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Stoops, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Crystal V. Rhodes's fresh, witty language and rich characters keep her 1983 play from becoming yet another banal celebration of women's friendships. Sinking into sitcom sweetness at the end, this playful coming-of-age story--first produced at ETA in 1995 and now being given a vibrant new staging by Charles Michael Moore--focuses on a working-class African-American neighborhood from the 1960s to the mid-80s.

The story touches lightly on social issues--black-on-black violence, single motherhood, Vietnam, the black power movement, class divisions within the African-American community--but never loses sight of the complex, savvy threesome at its center. Corky (Hana Anderson) is tough but boy crazy, the first of the three to become pregnant. Kelly (Evelyn-ann Davis) has big dreams and scribbles poetry in her omnipresent notebook as a way of escaping her abusive mother. Deara (Shreeta Stevens) is gentle and supportive of the other two; she finds early on the deep relationship she's looking for. Their ever-more-serious troubles with men are contrasted with the comic antics and loud Saturday-night fights of their glamorous neighbor, Miss Lacey (Sa'rah Hines), and her paramour, Mr. Marty (J.J. McCormick).

The strong ensemble glide through their roles, aging 25 years with subtlety. Only one relationship rings false--that between the adult Kelly and neighbor Rabbit (Terrance Watts)--turning into a lecture about communication in marriage.

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