Kathleen Clark's "Banner," which comes to Los Angeles direct from an Off Broadway run, is a well-intentioned play that fails to adequately examine the weighty issues it raises.
Set in the Smoky Mountains in the year 1939, this is a cozy drama, filled with likable characters and charmin' chit-chat. Pretty Banner Lee Winston (Lois Robbins) desperately wants a child, but fate, so far, has not delivered. Banner's husband Price (Michael Piontek), the local mill manager, is floored when his impulsive wife comes home toting another woman's unwanted baby but soon accepts the child as his own.
Their happiness is rudely disrupted after Doc Forbes (Hal Robinson), their trusted family physician and friend, reveals that the baby's father is black. When this fact leaks out, some of the townsfolk, including Price's best friend Matt (Paul Meek), turn ugly.
Henry Polic II's staging is assured, and the cast, which includes Schuyler Grant and Mark Wheatle, acquits itself admirably. To her credit, Clark has crafted well-rounded, intelligent Southern characters--a refreshing accomplishment, considering the slack-jawed "Tobacco Road" prototypes that frequently predominate, particularly in period pieces such as this one.
However, rather than probing her provocative premise, Clark takes the easy road, down which we can spot her predictable plot twists coming for a country mile.
* "Banner," Tamarind Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Feb. 26. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.