The actor Eugene Lee is a frequent Leon collaborator; in addition to most recently appearing in his “American Son” on Broadway, he also starred in True Colors’ inaugural 2002 production of “Fences,” one of many August Wilson dramas on the actor’s long and distinguished resume. Lee wrote “East Texas Hot Links” and directs this current staging of the play, which bears a definite resemblance to the works of Wilson (specifically “Two Trains Running”).
The action unfolds circa 1955 at the Top o’ the Hill Café, a black-only bar and grill situated in the remote backwoods of rural Texas (strikingly evoked in the set design of Ming Chen). The regular customers who gather there are an occasionally unruly lot of men, more or less kept in line by the no-nonsense owner of the place (with or without her trusty bat). Much of the conversation involves a highway construction project that threatens to cut through their patch of woods — and the mysterious disappearances of several young black men in the area.
Under Lee’s crisp direction, his crackling dialogue is handled with fierce conviction by a uniformly powerful ensemble. Maiesha McQueen, primarily known for her roles in musicals, stands her dramatic ground admirably as the only woman in the cast.
Standouts among the men include Eugene H. Russell IV as a gambler and palm-reader prone to ominous visions; Gerard Catus as a wise old blind man and Greek chorus of sorts; Anthony Goolsby as an incorrigible womanizer; and Travis Turner as a duplicitous “weasel.” But Cedric Pendleton, Markelle Gay and Wigasi Brant hold their own equally well in smaller roles.
While the drama culminates in a shattering climax, the ending feels too abrupt and somehow insufficient. Not unlike giving Kenny Leon a big send-off, without his standing ovation.
“East Texas Hot Links”
Through Aug. 11. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays (excluding July 26); 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays (excluding July 27); 11 a.m. Wednesdays (July 31 and Aug. 11). $15-$45. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road, Atlanta. 1-888-479-6300. truecolorstheatre.org.
Bottom line: Sizzling.