Nights have become a time of dread for Justin Wakefield. In his dreams, he's being attacked in a field, pummeled with clubs and pickaxes, beaten so hard that he stops breathing.
They're only dreams, his wife, Faith, keeps assuring him.
But Justin's not so sure. They seem awfully real, as if he's watching something that actually happened maybe something that happened in a deserted field in Sumner, Miss., in 1956, something that left a young black man dead, something that left that man's spirit calling out for vengeance on the three white men who killed him.
But what's all this have to do with Justin Wakefield? What's he supposed to do about it?
Those are the million-dollar questions behind "Killing Memory," this year's winner of WMAR's drama competition in honor of Black History Month.
As presented by the Arena Players, "Killing Memory" seems to have been altered from what writer Kim Moir of Baltimore envisioned. In December, he described the play as a meditation on the value of vengeance, a look at what happens when the sins of the past are being endlessly played out in the present.
"There's no future in hatred," Moir said at the time. "When the past, present and future exist in one place, something has got to give."
But tonight's film reflects little of that. Rather, it's a fairly conventional ghost story/revenge drama, with a spirit from beyond the grave calling out for justice, and the man it selects to enact that justice more than happy to help.
As Wakefield, Michael Kane's strong presence keeps the play afloat. As his wife, Pamela Tabb does what she can.
Richard Kirstel, who portrays the only surviving member of the murderous threesome, performs at way too high a pitch.
Even the most accomplished of actors, however, would have problems surmounting some of the film's technical limitations. And most of those stem from its two directors' failure to remember that this is a film, not a play.
Large-scale emoting, for example, works on stage, but not within the intimate confines of a TV screen. Ill-placed microphones pick up every shuffled paper or brushed chair.
And shortcuts that work fine in the theater look silly on film: When Faith uses a key to unlock her husband's desk, she just waves it in the area of the lock, never bothering to actually use it. On the stage, no one would notice; in a filmed close-up, it's hard not to.
Still, "Killing Memory" is a wonderful idea for a drama, one that, with a little fleshing out (and a little more complexity), could be developed into a fine screenplay.
And the folks at WMAR deserve credit for continuing to showcase the work of local playwrights. That they fell a little short in their execution this time around doesn't make the effort any less laudable.