With at least three revolving cast lineups, the Rep Inc. production of "Touch Me in the Morning" brings an element of chance to theater-going. You don't know which cast combination may be assembled on stage on a particular evening.
That has its disadvantages -- both for theatergoers and reviewers. I saw two performances of "Touch Me in the Morning" with cast changes in all but one of the major roles. The first production, with several strong performances, had its moving moments. The other was played at an over-wrought pitch that seemed to infect even the one actress who appeared in the same role in both productions.
"Touch Me in the Morning" is the work of a new playwright, G. L. Wallace. It has humor, honest sentiment, some interesting characters and several good scenes. But Wallace's play is unfocused, rambling in structure and burdened with too many themes. The script needs to be cut ruthlessly and tightened. And the Rep production doesn't help matters with too many pregnant silences and drawn-out confrontations.
The play opens to a double-set stage -- the living room of a middle-class black family and the kitchen of the apartment rented to two young black women. The primary characters are Billie Page, a young black girl up from the rural South, and Greg Butler, a Vietnam veteran who refuses his father's offer for a partnership in the restaurant business and spends his time playing pool because it's the one way that he gets respect.
Wallace is writing about self-esteem and people needing to accept themselves despite flaws. Billie, abused and abandoned throughout her life, wants someone to be there to "touch me in the morning." The story of Greg and Billie involves the lives of Marcus, Greg's hard-working father; Leroy, the younger brother who talks like a sociology lecture; Aunt Callie, the aunt in the matriarchal role; and Alice, the cousin who goes to college and is ashamed of Billie.
Arthur Dailey Jr. caught the anger and bitterness of Greg without losing sympathy for this young man who can hurt his father so much. His strong performance was matched by Doug Brown, touchingly effective as the father who worked himself out of poverty and can't understand his sons. Tabia Thomas as Aunt Callie, Ketia Semia as Billie and Rick Duff as Leroy also were convincing in their roles in this production.
The Rep, Washington's only black theater training troupe, will be staging "Touch Me in the Morning" on Thursday and Friday evenings at 8 p.m. through February. A rotating cast system gives students chances for experiences in different roles. The company performs in a functional and comfortable theater space at 3710 Georgia Ave. NW.