COMFORT STEW, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. The titular stew of Angela Jackson’s urban drama is ostensibly the spicy meal cooked by one Hillary Robinson Clay, a dish that conjures up memories of her own brief childhood, which she fears will be repeated in the lives of her rebellious daughter Sojourner and neighborhood teen mother Patrice Rodgers. But the script is also a melange of disparate ingredients: contemplative memory play, gruesome detective thriller, family tragedy, and morality drama, with just a dash of folklore. The result is flavorful if not altogether fresh.
This ETA production, under Paul Carter Harrison’s direction, is most effective in its quietest moments, in particular during the witty, poetic conversations between Clay and her mother (an excellent performance from newcomer Janet Moore). Jackson also excels at the suave monologues delivered by Clay’s boyfriend Jacob Sunnyside (a crafty, urbane Donn Carl Harper), the detective investigating the disappearance of Patrice’s daughter. The play is less effective in its heated conflicts, which are inadequately developed and tentatively performed. And Clay’s arguments with her daughter feel recycled from generic generation-gap drama.
But the complexity of Jackson’s interlocking narratives and the weight of the social issues she addresses give the audience more than enough to stew over, even if some of her dramatic devices are difficult to swallow.