Sunday, June 10, 2007

Walkin' Talkin' Bill Hawkins...In Search of My Father

Performance better than material at Dobama

Bill Hawkins, the subject of William Allen Taylor’s play ‘WALKIN’ TALKIN’ BILL HAWKINS...IN SEARCH OF MY FATHER,’ was supposedly Cleveland’s first black disc jockey. Supposedly, since there are no known tapes of Hawkins’ broadcasts, and few of his life facts exist, other than some references in the city’s African American CALL AND POST newspaper.

Word-say indicates that Hawkins was noted for his jiving, rhyming style of patter. He went on the air in 1948 on WSRS-AM, broadcasting from his record store at Cedar Road and East 105th Street. There are pictures, some of which are displayed during the Dobama production, illustrating the crowds outside the store window during the shows.

Hawkins’ popularity grew and over the next decade he was heard on up to four different stations on the same day. Some feel Hawkins laid the foundation for broadcaster Alan Fried, who coined the term “rock and roll.”

What wasn’t generally known was that Hawkins had a son. And, that his son, William Allen Taylor, didn’t find out Hawkins was his father until the boy graduated from college. The two actually met, but Taylor, then a teenager, was unaware that during an interview for a job, the interviewer was his dad. Hawkins died in 2004, before his son ever got to know him.

W. Allen Taylor is an excellent actor. Unfortunately, his writing skills don’t match his performance abilities. The script is choppy, often unfocused, filled with characters who do little to push along the plot. There are holes where costume and set changes break the flow. Often it is difficult to distinguish who is who among the numerous characters.

Since Taylor fails to flesh out any traumatic consequences of not having an a father in his life, the plot has nothing to texture it. In the main, the story is lacking in drama, suspense and humor.

It was fun being at the invitational preview performance. Many audience members were relatives and friends of Hawkins and his son. They responded well to “in jokes” and references to local places and incidents they shared. I’m not sure what’s going to transpire when a “regular” audience views the work.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘WALKIN’ TALKIN’ BILL HAWKINS..IN SEARCH OF MY FATHER,’ is like a lazy river which just flows, carrying us along for a pleasant, but not memorable journey. It’s a nice look at by-gone Cleveland, but not much more after the novelty of being exposed to the area’s first black dj transpires.