The Trial of Dr. Beck

Poster from the 1937 World Premiere

From the NY Times Review by Mel Gussow, January 7, 1981

HUGHES ALLISON’S ”The Trial of Dr. Beck,” at the Henry Street Settlement’s New Federal Theater is a theatrical oddity, a courtroom melodrama about eugenics, ”the science of improving the quality of the human race” by means of ”a careful selection of parents.” The play was first presented on Broadway in 1937 by the company’s namesake, the W.P.A. Federal Theater, and has a minor significance in the history of black theater.

In this play, his sole Broadway venture, Mr. Allison, a writer of detective fiction who died in 1974, combined an interest in law, biology and sociology….

The play’s protagonist, a prosperous doctor in Harlem, is on trial for murdering his wife. In the course of testimony, it is revealed that the doctor, who is light-skinned, has a morbid disregard for people with dark skins, such as his wife. He has written a book in support of eugenics. Coincidentally, his wife and her twin sister have made millions by selling their patented brand of hair straightener. In other words, the root of the play is the erasure of black identity, an arcane subject to find dramatized in 1981 at Henry Street, the scene of so many socially relevant contemporary dramas.

Presented as part of the 1980-81 Season

Play opened January 6, 1981 at the Henry DeJur Playhouse

Artist Credits

Credit Artist Photo
Playwright Hughes Allison
Director Phillip Lindsay
Set Designer Robert Edmonds
Lighting Designer Larry Johnson
Costume Designer Carlo Thomas
Actor Don Paul
Actor Neil Napolitan
Actor Carl Pistilli
Actor Alkis Papuchis
Actor Herb Downer
Actor Dennis Tate
Actor Hollis Granville
Actor George Riddle
Actor Reuben Greene
Actor Dina Paisner
Actor Lawrence James
Actor Minnie Gentry
Actor Paul Knowles
Actor Donald Walt Keyes
Actor Latanya Richardson Jackson LaTanya Richardson Jackson
Actor Elizabeth Van Dyke
Actor Juanita Bethea
Actor John Delph
Actor Colleen Gaughan
Actor George Curley
Actor Frank Vento
Actor Andre Worthy
Actor George Spelvin

All 1980-81 Season productions: