The Legend of Spirit Mountain, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. This company, dedicated to producing new plays from the African-American community, often stages works in progress–and The Legend of Spirit Mountain certainly fits that bill. Playwright K.M. Nkosi is a lyrical storyteller whose almost mythological play offers a fresh, interesting take on familiar issues: saving an “at risk” black male, struggling to preserve traditions, fighting to maintain hold of the land. But the play needs a serious edit. The first act establishes and reestablishes its message, dragging on, and the second act simply doesn’t know how to end. The climax is confused and ineffective. A final violent confrontation elicits unintended laughter, and the scene of singing, dancing, drumming, and speeches that follows cannot be quite heard or understood. Then Nkosi provides a pat resolution for each character.

Oba-William King, Daryl Charisse, and Jaymes Ballard have great stage presence, giving the show’s strongest performances. Too often, though, the ensemble can’t quite capture the poetry of Nkosi’s dialogue, which ends up sounding awkward and wordy. Particularly frustrating is director Baba Songodina Ifatunju’s choice of costume and set designs, which make this appear to be a play about the red team and the blue team. The colors of the costumes (designed by Karen Nolan) indicate all too clearly the characters’ alliances, echoed by the shades of their houses (designed by Myonie Payton).

–Jenn Goddu