Actor W. Allen Taylor has turned his youthful quest to discover first his father's identity and then what sort of man he was into a compelling and suspenseful one-man vehicle. In Search of My Father...Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins has already been honored by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle as 2006's best solo production, with runs in Berkeley and Cleveland as well.
After long evading Taylor's childhood questioning, his mother finally revealed her married ex-lover's name: Bill Hawkins, a 1950s DJ of some repute and Cleveland's first black DJ. But Taylor's hopes for a reunion are dashed when he learns Hawkins died just a few months before.
There is, however, a twist. Taylor once met his father without knowing it. His DJ days behind him, Hawkins was working at the Urban League and interviewed Taylor for a summer job before Taylor began studying at Ohio State University. Frustrated by having nothing but that dim memory, the son sets out to find anyone who might have known his father.
Taylor, a lanky and graying 50-something, has a natural, soft-grained persona that belies the range of vivid characters he's able to impersonate and the surprising grace of his movements. The chameleonlike actor morphs effortlessly through a gallery of excellent characterizations, especially in a second act tour de force during which he plays in succession a worldly-wise woman, a jiving street character, and a smooth-talking lounge singer.
Fluidly directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang, In Search of My Father has a lively nonstop R&B soundtrack featuring singers of Hawkins' era and beyond, with the sound design (by Taylor and Dustin Toshiyuki) only occasionally overpowering the dialogue. The piece ends with an actual voice recording and several photographs of Hawkins. These make a good payoff, but given the vividness of all that's come before, we already know all we need to know.
Presented by Woodie King's New Federal Theatre
at the Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center/Recital Hall, 466 Grand St., NYC.
June 11-29. Wed.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.org.