Winner of drama competition to be shown tonight on WMAR

February 24, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's television stations should be producing a lot more shows like "Without a Doubt," the film version of this year's winner of WMAR's 14th annual drama competition for African-American writers.

Not that the show is all that great. The script, by Donald Dankwa Brooks, is clever -- probably too clever, to the point where many viewers may tire of trying to follow it. The production is clearly a couple of notches below network television standards. And the acting, by members of Baltimore's Arena Players, is too stagey to work on the small screen.

Still, works such as these are a refreshing change for area viewers. How often do local playwrights or filmmakers see their work produced in their hometown? Hardly ever, and that's a real pity.

"Without a Doubt," airing from 7 to 8 tonight on Channel 2, centers on a tug of wills between Daniel Braxton, an attorney at a leading African-American law firm, and Margaret Vaughan, the wife of that firm's senior partner.

It opens with Mr. Vaughan getting shot and killed (offscreen) on his wedding day. Before five minutes pass, Mrs. Vaughan is admitting to Braxton that she killed him, even while insisting that he represent her and back up the story she's planning to tell the police -- that a man approached their car just minutes after their wedding, shot and killed the chauffeur and her husband, then ran away after she wrested the gun from him.

Mrs. Vaughan, it appears, is one cold fish. She murdered her husband for his money, and orders her reluctant attorney to put their house up for sale the very next day, liquidate all her husband's assets and make her a merry, rich widow as soon as possible.

Braxton, of course, is not terribly happy about the turn of events. Not only was he Mr. Braxton's best man, but he's not thrilled with the idea of representing a cold-hearted and -blooded killer.

But is that what he's doing? As the pieces of this very muddled puzzle start falling into place, it begins to look like she's covering up for someone else, then again like she did it, then again like she's innocent, then again you get the idea.

You'll also get a little tired of trying to follow all the plot twists and turns running amok through "Without a Doubt." Brooks has a talent for the twist, but he should be a little more reserved in flaunting that talent before his audience. His dialogue, though at times crisp, would have benefited from a little massaging. Too often, the actors are saying words that probably looked fine on paper, but don't work in conversation.

Charlene Harris has the most striking presence of all the actors, oozing slinky menace as Mrs. Vaughan. Still, she turns her character's emotional faucet on and off far too easily. As Braxton, Harold Anthony seems to be having a good time with the part, although he succumbs way too easily to Mrs. Vaughan's mood swings. Either Braxton is the most gullible attorney who ever lived, or he knows he's being manipulated and is content to go along for the ride.

Even with these flaws, however, "Without a Doubt" is an intriguing early effort for Brooks, a student at Morgan State University. If television stations around here took their public-service mandate seriously, this would be only one of many opportunities for local artists to develop their talent.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.