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Jumpin' the Broom, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Darlette E. McAlpin's second play appears to have been taken out of the oven before it was altogether cooked. Another rewrite or two might have smoothed over its abrupt narrative turns, broken up its long expository speeches, and excised its frequent redundancies. In the script's current incarnation, it's almost a parody of the social-problem plays that are ETA's stock-in-trade.

The central conflict revolves around an upper-middle-class housewife whose first husband, thought to have been killed during the Vietnam war, suddenly returns in search of his wife and daughter, who's soon to be married. That spoiled young lady's squabbles with her fiance over their imminent wedding--will it be an African home ceremony, including the slave custom of the bridal couple jumping over a broom, or a formal church affair?--provide additional conflicts, these between the girl's mother and stepfather.

The plucky cast do what they can to translate these superficial concerns into plausible human behavior. But only Shasta Phillips as the mother torn by her loyalties succeeds in inspiring sympathy, possibly because her character is the only one not focused exclusively on her own needs (though Anthony Pierre Christopher as her conservative second husband makes a good case for the courageous men who pick up the pieces). But when the always expressive ETA audience not only responds to but anticipates every action, you know the play is disappointingly predictable. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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