Aisle Seat

Race to the Finish
In his new play Servant of the People: The Rise and Fall of Huey P. Newton & the Black Panther Party (which opens tonight at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater), Robert Alexander explores the enigma that was Huey P. Newton. "I was drawn to Huey's contradictions," Alexander explains. "He was a man who served the people, but he used drugs; he was a humanist who embraced violence. Huey had a chance to be a hero, but he died because of crack. Looking at his life, and his ideals, I see how much we have changed, how much we have lost. As a child of the '60s, I see clearly how we failed not only ourselves but the future. I see kids on the street, and I know their future was shafted by the failure of our idealism."

Alexander conveys the feel of the period in the structure of the play. "I want the experience to be like an acid trip. The play is nonlinear. I use Huey's murderer as a framing device; Tyrone Robinson is the first person we meet and the last person we see. I see the killer as symbolic of the people the movement failed. As an artist, I want to give many points of view air time. I want the audience to experience a swirl of energy, like a twister, something that cannot be contained. I hope the piece will be as controversial as the people it dramatizes."

Stanley F. Williams, LHT's artistic director, directs. Williams sees the play as "really about change. Huey's struggle was about the voiceless having control of their own destiny, about all of us having access to our own dreams. He's not about crack, and he's not about guns. Huey is about communities being in charge of their lives. The things Huey talked about -- health care and jobs and housing -- we're still talking about them today. Racism is a fact. Oppression is a fact, but whites are tired of hearing those words."

Servant is also about the '60s and the Black Panther Party. "The play takes a look at what happened when the FBI infiltrated the organization. Because Huey was a visionary, the FBI focused on him, and Huey became a victim like the people he was trying to help," says Williams. Call 474-8800 for more info.

Comic Dreams, an exploration of stand-up comics, plays June 23 at New Conservatory Theater. Proceeds benefit the visually impaired. Call 861-8972. ... I'm no great fan of most of David Mamet's work, but I do think Sexual Perversity in Chicago is one very funny play. Sea Theater opens its summer season with a revival of Mamet's darkly sexual comedy. Call 433-7875.

By Deborah Peifer

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