Dale Jean, a 42-year-old single mother of three, isn't protective of just her children. She's protective of her heart.
The main character in Rob Penny's play Good Black Don't Crack, Dale Jean is a widow raising three kids in the Hill district in 1972 Pittsburgh. She's in a relationship with a 30-something Vietnam vet named Rip, who is romantically tempted by the seductive upstairs neighbor. She must deal with the sexual advances of her boss, Jake, while handling the hyper-religious Sister Louise, who condemns any woman who is romantically linked to a younger man. And, of course, she has to keep her teenage kids on the right path.
LeChrista Finn, the actress who plays Dale Jean, says that women today face many of the same struggles that her character faces.
"This is a timeless piece because you are talking about a woman who finds herself, like most women, addressing issues about family, about life and about love," Finn says. "It's set in the '70s, but her concerns are the same that women have today."
For instance, Dale Jean must grapple with when to intervene in her children's lives and when to let them work things out.
"She's raising three kids and all teenagers," Finn says. "With that comes challenges in terms of the dynamic of the relationship, of allowing them to express themselves and to grow up and experience life but to not always be in a place where she can control those situations. She has to find the space to love them through it."
Finn, who also has written and produced her own work over the years, says the biggest challenge as an actor was cultivating Dale Jean's vulnerability and strength, particularly with regard to the character's love life.
"As women and surely as African-American women, the strength is something that most often we readily embrace and sometimes it's a little bit harder to embrace that other side that balances that out, that allows others in," Finn says. "She is very sassy, she stands on her own two feet, and struggles between being independent but also balancing the need for someone being in her life and relinquishing those reins from time to time."
The show is the second production mounted this year by Message Theater, a black theater company that was founded more than 20 years ago by Patrick Mitchell, William Caise, Frank X Walker and Keith Griffith. After a two-decade hiatus during which the founders pursued their individual creative careers, the troupe recently reunited upon Mitchell's return to Lexington from New York. The troupe selects plays by black playwrights and features black actors, directors and designers, and hopes to expand to offer full seasons and community engagement and educational opportunities in the future.
"We've never really been out of touch, but now that we're all back in Lexington, we thought there was definitely a need for an African-American theater," says Griffith, who directs the show.
Griffith and Mitchell both say that the show was selected because its themes address universal issues of family, love and the struggles of everyday life, something they think audiences will relate to.
"From a producer's standpoint," Mitchell says, "I'm just excited about seeing the local talent on stage and seeing the excitement of the community."