I like to think of this play as a message. If people come see it, they can actually grow with it. Although it entertains you, it lays the message on thick."That's the way actor John Jelks explains the idea behind the traveling stage show The (All New) Diary of Black Men, which plays one show only at Oakland's Paramount Theatre at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 8 (2025 Broadway, 510-465-4600 for tickets).
The message is evidently a popular one. Thomas Meloncon's play has been touring African-American communities around the country since 1983, five years after it was first conceived as a workshop project at a Houston, Texas community center. This is its fifth run in Oakland. The "All New" in the title refers to updated characters and situations, but the show's subtle preachments on the necessity of close, positive, home-based relations between black men and women (its subtitle is "How Do You Love a Black Woman?") haven't changed much over the years. The issue is one of respect between the genders, reflected in the postures of what the show's producers call "six black male stereotypes" as they interact with the seventh character, a lone woman who performs in pantomime.
An original cast member, Jelks has seen the stereotypical characters come and go in his more than twelve years with the show. The Chicago-based, Bay Area-raised actor appears as three characters: a Black Muslim man (based on Louis Farrakhan, Jelks says), a Baptist preacher (based on Jelks' uncle), and a closeted gay man.
The Diary of Black Men is one of a long line of touring shows aimed at African-American audiences since the mid-1980s, a phenomenon dubbed a "renaissance" of black American theater -- although the productions remain relatively obscure outside black communities. Subcultural trend or not, Jelks says the show has a definite social purpose. "There's such a wedge between black men and women these days. Maybe this play can do something about that."
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