The perils of directing one's own script are in heavy evidence in Kuntu Repertory Theatre's premiere of Gregory Khalil Kareem Allen's Traces. Topping off at three-plus hours, the production needs judicious trimming and painstaking re-pacing. A more impartial eye would catch the numerous glitches, e.g. a suit-clad, middle-class character wiping his hands on his vest after eating pizza. That's not to mention the character inconsistencies and melodramatic plot turns.
On the other hand, Allen, who teaches African-American theater at the University of Pittsburgh, does fill his play with great rants and bits of business for his actors. And he also knows how to use silence, though sometimes it's a bit too much of a good thing.
Although the timespan seems somewhat shorter, according to the program Traces covers the years 1990-2010 in the lives of two life-long buddies, from young adulthood to early middle age. Matt (Jonathan Berry) is the serious-minded law student who soliloquizes on race identity while secretly yearning for the beloved Jasmine (Salome Mergia) of his best friend Sterling (Tyrone Johnson), a charming scapegrace and unlikely accountant.
There is some major-league scenery-chewing here, most adeptly by veteran crowd-pleaser Wali Jamal Abdullah, providing comic relief. His appetite grows as his character inexplicably coarsens from a deeply religious, upstanding citizen to a street-talking, rather rude business type. Also exercising star turns are the young charmer, Emmanuel L. Walker, as Sterling's son; Tonita L. Davidson, as Jasmine's loudly opinionated sister; and Johnson himself, especially in the first act.
There are some nice touches. A joke about President Bush and the war with Iraq sails by. Emphasizing that father-son relationships are a key theme, Leo L. Beatty, as Sterling's father, seemingly towers over his adult son, who later literally looms large over his own son. And the passing years are nicely suggested not only by Allen's pop-culture references but also by the efforts of the design team: Kenneth M. Ellis, scenery, with Herbert Newsome on construction and painting; Irene Bozeman and Cheryl El-Walker, costumes; Wayne Gaines, sound; Jason Peroney, lighting; and Renee Sorrell and Stephanie Akers, production and stage managers, respectively.
Still very much a work in progress, Traces sets out some high ambitions that, one hopes, it will someday attain.
Traces continues through Feb. 5. Kuntu Repertory Theatre in Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. 412-624-8498 or www.kuntu.org