Coffee Will Make You Black, City Lit Theater Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. In yet another compelling adaptation, City Lit reveals the extraordinary theatricality of literature and ordinary life. The strength of Michael A. Shepperd’s faithful, smartly condensed version of April Sinclair’s novel, about a young black girl’s sexual awakening in the politically and socially volatile 60s, lies in its characters. As the young girl Stevie, Nambi Kelley is delightful, eager to explore and challenge her own limitations and those of her culture. Paulette McDaniels plays her mother with a restrained warmth and pride. The supporting cast is excellent, changing roles and gestures with playful energy.

Andrea Dymond’s direction, like Shepperd’s adaptation, is fast paced and savvy. Both emphasize the story’s humor without sacrificing the important political changes that shape Stevie’s sensibilities: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the black power movement. The story carries a sense of danger, capturing the risk and excitement of adolescent survival; in this world, Stevie’s self-respect is often her only protection against prejudice, pregnancy, and peer pressure. Charming and complicated, Coffee Will Make You Black is chamber theater at its strongest.

–Carol Burbank