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The River Niger

Joseph Walker was among a handful of black playwrights who came to prominence during the Civil Rights era and won acclaim for their dramas about the black experience in America. This is a solid, spirited revival of his 1974 Tony Award–winning drama about a family tested by a critical moment of reckoning. The action unfolds in the Harlem residence of Johnny Williams (a dynamic performance by Ben Guillory), a housepainter who writes poetry and whose love for his long-suffering wife, Mattie (Margaret Avery), is matched only by his love of the bottle. The two are anxiously anticipating the arrival of their son Jeff (Dane Diamond), who they believe is returning as a successful U.S. Air Force navigator. But his eventual return instead brings disappointment and trouble for the family. Adding to the crisis are Mattie’s cancer diagnosis and the sudden appearance of four of Jeff’s old buddies who are now members of a militant black revolutionary group. This is essentially a dated melodrama, but one that nevertheless holds our attention and has fruitful poignancy because of the well sketched, robust humanity of the characters. Director Dwain Perry could do better with more rigorous pacing. Cast performances are uniformly good, particularly Alex Morris, who is superb as Dr. Dudley Stanton. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Dec. 20. (213) 489-0994.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Nov. 13. Continues through Dec. 20, 2009

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