(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The “theater” of the title is Howard Theater, an urban cabaret in the 1920’s, set amid the “life of nigger alleys, of pool rooms and restaurants and near-beer saloons.” As its afternoon rehearsal begins, the manager’s brother John sits in the center of the theater and watches. He is a light-skinned African American, educated, urbane, and conscious of his social status.

The chorus girls themselves hold no interest for John. He coldly contemplates them and rejects them. They are beautiful, but beneath him socially; all of their movements are studied and routine. Although the women are unworthy of John and of his attention, the music and the glitter and the artificial passion soon begin to excite him. He wills his mind to put the excitement down, but when he sees Dorris appear on stage, he senses that there is something different about her. Unlike the other dancers, she is really engaged, really “throwing herself into it.” He cannot help noticing and desiring her. Dorris has bushy black hair, a lemon-colored face, and full red lips. John tries to suppress his desire for her; she is beneath him socially, despite her beauty. It would never work.

Dorris notices John noticing her. She desires him as well and asks her partner about him. He identifies John as the manager’s brother, and “dictie” (slang for blacks who are overconscious of their social class). This makes Dorris angry. She knows she is just as good as John is, even if...

(The entire section is 518 words.)