Father-son drama ‘Levi’ covers familiar ground

Paris Crayton III’s “Levi” is an ostensibly soul-searching drama about the volatile reconciliation between an estranged father and son. But it isn’t quite the same thing to say that Rising Sage Theatre’s production of the play more accurately tries the soul instead.

Even if you’re an allegedly heartless critic, you can’t help but wish the endeavor well. The emergence of a new professional theater company on the scene is always an encouraging sign and an undeniable cause to rejoice. So is its commitment to presenting locally generated new works.

Co-founded last year by artistic director Crayton and managing director Kirk D. Henny, Rising Sage opened its inaugural season earlier this spring with a staging of Crayton’s father-daughter drama “The Best Game.” Later in the fall, the troupe will mount a pair of his one-acts, “Chainz” and “Broken,” variations on a theme about the group dynamics among black men and black women, respectively.

For the time being, “Levi” (which is also directed by Crayton) pulls out a veritable heavy hitter with the casting of Taurean Blacque as the father of the piece. The Atlanta-based actor may be most widely known as an Emmy-nominated regular on the 1980s series “Hill Street Blues.” More recently, though, he has been no stranger to local theater audiences, bringing a certain presence or gravitas to several (albeit sporadic) stage appearances here.

Blacque portrays Hezekiah Green, an aging and stubbornly resolute minister who’s forced to confront some of his proverbial demons upon the unexpected return of his son, Levi, whom he effectively disowned years ago.

Relative newcomer Anthony S. Goolsby co-stars in the title role, a so-called “free spirit” only in the sense that Levi happens to be gay, not because the character is drawn with much greater dimension or shading than that of his Bible-thumping, Scripture-quoting father.

To be sure, that you might easily predict how these two men will clash is a big part of the problem with “Levi.” While it may be original in terms of being newly written and produced, the show isn’t quite so original in terms of being novel in any thematic or theatrical way. There’s a been-here, done-this aspect to the story that’s increasingly frustrating.

Throughout the play, fleeting mentions are made of a few plot points that could have given Crayton something unique or different to explore or express: the fateful events surrounding Levi’s coming out; the fact that he has since settled down with a partner and that they’re raising a young daughter; or, most potentially, an adulterous affair from Hezekiah’s past that suggests the character isn’t just a one-note paragon of righteousness after all.

The more obviously “Levi” develops, the more heavy-handed it seems, and Crayton’s lackadaisical pacing (both as written and directed) becomes a further drag on the show. It’s staged in a nice black-box space of the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center in Decatur, although, as configured here, one’s view of the action can be periodically tricky from the back rows.

Despite all else, as Levi and Hezekiah presumably discover, there’s something to be said for and gained from giving others the benefit of the doubt. In the end, “Levi” is rather disappointing, but that doesn’t make you anticipate any less what’s next for this up-and-coming new group.

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