“Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family” shines a light on recent New Jersey history

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Nicole Prothro as Ruth standing on a porch wearing a green dress and Diane L. Parker as Peach sitting inside the house looking out the window
Nicole Prothro as Ruth and Diane L. Parker as Peach in Premiere Stages’ Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family. Photo by Mike Peters.

Portrays interpersonal and inter-generational conflicts with truth and warmth

Kena Anae as Junior looking away from Eddie Gouveia Blackman as Clif who is standing on the porch
Kena Anae as Junior and Eddie Gouveia Blackman as Clif in Premiere Stages’ Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family. Photo by Mike Peters.

Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union finishes up its Liberty Live Commission series of plays with Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family, a look into the neglected race riots that took place in Plainfield in 1967. This episode in New Jersey history was long overshadowed by contemporary riots in Newark and is here brought to vibrant life through the story of two generations of an African-American family during that tempestuous summer.

TyLie Shider’s play takes place on the back porch of Peach’s house in Plainfield. Peach (Diane L. Parker), a middle-aged divorcee, lives with her son Junior (Kena Anae) and is frequently visited by her ex-husband Clif (Eddie Gouveia Blackman) and Junior’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Ruth (Nicole Prothro). Clif seeks to woo back his ex-wife, who ain’t havin’ none of that.

Junior is collaborating with a stand-offish Ruth on creating that big hit song that will lift him out of financial straits. Interactions among the four characters, including passionate arguments and recriminations, reveal their deep, sometimes despondent, mutual love and respect. Two separate solo scenes, depicting Clif and Ruth’s involvement in random stops by the (unseen) police, display the deeply-rooted, long-festering resentment and wounded senses of pride and self-esteem in Plainfield’s Negro community that have come bubbling to the surface in the events of summer 1967.

Playwright Shider has given his characters taut, human dialog interspersed with almost aria-like meditations on life and living. Director Othell J. Miller has skillfully guided his cast into giving balanced, nuanced performances that breathe life into their characters. The four cast members make up one of the best ensemble casts I have seen this season and possibly ever. I do want to give special mention to Eddie Gouveia Blackman’s Clif, an outsized figure of a man, and his interactions with his family, whether seeking reconciliation with Diane L. Parker’s formidable Peach or trying to overcome the generational divide with Kena Anae’s impatient dreamer Junior.

Bethanie Wampol Watson has created a simple, homey, familiar stage design well-lit by Zack Gage, with dramatic sound design by Greg Scalera and period-appropriate costumes by Nia Saffar Banks.

Nicole Prothro as Ruth singing and Kena Anae as Junior playing a guitar
Nicole Prothro as Ruth and Kena Anae as Junior in Premiere Stages’ Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family. Photo by Mike Peters.

Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family definitely succeeds on two fronts. It portrays interpersonal and inter-generational conflicts with truth and warmth, set as they are amidst racial strife in 1967 Plainfield. And it fulfills the mission of the Liberty Live Commission to shed light on and bring attention to important events in New Jersey history.

This is an important play, one that must be seen and one very worthy of seeing for all audiences. I cannot more strongly encourage making the trip to the Liberty Hall Museum on the Kean University campus in Union to see Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family before its regrettably brief run ends. You will not regret it.

Certain Aspects of Conflict in the Negro Family is presented by Premiere Stages in the Tent at Liberty Hall Museum on the campus of Kean University in Union through October 23rd. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 908-737-7469 or visit premierestagesatean.com.  The company strongly recommends but does not mandate wearing masks while attending the performance.