THE DREAMERS, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Perhaps the strongest aspect of Christina Harley’s play–which explores the mounting tensions in a southern black family after Martin Luther King’s assassination–is its vivid portrayal of the tumultuous relationship between a mother and her rebellious daughter. While Lola waits stubbornly for her husband to return, daughter Princess searches vainly for an authority figure to replace the father who abandoned her. Both are proud to a fault, and their constant battle of wills provides many of the play’s most gripping moments.

Like many emerging playwrights, though, Harley is the victim of her own impulse to tie the play up neatly, allowing too much steam to escape from the pressure cooker of the family she’s created. The two potential suitors she introduces in the middle of The Dreamers lack the multiple dimensions of her other characters; at best they’re plot devices. And given the restraint she exhibits in the first half, the play’s final message–accepting one’s accountability as the key to personal freedom–is decidedly less than subtle.

Director Runako Jahi’s staging is taut, and the ensemble’s performances–especially Kem Saunders as the misanthropic brother Otis–are uniformly bold. Even more exceptional is Robert C. Martin’s set, which transforms ETA’s mammoth stage into the relatively intimate living room of a ramshackle house. Too bad Harley takes these minor missteps–with some fine-tuning, her script might equal the depth of this nearly flawless production. –Nick Green