Arguments on current generations' responsibilities for ancestors' transgressions are too well-balanced in British playwright Nick Stafford's "Luminosity," making its U.S. premiere at Playmakers Rep. Confrontation from a pronounced antagonist would add a needed edge to an otherwise provocative, if often flat, reprise of debates over racism, profiteering and reparations.

Arguments on current generations’ responsibilities for ancestors’ transgressions are too well-balanced in British playwright Nick Stafford’s “Luminosity,” making its U.S. premiere at Playmakers Rep. Confrontation from a pronounced antagonist would add a needed edge to an otherwise provocative, if often flat, reprise of debates over racism, profiteering and reparations.

Generations of the Mercer family are seen at 100-year intervals, making fortunes in slave and armaments trading around 1799, shifting to gemstones by 1899. Mercer descendants in a 1999 English garden are struggling with guilt over how the fortune they enjoy was acquired.

Making her professional stage debut, Charity Henson, as a tormented black artist adopted by naive matriarch Margaret Mercer (Tandy Cronyn), provides an emotional highlight in a soliloquy revealing her conflicting reactions to research into family history. She asks, “How can we honor the name of anyone who participated in the slave trade?”

Following events and unclear character connections through 10 scene changes and through three time settings in each act is more disconcerting than engaging, unfortunately. In the second act, characters from each generation are onstage concurrently, interacting and explaining their actions and reactions.

Bill Clarke’s single set of a slope adorned with mulch, flowers and wood walkway, is sufficiently adaptable to the multiple settings, and his costumes are eloquently appropriate to the varying time periods.

The cast of “Luminosity” is strong but uneven, lacking tangy lines early or the energy usually extracted by director David Hammond.

Luminosity

Paul Green Theater, Chapel Hill, N.C.; 502 seats; 440 top

Production

A Playmakers Repertory Co. presentation of a play in two acts by Nick Stafford. Directed by David Hammond.

Creative

Set and costumes, Bill Clarke; lighting, Peter West; sound, M. Anthony Reimer; vocal coach, Bonnie Raphael; movement, Craig Turner; dramaturg, Adam Versenyi; stage manager, Joanne E. McInerney. Opened, reviewed April 10, 2004. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Margaret Mercer - Tandy Cronyn Debra Mercer - Charity Henson Robert Mercer - Chandler Williams Saul Mercer - Earl Baker Jr. Betty Mercer - Melissa Herion John Gardner - Ray Dooley Forbes - Kenneth P. Strong Dalton - Jeffrey Blair Cornell Skilton - Jeffrey Meanza James Mercer - Bjorn Thorstad Victoria Cotton - Melissa Hickey Midwife - Lenore Field
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