AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Kwame Kwei-Armah
Directed byMaria Mileaf
Presented by and at the American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary St. at Mason, San Francisco / (415) 749-2228
Reviewed by Judy Richter

A sick, bitter old black man has one last love in life, Lillie, his radiogram, or combination radio and record player, on which he plays Nat King Cole records.

Otherwise, Alfred (Carl Lumbly) is estranged from everything and everyone in Kwame Kwei-Armah's "Let There Be Love," presented by American Conservatory Theater. His life begins to change for the better when his two adult daughters arrange for a young home health aide, Maria (Greta Wohlrabe), to look in on him and try to help him.

Like Alfred, Maria is an immigrant. She recently arrived in London from Poland, while he emigrated from the West Indies several decades earlier. Among the people he dislikes are immigrants who arrived later than he. Therefore, he doesn't take kindly to this white woman at first, but her persistence and genuine interest in him break the ice.

Alfred has a prickly relationship with his younger daughter, Gemma (Donnetta Lavinia Grays). He's downright nasty to her, and she reciprocates. She becomes even more angry with him when he allows Maria to move into his home after learning that her unfaithful boyfriend abuses her.

As Alfred's health continues to deteriorate, Maria engineers a plan that allows him to reconnect with his roots, apologize to his ex-wife and reconcile with Gemma while finding renewed energy and a more optimistic outlook.

Playwright Kwei-Armah raises thorny issues like racism, family relations, medical care, homophobia and death with dignity while also creating three believable characters.

As directed by Maria Mileaf, all three actors successfully navigate their characters' emotional journeys. Lumbly is especially effective as Alfred.

Lighting by Russell H. Champa reflects Alfred's changing outlook and Maria's influence as his living room (set by Daniel Ostling) becomes progressively brighter. Costumes by Lydia Tanji and sound by Bart Fasbender add to the ambience. The choreography is by Stephen Buescher.

Taking place in the present, the two-act play runs about two hours with one intermission. It's a challenging yet rewarding experience.

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