Love Child, Live Bait Theater. The best of many good things about Luther Goins’s exciting new play is that it offers hope. In this true-to-life depiction of babies raising babies, four teenage mothers in a parenting-skills class confront their relationships with their own too young mothers, learning self-respect and confidence. Throughout the play we see how neglect, loneliness, and fear have wounded the girls. But even in the most abusive mother-daughter relationship–that between TaWanda (the attitude-laden Demetria Thomas) and her violent mom (the explosively volatile Ace)–we see two people moving toward reconciliation.

Highlighting the attitudes and societal problems that contibuted to these girls becoming mothers too young, Goins has written a provocative and entertaining play, both sharply comic and powerfully dramatic. Director Ilesa Lisa Duncan’s cast gives full life to his characters. As teen mothers who are still very much girls, Thomas, Mashari Bain, Keisha Nicole, and De Anna N.J. Brooks brim with adolescent bravado, and their characters are distinguished not only by amazingly creative hairstyles but by their unique personalities. Dushon Monique Brown and Stacie Doublin also give remarkable performances as elderly church-loving sisters: Brown is hysterical as an opinionated spitfire, and Doublin holds her own as the surprisingly feisty sidekick. Michelle Williams is a strong force as the social worker who takes no crap, and R.J. Jones is impressively versatile in a series of fleeting male roles.

–Jenn Goddu