Family ties clash with social responsibility in “Sunset Baby,” a character drama that rips a Band-Aid off old wounds while exploring relationships we make and break through our lives.
A trio of good actors brings the material to simmer, but it never quite gets to a rolling boil stage for the explosive conflicts that playwright Dominique Morisseau suggests.
The sound was an issue opening weekend, but it should have been resolved by now.
The statuesque Erin Renee Roberts, who was a stand-out in Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ “The World Begun” this summer, plays tough-talking Nina. She conveys the swagger of a bitter woman whose hard exterior conceals a wounded little girl.
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Nina is the daughter of two high-profile black revolutionaries from the 1960s. Her mother, who declined into drug addiction, has died and left her a cache of love letters that she wrote to her husband Kenyatta Shakur while he was in prison — but never sent.
The value of these letters has escalated, and are hot property. If Nina sells, she could be set. The desire to leave a criminal life behind is strong — she and her boyfriend Damon (Lawd Gabriel) rob people by luring them into drug deals that don’t happen.
Enter her estranged father (a sturdy Ron Himes) who wasn’t around for much of her life. He can’t penetrate the chip on her shoulder. She rants, she rages in lengthy tirades. She is often clothed in hooker attire, another layer of disguise.
He tries to reason, to make amends. She will have none of it. Too late, she thinks. Her hurt is palpable — but she will not succumb.
The interaction between the characters provides more insight, and they all have challenging hurdles to overcome.
Gabriel, also memorable in “The World Begun,” has an easy chemistry with Roberts, even when her character is prickly and unlikable.
He delivers a little comic relief, and has such nuggets of introspection as “I’m only half-bad.” His character is intriguing, and you get the feeling this play just scratched the surface.
More back stories about these damaged people would have helped understand their motivation. The roles are demanding, and you hope they all find their way.
Poignant touches like Kenyatta’s loving video messages to his daughter, and the use of photographic images, aid the show considerably. Mark Wilson’s projection design is first-rate.
The show is enhanced through Daryl Harris’ costume design, Jim Burwinkel’s scenic design and Sean Savoie’s lighting design.
The talent raises thought-provoking issues but the material isn’t as satisfying as it could have been.
- Who: The Black Repertory Theatre
- When: Wednesday through Sunday
- Where: Edison Theatre at Washington University, 6445 Forsyth Blvd., St. Louis
- Tickets: 314-534-3810; www.theblackrep.org