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The Baltimore Sun from Baltimore, Maryland • 15

The Baltimore Suni
Baltimore, Maryland
Issue Date:
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THE SUM Entertainment Trends Comics Wednesday, July Zl, 1J7I Bl Church slave tunnel 'reopens if A if i in. i i i i mi urn 4-. Vt' By EARL ARNETT For more than 100 years, members of the congregation at the Orchard Street Church told stories of an underground tunnel used to smuggle slaves out of Baltimore. The entrance was supposed to be in the furnace room, but after the Civil war ended in 1865, the secret of its location disappeared. The church itself almost disappeared after the congregation moved away about four years ago.

Abandoned, vandalized and damaged by fire, the brick ttucture stood awaiting destruction by urban renewal. Actually, It was two structures, one facing 510 Orchard street and connected to a smaller building behind it, which once fronted on an alley. The larger church building was apparently built in 1858. while the older structure reportedly dates to 1827-1837. Legend related that the first church was built at night both by slaves and free blacks.

Women supposedly held torches while dedicated craftsmen used their spare evening hours to build a Methodist house of worship. 5 i'-' til i I i Such success seemed providential to Mrs. Hughes. Another stroke of luck occurred last April, when Glasco Ryales discovered the tunnel. Mr.

Ryales is a musician from New Jersey who visited Baltimore about seven months ago on his way home from Miami He remained here and became general manager of SunpPtrt photot ip L. RnointM At left is the Orchard Street Methodist Church, including the old building at the rear. Above, Glasco Ryales descends to the tunnel in the old church. DOWNTOWN DRAMA Simon's "The Good Doctor" by Villa Julie College students Free Inner Harbor 8 P.M. A metamorphosis of the 5JB space that provided room enough for a man.

He climbed down and felt a sandy area behind bis feet that enabled him to stoop. Then, there it was-a brick-lined tunnel leading under the floor. It's not a large tunnel, just big enough See SLAVE, B3, Col. 1 Mechanic will be sold in the lounges when the theater reopens this fall. Under previous contracts, the sale of liquor in the building was forbidden.

The city keeps up with the construction. A city inspector is on the job site. At a weekly meeting, contractors and subcontractors report on their progress and Vito Mangano, the acting director of the housing department's Division of Construction and Building Inspection, listens and advises. So far, 14,500 subscriptions have been sold, just 500 fewer than Mr. Cohen said he was pushing for when he took over; the theater's management.

"We're sell-ing balcony seats now," Mr. Lawrence said, "and because we've fixed the sight lines, they're all beautiful." He has plans for the building beyond theatrical productions. He is working with the Baltimore Museum of Art to select works for an art gallery in the thea-' ter lobby. The building, be hopes, will be open at 10 every morning for people working downtown to stroll through on their lunch hours or after work. New restaurants in the Mechanic probably will offer special pre-theater dinners and after-theater suppers.

The lounges will be available for events such as lectures, meetings and chamber music programs. "That, of course, Is the purpose of all this," Mr. Lawrence said, taking in the entire construction site with a wave of his hand. "To revitalize downtown." the new city landmark. In the process, he began exploring the two connected structures, probing walls and ceilings for old bottles, looking for artifacts, exposing architectural details that had been covered over.

And in the furnace room of the old building, beneath a chimney, he found a vertical York, who co-designed the new Center Stage. Warm colors-burnt orange and chocolate browns-will be used in the theater's decor. But the work is not just cosmetic In the theater, workmen are everywhere. A crew of about 40 men from the Jolly Company, which won the city contract on bid, have poured a new concrete floor. The theater's side walls have been moved inward, sacrificing about 300 seats that had impaired sight lines.

The stage has not been dramatically changed, but the orchestra pit has been almost doubled in size, Mr. Lawrence said. "It never had enough space for a musical, let alone a ballet" Workmen scramble around the rafters, building new catwalks that will be used for lighting the productions. Sparks from their welding fall to the ground like Fourth-of-July sparklers. Men on scaffolds hang sheetrock on the new side walls.

Concrete is being poured in the orchestra pit. Dust is everywhere. A new, lower ceiling, composed of what the contractors call "acoustic clouds," is being installed. "The finest, sophisticated, expensive sound system" will be added, Mr. Lawrence said.

A new stage floor has been laid. Dressing rooms will be redone. Carpets also have been stripped from the two lounge areas that flank the theater entrance. For the first time, liquor wmmmmmmmrmmmmmmmrmmmmmmmimmm yi urn i i ryr "iimu ion MiamwtMw iw i I A 'J 1 4 5- 'w" -t A 4 'i I.3 .7 'v -i'ssw- u-'A 4 nniiniiiliiliir- -1 i ,) i "r.Xjj J. i "fl I iA I -i larti tiii'iiVu ii in -iiwinm nim "tn nflft ifii (n n-iinhfcttJri.

Remodeling the Mechanic Theater tli 5 '5 7 i I were successful and In 1974 the city gave the committee almost $18,000 as seed money to begin a restoration effort. Last year, spurred by the efforts of Elizabeth Murphy Oliver, the committee managed In a remarkably short time to have the church placed on the National Register of Historic Places. possible for the barnstormers to play anything but white teams. To ingratiate themselves with white fans and avoid the kind of resentment that might arise from their defeating white teams, they decide to cater to the typical redneck eagerness to see blacks as clowns. Their games thus take on the aspect of a minstrel show.

When on the mound, Bingo exchanges his uniform for a gorilla suit. Another teammate with swallowtail coat and outsize glove alternates with a midget behind the plate. And the audiences love it, too dumb to realize that the ridiculous antics are simply a reflection of their own prejudices. But the spirit of "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" is so consistently joyous, the characters as portrayed by a talented black cast so uniformly appealing, that such social commentary tends to get lost in laughter. For example, Richard Pryor plays a black player endeavoring to crash the white leagues by passing himself off as a Cuban.

When this fails, he has his hair trimmed to a thick thatch running along the top of his head and tries to pass himself off as an Indian. Shortly afterward, one of his teammates is hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose manager has decided to break the white monopoly in the big leagues. "Wouldn't you know," mutters ftyor disgruntledly. "Soon's I become an Indian, they start taking Negroes." The film, directed with appropriate gusto by John Badham, is appearing at several Baltimore theaters. Some of the white planners saw the sturdy edifice only as an obstacle to their vision of progress.

As a result, the Committee for the Preservation of Orchard Street Church was formed. Mrs. W. A. Hughes led the struggle to persuade city officials that the church should be saved.

They Earl Jones) is star hitter on an opposing team, and the two maintain a ferocious rivalry that sometimes results in Bingo indulging in that legendary bit of pitch- -er's arrogance (once attributed to Paige) of calling in his outfield to demonstrate confidence in his ability to strike somebody out. During a game, one of Bingo's mates is hit on the head by a pitched ball, which leaves him unsteady on his legs and deprived of the power of speech. The owner an affluent mortician promptly fires him and assesses the other players $5 apiece to pay for his bus fare home. It is the final straw in a long series of injustices perpetrated by the owner, and Bingo is so offended by it he rebels. Suspecting that players on other teams are nurturing similar grievances, he manages to woo enough away (including his old rival Leon) from their owners to form a team of his own, with which he begins to barnstorm about the country, playing local teams on Sunday afternoons in back lots and decaying stadiums.

The techniques employed to draw crowds for these games is as much a product of the circus as the sports arena. They start with a big parade through the center of town, then during the game itself behave much in the manner of the Harlem Globetrotters, tossing the ball underhand, between their legs and over their shoulders. And this cavalier approach is carried even farther when their former owners, in a desperate effort to force them to return, make it im 'Bingo Long' is a jackpot of joy By S.NDY BAMSKY From Baltimore street, the Morris A. Mechanic Theater looks like its usual, stark concrete self. Inside, it looks like a construction site.

Which it is. May 1, work crews moved in, ripped out almost all of the theater's interior and started over. Carpets were pulled up. Seats were removed. The concrete floor was chopped up by jack hammers.

The $477,000 reconstruction is part of the Mechanic's metamorphosis into the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts. The city took over the financially troubled theater last summer, letting it sit dark for a season while Alexander IL Cohen and Peter Lawrence two New York producers-lined up new productions. The Mechanic Is not an old theater Its first show opened only in January, 1967. But, according to Mr. Lawrence, the Mechanic's managing director, the building always had problems.

Acoustics were bad. Some seats did not have a complete view of the stage. The orchestra pit was small, he said. Mr, Lawrence was explaining the renovations in his Mechanic office, over the muffled sound of jack hammers rattling upstairs. The new theater has been designed by Roger Morgan, of New 3 A.

4The Bingo Long Traveling ft'' 4 4 By R. II. GARDNER The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" opens with a 1939 newsreel showing Hitler's armies marching into Czechoslovakia. The black and white sequence, flickering darkly in the manner of old newsreels, is followed by a feature, narrated if I'm not mistaken by Pete Smith, about a guy who eats razor blades, after which we are treated to a shot of an all-black team playing baseball. The commentator explains that, inasmuch as there is an unwritten law against Negroes playing on white teams, the blacks have organized their own league, among whose players can be found the great Satchel Paige and Bingo Long.

At this point the film switches to color and the story of Bingo Long and his 'Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings" begins. As adapted by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins from the William Brashler novel, it is an ebullient, free-wheeling story, filled with high good humor, parades, vaudeville turns, fabulous feats both on and off the diamond all backed by a lilting jazz score. And, for "old-fashioned" (if you will) fun unencumbered by polemics or preachment, I recommend it to white and black alike. Bingo, played with an Ingenuous, irresistible charm by Billy Dee Williams, is star pitcher on one of the eight teams that make up the Negro National League. Catcher Leon Carter (James it if-1- y' I iWH 1 and Motor Kings1 parade through town before a ball game..

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