There's no getting around it. Life is busy and complex: Your kid is failing in school; your business is in crisis; your best friend has psychological problems; and suddenly you find yourself falling in love with your arch rival.
That's just part of what goes on in Kathleen Barber's "The Dark Eyes," Fells Point Corner Theatre's first entry in this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival. And it's also most of the problem. The play is receiving a well-acted production under Barry Feinstein's direction, but there's simply too much going on.
Barber's fourth Playwrights Festival production, "The Dark Eyes" exhibits a number of themes that have surfaced in her earlier works, particularly the interest in families and business. Like those previous scripts, this latest effort continues to show promise, though it isn't as tightly crafted as her previous entry, "Whistle the Devil," and it suffers from the same type of overly epigrammatic dialogue that showed up two seasons back in "Wild Horse." ("Love is the only thing that transcends despair," a character proclaims in "The Dark Eyes.")
But the main difficulty is clutter. One difference between theater and real life is that a playwright can edit and focus. Barber's focus is too diffuse. At least half of this small-town drama appears to be about an interracial love affair between a self-righteous white newspaper publisher named Clay and the black teacher he hires to tutor his son.
Then that plot line all but disappears and the focus shifts to Clay's childhood friend, Jingles, who turns out to be a lot less jolly than his nickname suggests. Jingles and Clay are trying to untangle a land development deal that is being thwarted by a local hog farmer. At the same time, Jingles has romantic notions about Clay's divorced sister. And he's also trying to pull a fast one on the car dealer who employs him as a mechanic.
Most of the play's overabundance could be remedied with a sharp red pencil, and fortunately, it does not obscure the playwright's skill at character development. Despite the peripheral action, Clay emerges as the central figure, and Chris Dickerson does an affecting job as this stubborn, emotionally stunted man. The most moving portrayal, however, is that of Michael O'Connell as Jingles. In a script that tends to be too pat and to reveal too much about its characters, Jingles remains somewhat of an enigma -- with considerably more dramatic results.
Other notable performances are delivered by Connie Winston as the spirited black teacher, who also happens to be an outspoken opponent of Clay's land development plans; Gloria Henderson as Clay's under-appreciated sister; and Andrew Cosner as his troubled son. The extraneous role of a nosey neighbor, woodenly portrayed by Anna Fehl, would be an excellent place for Barber to begin trimming her script.
'The Dark Eyes'
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. Through July 26.
Where: Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.
Call: (410) 276-7837.