Ceremonies in Dark Old Men

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This article is about the play. For other uses, see Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (disambiguation).
Ceremonies in Dark Old Men
Written by Lonne Elder III
Characters Bobby Parker
Mr. Williams Jenkins
Adele Eloise Parker
Blue Haven
Young Girl
Theopolis Parker
Mr. Russell B. Parker
Date premiered 04 February 1969
Place premiered St. Mark's Playhouse
New York City
Original language English
Genre Naturalistic drama
Setting 1960s; a barbershop in Harlem

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men is a play by Lonne Elder III that premiered Off Broadway at St. Mark's Playhouse in a production by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1969. Later in the 1968-69 season, it was given a commercial production that was a long-running success. The play was adapted for television in 1975.

The play concerns the ceremonies acted out by African-American men. Mr. Russel B. Parker owns a floundering barbershop on 126th Street in Harlem. He is kept afloat by the fact that his daughter Adele works, which gives the family enough of an income to survive. His sons sons Bobby and Theo are attracted to a life of crime. Mr. William Jenkins, the other "Dark Old Man" of the title, finds a sanctuary in Parker's barbershop, where he trades insults and dares with Parker and plays checkers. This is part of the "ceremonies" of the title. The barbershop provides a place where the two dark old men can be insulated from a society in which they have failed under the norms of a capitalism and a racist culture.

According to the Oxford Companion to African American Literature, the play

is a dramatization of rituals—of survival, of friendship, of deception and manipulation, of self-deception, of black male friendship, of shifting intrafamilial allegiances, and of black manhood. As Elder presents the ineffectual lives of a Harlem family entrapped by rituals of economic and spiritual dependence, he urges African Americans and African American communities to become aware of and to break free of “ceremonies” that assuredly lead to personal loss and tragedy. Echoing Douglas Turner Ward's warning to black Americans whose “happiness” and survival are predicated upon white America's relationship to black America in Happy Ending (1966), Ceremonies challenges the myth that the social, political, and economic plight of black America rests in white people's hands. Through layers of ritual, Elder demonstrates the futility, corruption, and internal disruptions that result from efforts to undermine a capitalist system that seeks to determine and define African Americans’ worth and selfhood.[1]


  • Blue Haven
  • Mr. Russell B. Parker, the owner of the barbershop
  • Adele Eloise Parker, his daughter
  • Bobby Parker, his son
  • Theopolis Parker, his son
  • Mr. Williams Jenkins, a barbershop customer
  • Young Girl


Ceremonies in Dark Old Men was staged three times Off-Broadway in the period of 1969 to 1985.

  • Negro Ensemble Company production, St. Mark's Playhouse, New York City, February 4-March 9, 1969; 40 performances.
  • Pocket Theatre, New York City, April 28, 1969 – February 15, 1970; 320 performances
  • Theatre Four, New York City, Negro Ensemble Company, May 15-June 30, 1985; 62 performances


  1. ^ "Oxford Companion to African American Literature: Ceremonies in Dark Old Men/ceremonies-in-dark-old-men#ixzz1t1SlkOq8". Ask.com. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 

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