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'The Talented Tenth' asks tough questions in U. production

Published: Thursday, Jan. 20 2011 12:29 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-five years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked of "a dream," how many African-Americans have realized that dream? And what about the ones who haven't?

Those are some of the questions characters are asking in the theatrical production "The Talented Tenth" at the University of Utah.

The "Talented Tenth" was an influential essay written by W.E.B. DuBois and published in 1903. DuBois used the term "the talented tenth" to describe the likelihood of one in 10 African-American men he believed would rise to the top of American society.

In the production, Bernard Evans, played by William Ferrer, is a civil rights activist in the 1960s. Fast-forward to the late 1980s, and Bernard, his wife and his friends wonder if people remember the past and wonder about the future.

Was the civil rights movement ultimately about a nice home in the suburbs, two cars, a good family and an education for the kids?

Professor Richard Scharine, artistic director of People Productions, asks: Isn't that really what the revolution was all about? "What about those people who were left behind? And that's, I think, what this play is about."

"It was a magnificent era," Ferrer said. "I mean just in terms of the range of what was happening, just the vision. Of course, a lot of tragedy (was) involved, but that vision, I think, surmounted everything. I think those people who want to make a difference are still doing it."

The actors are members of People Productions, Salt Lake City's first African-American theater company, promoting African-American-themed plays since 2000.

And some of these same questions the characters ask themselves are questions that the actors say they wonder about in their own lives.

Latoya Rhodes, who plays Bernard's wife, Pam, said, "I don't think I've had to struggle as much as my family members have, my ancestors. I think that we have progressed, but there's still more progression that we could achieve in our times. So, I think yes, but I think that we still have more work to do."

So, every year when children listen to King's most famous of speeches that inspired so many, where will his words take them and what will they do?

Ferrer as Bernard said, "Still hear that speech from time-to-time on TV. I was listening to it the other day when my oldest son came in and asked me if he could have some money for some new clothes. School was out, there was a special holiday sale at the mall, Martin Luther King's birthday."

"The Talented Tenth" performances run through Jan. 29 in Studio 115 of the Performing Arts Building at the U.

e-mail: cmikita@desnews.com

If you go

What: "The Talented Tenth"

When: Jan. 26-29, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Studio 115, University of Utah Performing Arts Building, 240 S, 1500 East

Cost: $15 adults, $10 students and seniors, available at the door or at peopleproductions.mynetworksolutions.com/

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