LIFTING, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Playwright Frank F. Hightower fills this drama with the sort of strong, compelling characters who populate blues songs and August Wilson plays. Bitter sisters. Fallen angels. Good men scarred by hard lives. People with interesting stories and the desire to tell them. And for an act or so, this is enough. Especially when Ron O.J. Parson's direction is good and the characters are played by fascinating, capable actors like Charles Michael Moore, Novona Dillard, and bluesman turned actor Fernando Jones.
But after a while you want more from a play than an intensely realistic re-creation of African-American life in the years just after World War II. You want the playwright to tie up some of the loose ends and relieve the dramatic tensions he's been building for an hour and a half. And it's at that point that Hightower (and director Parson) stumbles. Instead of resolving his myriad story lines, Hightower fills the final half hour with all sorts of melodramatic devices--screaming characters, sudden reversals, astounding revelations--that culminate in an offstage knife fight interrupted by a fiery bolt of lightning clearly meant to be a message from God--though what He's trying to tell the protagonist, or us, isn't clear. It's a most disappointing ending to a play that has much to say about life and love in racist America. --Jack Helbig