It's hard to imagine all the balls that must be juggled by the artistic director of a theater, especially one with such deep and meaningful roots in the community as Karamu. As an integral part of the inner city in Cleveland for 75 years and as the nation's oldest African American cultural-arts institution, Karamu has a long and storied tradition - including fostering such gigantic talents as famed playwright Langston Hughes. But 41-year-old Terrence Spivey, who was hired as artistic director in 2004 - after the theater had languished for eight years with the position unfilled - is proving to be a master at blending interesting productions that speak to the African American experience while also offering a welcoming hand to everyone else. During the past season, outstanding shows such as Bee-Luther-Hatchee
and Johnnie Taylor Is Gone
combined entertainment - sharply drawn characters and taut, precise timing - with thematic messages in ways that haven't been seen on East 89th for quite some time. Under Spivey's direction, Karamu could be on the verge of a new golden age, and that would make Langston proud.