All the elements of drama are on hand — money, power, ego, race, science, tenure, family — and playwright Cassandra Medley draws them together into a taut, if slightly long, Relativity. Ron Himes, producing director of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, stages the play well, keeping everything nicely focused, fast-moving, and powerful. An added plus is the solo drum work of Arthur Moore, whose rhythms bring an evocative sound and heightened mood — sometimes tense and foreboding, sometimes sweet and loving — to the moments between scenes.
Kalima (Bianca LaVerne Jones) is a postdoctoral student of genetics caught between Claire (Linda Kennedy), her mother, and Irma (Monica Parks Simon), her mentor. Claire is convinced of the value of melanin as a genetic factor, a theory promulgated by her late husband. Larger amounts of it, she maintains, make black children grow into better athletes and more intelligent adults. Irma believes the theory to be false. The battle lines are drawn.
Regina Garcia's set on the Grandel Theatre's thrust stage uses a few simple elements to move the audience from a lab at Johns Hopkins to a Philadelphia melanin conference to a dormitory at Dartmouth, with living quarters for the various characters shown along the way.
Unfortunately, Medley unnecessarily inserts a pair of male lovers into the mother-daughter struggle. Christopher Hickey is effective as half the couple, a friend of Kalima and a fellow scientist also trying to keep his head above the roiling waters. J. Samuel Davis plays the other half, a supporter of Claire. While Myrna Collie-Lee's costumes point up the various positions in this debate, Medley's directorial attention is so focused on the battle between the women that the male characters are acted without enough depth.
The women, however, are excellent. As Irma, the tall and regal Simon knows her scientific position is solid, but also knows it will be even stronger if Kalima, her rival's daughter, offers public support. Kennedy, who has brought considerable depth to a wide range of roles at the Black Rep in the past, plays Claire as a woman who knows deep in her soul that her view is scientifically untenable but must continue battling to the bitter end. As Kalima, Jones is torn between her emotions and intellect, and she displays both in fine style.
Relativity runs Feb. 8-March 5 at the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis. Tickets: (314) 534-3810. Website: www.stlouisblackrep.com.