Eugene Lee's "Killingsworth," receiving its East Coast premiere at Arena Players, is part murder mystery and part domestic drama, with an occasional digression into sitcom.
Such lapses aside, when "Killingsworth" focuses on the angry young man at its center, it touches a universal chord.
Director Donald Owens has double-cast most of the roles. Michael A. Kane, who appeared in Sunday's matinee, palpably conveyed Moriah Killingsworth's pent-up resentment. Hoping to be reconciled with a father he felt he could never please, Moriah returns home only to discover his father has been murdered.
Wrought with guilt over unfinished filial business, Mr. Kane's Moriah vibrates with barely repressed rage. At first his rage seems directed at his father's murder, but soon it becomes apparent that Moriah is equally enraged at himself.
His relationship with his father isn't the only unfinished business in Moriah's life. He dropped out of college, was asked to leave the service, and now can't bring himself to marry his steady girlfriend, played with an unnecessarily surly edge by Karen R. Kirkland.
Moriah's family includes two sisters -- an unwed mother who's also a substance-abusing pharmacist, and a perpetual student studying forher Ph.D. These roles tend to be overplayed by Cheryl E. Pasteur and -- even more so -- by Deblyn Brown. Randolph Smith shows more restraint as their illegitimate step-brother. And Loraine Gravett Brown has the appropriate attitude as their self-sufficient mother, despite a rather flat delivery.
"Killingsworth" is a first play by Mr. Lee, a longtime member of New York's Negro Ensemble Company. The playwright, who attended the opening, said negotiations are under way for "Killingsworth" to make its professional debut at the Pasadena Playhouse in California this spring.
Arena Players' production indicates that the script's strength lies in its character development; the plot contains some extraneous threads that need to be pulled. If death can bring a family together, murder cements the bond in "Killingsworth." Though this fledgling script still needs work, Arena Players deserves credit for assisting in the developmental process.
"Killingsworth" continues at Arena Players weekends through Nov. 25; call 728-6500.