December 12, 2003



A probing look at fatherhood


"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child," goes the old spiritual, but "fatherless" would be more accurate for many African American children left in the care of single moms, extended family or the state. The crushing toll of this rampant social problem hasn't often been addressed from the fathers' point of view -- and seldom has it been explored with as much humor, tenderness and candor as it is in E.L. James' "Nobody Walks Like My Daddy."


The show begins disarmingly, with the big, bald James singing sweetly, "In my lifetime, can I raise the kind of man my father was?" The question is actually haunting his character's son (Roscoe Freeman), who is on his fourth marriage and his seventh child and hoping at last to get this fatherhood thing right.


In the freestyle mix of reminiscence, reenactment and regret that follows, it's not always clear whether James' father figure is still alive or just a ghostly conscience with whom his questing son can hash things out. But the tight bond between the actors, both as father and son and in a variety of roles, is never less than crystal clear, whether they're sharing rowdy stories, busting each other's chops or sharing quiet moments of understanding. Live accompaniment by director Justin Lord, on wind instruments, and percussionist Eddie Rouse smooths and punctuates the transitions effectively.


The play gets matter-of-factly preachy by the end, and apart from a striking acknowledgment that "it's tough to be a woman," the females who did the heavy lifting -- with or without a man around -- are conspicuously absent. But as a searching, often searing examination of contemporary manhood at a crossroads between strength and sensitivity, responsibility and freedom, James' play is a modestly affecting, affirmative entertainment.

Rob Kendt


"Nobody Walks Like My Daddy," Ron Richards Productions and Conscious Comedy Concepts at 4305 Village Theatre, 4305 Degnan Blvd., Leimert Park Village. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 21. $20. (323) 939-2438. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.