When The Water Turns Clear, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. In Mark Clayton Southers’s new play, a young African-American widower fights to claim a better future for himself and his ten-year-old son, Andre. Jesse has been working in a white man’s grocery store for years but is treated with little respect. Encouraged by his uncle Reese and cousin Lionel, Jesse decides to take action, but his efforts to change the situation have dire and dramatic consequences for the entire family.

Southers’s play includes moments of genuine comedy and candid observations on the obstacles African-American men face. Yet this world-premiere production has the feel of a workshop performance. The script moves from one plot point to the next with scant character development: the playwright may have given each person a subtle inner life, but as directed by Terry Cullers, the ensemble fails to flesh them out.

With one real exception: Rolando A. Boyce Sr. makes Jesse’s struggles and emotional attachments to the other characters abundantly clear. And though J.J. McCormick as Reese overplays some lines, he gives the production comic life. But Roderick Jean-Charles’s performance as Lionel is uneven, and Donica Henderson-Thornton’s turn as Jesse’s love interest is flat. Playing Andre, young Brandon Jackson has stage presence but needs stronger focus. Still, if a more consistent cast were to delve deeper into Southers’s meditations on self-determination, they could prove powerful.

–Jenn Goddu