Love, as everyone knows, can be many things; and E. L. James, a talented Washington-based writer and actor, has confronted some of them in 10 humorous and spirited interpretations.
His characters flirt with the elusive and reach no concensus, but in their search and stories they provide an entertaining evening. James is currently presenting his one-man musical, "The Face of Love," at The Rep, Inc., the company that succeeded the old D.C. Black Repertory Company. In a quick evening of romantic, droll sketches, including some political commentaries, James explores love's meaning through "Othello," a construction worker, a crap player who loses his best friend to a woman, and foreign legionnaire grieving over the traditional "Dear John" letter.
Though these characters are somehow anticipated in a panorama of black life, they are treated vigorously by James. Yet it's his unusual characters, and their nontraditional views of love, that are more memorable: The nephew who sees love expressed for his rich aunt only after her death; the West Indian, symbolic of all blacks taken from Africa, who speaks of his fascination and respect for that continent; the monitor from Heaven who tells of a festive love, a community, in eternity.
"We've got some newcomers," says the vistor from Heaven in a cracking voice, "Eddie Rochester" Anderson and Ethel Waters; and last night, they did a show, first time they've been together since 'Cabin in the Sky.'"
All the characters are male, and James accomplishes a smooth transition by donning different hats from three chapeau-chocked trees, the stage's spare setting. The band, six pieces conducted by Gerri Allen, with the music arranged by Hilton Felton, a popular local musician, makes an effective bridge.
James, 32, is a slim, bearded man who has also appeared at Arena Stage in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and at the Kennedy Center in "Owen's Song." "Love" was produced by Carl Anderson, a businessman who has worked with a number of arts groups, and Jaye T. Stewart, the new artistic director for The Rep. Stewart, who has taught at the University of Maryland and worked with the old Rep for six years, will oversee the new programs, including three productions. The season is scheduled to start in eight weeks.
James has a strong, lyrical voice that adjusts easily from the reggae to gospel motifs. A sound track of the show has already been produced and is available at the theater, 3710 Georgia Ave, NW. Shows are Thursdays through Sundays for the next four weekends.