Eisa Davis and Linda Powell
in Angela's Mixtape
(© Jim Baldassare)
Eisa Davis and Linda Powell
in Angela's Mixtape
(© Jim Baldassare)
The scandalously talented Eisa Davis -- a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her play Bulrusher and an Obie Award winner in 2008 for her work in the musical Passing Strange -- is back with Angela's Mixtape, now at the Ohio Theatre, an autobiographical piece about growing up with her mother, Fania, and her mother's sister, the controversial professor and activist Angela Davis, who is the playwright's namesake. (Her full name is Angela Eisa Davis.) Ultimately, the show, co-presented by New Georges and the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, comes off as a lively if limited valentine to the women in the author's life.

"On this mixtape, style will dictate," Davis states early on. "We bounce back and forth in time." As a result, we see the playwright one moment as a brooding teenager, the next as a little girl, then as a grown woman. As a performer, Davis conveys these quick changes with ease. Indeed, after credibly playing the mother of a teenager in Passing Strange, she is equally convincing in her girlhood scenes here with a young cousin.

On the other hand, her writing comes across a bit sketchily. There's never much time to dwell on even the most central conflicts, which often involve the fraught relationship between Davis and her mother (Kim Brockington), who is a radical activist and intellectual.

One curiosity of the production is the somewhat ingenious casting of Linda Powell as Angela Davis. Not only is Powell the daughter of Colin Powell, who served as National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan -- a man who, in this play, represents the oppressive capitalist machine that the Davises have spent their lives fighting against -- but there are further interesting revelations which deepen the connections between Powell and her part. However, if there's one thing about Angela Davis on which her friends and foes could agree, it's that she is a charismatic woman, and Powell's presence barely registers compared to her four co-stars, all of whom are extremely strong.

In fact, director Liesl Tommy's greatest contribution is probably helping the majority of the cast add such dimensions to their parts without, for the most part, going over the top. Brockington provides power and depth to the somewhat shallowly written character of the playwright's mother, while Denise Burse and Ayesha Ngaujah have some fierce moments in a number of supporting roles.

However, without the presence of Davis in the lead, Angela's Mixtape would be little more than a somewhat interesting look at the life of an American revolutionary and the young woman she inspired.