In this 2003 drama about the lives of British blacks, fathers are destined to fail their sons—regardless of intent. A bitter pill, but one worth swallowing thanks to a very decent production from Congo Square Theatre, now in residence at the CCPA. The setting is a West Indian restaurant, Elmina’s Kitchen, in a dicey section of present-day London. It is both a safe haven and a trap, and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah lays out the story like a slow-motion car wreck. Deli (Anthony Irons) is the owner, a man too distracted by his thoughts to recognize what is going on around him. He is frequently at odds with his teenage son, Ashley (Phillip James Brannon), who sees the flash and cash of Digger, the neighborhood thug (played by an icily elegant Morocco Omari) and wonders, why not me? Ashley’s motivations are partly driven by his sense of what it means to be a man—especially a black man in today’s world. Deli is the type who would rather look the other way when his pride is elbowed in the ribs. You can see why Ashley would rebel. Things are just as tense between Deli and his own father, Clifton (Cedric Young), an oily charmer whose personal interests come at the expense of others. Into this mix comes a vibrant cook (Ann Joseph, with a jiggly cleavage that seems just right for the character) whose best efforts at shaking these men from their collective funk is met with blank stares. Directed by Derrick Sanders, the show has a lot going for it. There are some excellent performances here (Omari is especially unpredictable). But something in this production is off—it feels choppy and lacks momentum. The final scene, in particular, feels overwrought. Deli has just witnessed a moment of pure horror, and he wails like a baby. Sometimes the more chilling image is a man silent and stunned by the disaster before him. (Nina Metz)
At the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green St., (312)773-6000. This production is now closed.