STAGE

Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope directed by Vinnette Carroll at the Charles Playhouse through October

"We gotta keep movin"' sings the opening soloist in Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, and that's just what this all-black revue does--from songs of bittersweet confrontation and celebration of black awareness to prayers for the brotherhood of man, from mock minuet and kick lines to sinuous rhythm and blue writhings.

Miki Grant's award-garnering musical has been all over the country--I first saw it years ago in Philadelphia--but it has arrived in Boston with its vigor and energy unsapped. The effect of the show is cumulative; by the end of the two hours, the Charles Playhouse's exhuberant cast has successfully bounced, exhorted and cajoled its audience through the entire gamut of black experience.

In "Lookin' Over From Your Side," for example, a Harlem-dweller suggests that if whites lived in a rat-infested slum, they too might be moved to riot. "Time Brings About Change" and "They Keep Comin'," on the other hand, are both paens to black progress, one bitter and funny, the other proudly insistent. In the former, one soloist pokes fun at the discomfort busing is causing whites. "Once we walked nine miles to school, while they took the bus," he sings. "Now they want to talk to school, and leave the driving to us."

Juxtaposed between the testimonials to black striving and the satirical jabs at the white man's culture are songs of love--love between man and woman and between the races. Attack alternates with reconciliation, but it is reconciliation which dominates in the end. "Time Brings About Change" fades into "So Little Time," a plea for universal harmony, followed in turn by "Thank Heaven for You," an old-fashioned love song. Near the end, "Sermon," which prays for an era when Blacks "won't have to fight to keep from fighting," serves as a prelude to "Fighting for Pharoah," which asks the audience to join hands and do some "living for peace."

It is an impressive whole, with a message that can't possibly be lost on Bostonians. And even if it is--well, Cope remains first-rate musical entertainment. Intensely memorable numbers--like the title song, an amusing look at the special annoyances attendant on being black, and the powerful opening number--dot an otherwise solid score. The dancing, on the other hand, is nothing short of spectacular--supple bodies tapping, twisting and shaking in a variety of dazzlingly choreographed sequences. The ensemble singing is less impressive, but soloists Alberta Bradford, pat Lundy Beauris Allen Whitehead and Bobby Hill all manage to be moving and assertive, plaintive and triumphant in turn.

In "Love Mississippi," Bradford sings of the places that head the roll of racial hatred--Watts and South Boston. Not too many people from Southie could have been there, in the eight and nine dollar seats, to defend their honor. But most of those who did make it to the Charles Playhouse seemed to have no doubts that they'd gotten their money's worth. On the way out, many of them echoed the words of the black man who sat behind me during the performance: "Beautiful," he kept saying. "Beautiful."