By Wendy Rosenfield
The Philly Urban Theatre Festival’s second year brings Fair Son, a second production written, directed by, and featuring Kareem Rogers. Like Twice Loved, last year’s Rogers entry, this issues-based living room melodrama skims the surface of a potentially deep pool. But Fair Son — which takes on interracial families, racism, civil rights, lynching, love and leukemia, tosses themonstage for an hour or so and watches them scatter — is half as much fun and even less credible.
With a supporting cast that's sincere, if amateurish, Rogers, as patriarch Martin Stewart, brings laid-back levity to his role. His teddy-bear physique and earnest eyes put a spectator in his corner — though he appears to be roughly the same age as his married attorney son, Malik (Michael Irvin). But while Rogers can charm an audience into overlooking this discrepancy, there’s no hiding his lack of research and simplistic approach to character.
Malik’s white mother Martha (Elizabeth Abate) — get it? Martha Stewart? — marched with Martin in the South as a civil rights-era activist, raised their son, lives with Malik and his African-American wife (Sharifa Patterson), but suddenly reveals herself as a closet racist? Malik has leukemia advanced enough to require a bone-marrow transplant, but no one in his house knows about it? Malik’s best friend Lucas (Garland Overbey) — or maybe Lucas is a co-worker; it’s unclear — and wife are black, but he doesn’t like to associate with black people?
Meanwhile, Malik, apparently Philly’s “number-one lawyer” (though his area of practice isn’t specified, and he’s not a partner), receives a controversial adoption case — a black mother wants her baby back once she discovers it was adopted by whites (we never learn whether the child is male or female). Despite the case’s contractual obstacles and legal precedents, Malik hopes to prove suburban babies have lower death rates than urban babies, a statistic that has approximately nothing to do with his potential courtroom success.
Rogers seems concerned primarily with black and white, literally and figuratively. Until Malik rejects the white half of his biracial heritage he’s thoroughly unlikeable. Similarly, returning the baby to its birth mother is good, keeping it with its adoptive family is bad. These conclusions are a shame, because Fair Son’s strength lies hidden among its gray areas; here’s hoping that as Rogers develops the piece, he jumps all the way in and isn’t afraid to cloud the waters.
Through Sunday at the Skybox, Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $15-$20. Information: www.putf.org.