Anchorman (A Blues Operetta), ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Few plots in recent memory can match this one for idiosyncrasy. A teenager blessed with blazing speed declines to join his mother, who’s gone to Guyana to follow cult leader Jim Jones; instead he accepts an athletic scholarship at a predominantly white boys’ school, where a young, gay track star takes a fancy to him. Playwright-director Paul Carter Harrison uses songs, song fragments, and short scenes to address the dangers of succumbing to the temptations of a majority-white society, setting up curious parallels between Ignatius’s disillusionment, his mother’s embrace of Jim Jones, and his father’s story about being tricked into sleeping with a transvestite at a truck stop.
Harrison walks a tightrope between a thoughtful critique of macho male values and a tacit endorsement of them, but the problem here is primarily the execution. Harrison and his collaborator, jazz innovator Julius Hemphill, have impressive credentials, but the songs and scenes in this play rarely flow together. Performed on a single electronic keyboard, Hemphill’s music is a mishmash of styles. Even worse is the production, which can be most charitably described as tentative. Rueben Echoles as Ignatius has great charisma, but several of the supporting players just can’t carry a tune, eliciting audience groans and giggles throughout. The estimable ETA boasts one of the more supportive audience bases in the city, but by the end of intermission many people had fled. –Adam Langer