former student whose role as "Black Angel" is now to play the enemy, flying the French-built Mirage III delta wing jet in mock combat with students in their nimble F-16s.

As the movie opens we learn that Gordon is kind of, oh, over-intense, as he plays "chicken" in a head-on pass at one student flier. But it soon becomes clear, in a shocking scene in the living room of his family's home, that this guy is flat-out loony, somehow obsessed with a religious conviction that "I'm the one."

He's also dangerously loony because he's bright, cold-blooded and calculating -- not to mention that he's a hot pilot. Next time up with Strauss' students, Black Angel's evil dart of a plane is fully armed and he quickly proves the instructor's adage that "you are either a fighter pilot or you're a target."

Before additional fighters can be scrambled aloft, Black Angel and his smart bombs have turned the training airfield into an Iraqi Air Force base, and then he's landed somewhere in the wilderness. He needs to modify the nuclear bomb hung under his plane's fuselage so that it can be detonated without the required approval codes.

It doesn't take ESP to know that a climactic air battle is in store as Black Angel seems intent on "bringing up the light, the light of heaven" by nuking out the modern Sodom and Gomorrah of Las Vegas.

Viewers should know the level of cold-blooded killing is quite high here, and that a luckless young family stumbles onto the flier to produce some queasy scenes which threaten violence to an infant.

But the suspense is tingling, the air scenes are pretty good and the interesting sub-theme is more than a little scary.

For in that great 1960s black comedy "Dr. Strangelove," a military man similarly seized A-bomb capability. But he was making war on the perceived national enemy, the Soviet Union.

In "Flight of Black Angel," the enemy is our own society, as Angel notes at one point (like Pogo but with none of the humor) that "we're all the enemy."

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