Power of forgiveness revealed in ‘Let There Be Love’ 

click to enlarge Carl Lumbly and Geta Wohlrabe appear in American Conservatory Theater’s production of Kwame Kwei-Armah's family dramedy “Let There Be Love.” - COURTESY KEVIN BERNE
  • Carl Lumbly and Geta Wohlrabe appear in American Conservatory Theater’s production of Kwame Kwei-Armah's family dramedy “Let There Be Love.”
To be or not to be – that’s the big question in “Let There Be Love.”

Race, prejudice, sexual identity, domestic violence, trust and reconciliation also loom large in Kwame Kwei-Armah’s play, which opened Wednesday at the American Conservatory Theater.

But the central issue in this simmering comedy-drama deals with a decision about when life is worth living, when it’s not – and who decides.

For Alfred (Carl Lumbly), an aging and exceedingly cranky West Indian immigrant living in London, the question is a pressing one.

Alfred doesn’t appear to have much to live for. He doesn’t like people and he doesn’t go out. He deals with pain on a daily basis. He’s sick, but years of working as a hospital orderly have left him determined not to spend his final days in one – or even to obey his doctor’s orders.

He takes no comfort from his fractured family. Visits from his angry gay daughter, Gemma (Donnetta Lavinia Grays), always end in arguments over what led his wife to abandon the family and return to the islands. No wonder Alfred takes refuge in recalling happier times back home, and listening to Nat King Cole records on his prized gramophone.

Enter Maria (Greta Wohlrabe), a white Polish immigrant and home health aide assigned to Alfred’s case. Maria has issues of her own, and she and Alfred strike an uneasy bargain: he offers her a place to live, if she’ll agree to help him carry out his end-of-life plans.

Kwei-Armah lays out the play’s themes in bold strokes, and the early scenes in director Maria Mileaf’s staging are engaging and often very funny. If the opening night performance didn’t always gel – some of the writing felt belabored, and line readings occasionally lacked clarity – the play has a lot to say about the corrosive effects of regret and the restorative power of forgiveness.

Lumbly, always a strong onstage presence, gives an endearing performance as the misanthropic, stubbornly self-reliant Alfred. He’s well-matched with Wohlrabe, who radiates sunny charm as the good-natured Maria. As Gemma, Grays is every inch Alfred’s daughter – intelligent, obstinate, with a soft center.

The production is effectively designed, from Dan Ostling’s comfortably shabby living room set and Russell Champa’s warm lighting, to Lydia Tanji’s mood- and character-defining costumes. Bart Fasbender’s sound designs keep those nostalgic Cole numbers coming – an essential soundtrack for a play about letting go of the past.


Let There Be Love

Presented by American Conservatory Theater

Where: 415 Geary St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes May 3

Tickets: $20 to $105

Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

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Georgia Rowe

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