Cal State Long Beach University Players will present The Mighty Gents by Richard Wesley Friday, April 16 to Saturday, May 1. Directed by CSULB alumnus and guest director Baron Kelly, the play tells the tale of a gang that once ruled the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey, after conquering their rivals, the Zombies. Now in their thirties, aging, and down on their luck, the Gents are left with only their recollections of past successes. Longing to relive their glory days, the gang decides to stage a grand robbery. When the caper does not go as planned, the Gents turn on each other like vultures, proving their years of camaraderie were ultimately meaningless.
Kelly believes the play addresses how society can get worn down by socio-economic pressures. “Kids that come from poverty-ridden upbringings have taken individual paths to material success, many relying on peer groups to get ahead,” he says. “At the end of the day, though, a man can only depend on himself.”
The choice to produce the play in Long Beach is deliberate; locals will likely relate to the effect of gang violence on a community and its survival in the face of conflict. The production’s scenic design is symbolic of these very themes: a granite stoop– a foundational piece of neighborhood architecture– which still survives, though worn, amidst the urban decay.
Once called The Last Street Play, The Mighty Gents premiered in 1978 at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, starring Morgan Freeman. Since then, casts of the production have included such greats as Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington. Playwright Richard Wesley is an African-American playwright and screenwriter who serves as associate professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is currently chair of the Department of Dramatic Writing.
The Mighty Gents opens Friday, April 16 and runs for 14 performances, through Saturday, May 1, in the Players Theatre on the CSULB South Campus, accessible via West Campus Drive. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, with Saturday matinees April 24 and May 1 at 2pm. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students (with valid ID).