Ellis E. Williams, Dale Fielder (seated) and E.L. James

*Fathers and sons have a special bond. While mothers, of course, play a huge role in their child’s life, there is something equally important about a daddy’s love.

In the eyes of their children, a daddy is invincible, a protector, a teacher, loving, supportive and usually the first role model.

E.L. James’ play Nobody Walks Like My Daddy, takes a look at the daddy-son relationship by delving inside three generations of daddies and sons.
Nobody Walks Like My Daddy, subtitled a jazz song in syncopated counterpoint, is a two character play accompanied by a saxophonist (Dale Fielder) and sprinkled with jazzy blues music. The autobiographical, emotion-packed and character-driven production takes place in Norfolk, VA and tells the story of a man’s relationships with his family.

The play opens with a Son (Ellis E. Williams) reminiscing about his Father (E.L. James) and how important he is/was in his life. He remembers how, as a little kid, he had to go to the hospital to have his tonsils taken out and how wary he was of his father leaving him in the care of “white nurses.”

When it was time to go home, he looked out the window to see if his father was coming to pick him up. After a nurse tried to convince him the man he saw walking toward the hospital was not his father, the son replied, “Nobody Walks Like My Daddy,” hence the title of the play.

Later the Son reveals that he is about to become a father once again at age 52 and has to admit he’s not as confident as he was when he fathered a child three decades earlier. He wonders if he can do half the job his father did in raising him.

The Son, whose father warned him not to fall into the daddy trap again, soon finds out that being a new, more mature parent has its share of pitfalls. From the beginning, it’s clear his life ain’t been no crystal stair. He’s had and still has some issues. Regrets, he’s had a few, including job woes, four failed marriages, a hard stint in the army, plus his children being raised miles away – without him.

Williams is exceptional in the role of the Son. Sans any props and armed with only his thespian skills and James’ exceptional dialogue, he masterfully commands the stage as he spins a human tale that is familiar, poignant and engaging.  From the moment he takes the stage he draws in the audience with his vivid, memorable description of his daddy’s walk. Gliding effortlessly into various personalities, he then takes the audience on a journey through his life, taking occasional detours to introduce these colorful characters.

James, who wrote, directs and stars in the drama, is equally impressive. First as a writer and director he intertwines music with his luscious words. He effectively uses black screen panels to deliver both songs and dialogue.  Fielder, whose playing is emotive, seductive and evocative, blows his horn from behind a screen while his image is kissed with mood lighting. The direction adds texture and layers to the show.

As the Father, James delivers. He’s comical, direct, dramatic and solid. Whether he’s delivering dialogue or singing the blues, his voice adds depth.  Throughout the show Williams and James give a kind of tag team impression that leaves one man behind the black screen panels, while the other is onstage, a move that works and gives the show breadth. And when the two are on stage together – the chemistry is palpable.

Kudos to Robert Gurule for his set and lighting designs.

Nobody Walks Like My Daddy, which was previously performed in Leimert Park (Los Angeles) and Culver City, CA in 2003 and at the National Black Theatre Festival in 2007, wins on many levels. This production proves you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles when you have a strong cast and effectual dialogue.

Nobody Walks Like My Daddy is one of the best productions this year!!!!

Nobody Walks Like My Daddy, written and directed by E.L. James; music by Tommie McKenzie, Clarence Patterson and James. It’s executive produced by Sonya Geder Diggs and produced by Pamela Goodlow Green for Conscious Comedy Concepts, Inc. in association with Geder Diggs. It stars E.L. James, Ellis E. Williams and Dale Fielder.

On the Donloe Scale, D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (OK) and E (excellent), “Nobody Walks Like My Daddy” gets an E (excellent).

Nobody Walks Like My Daddy, Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.; through Oct. 30; $20-$25; 1-800- 838-306; Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd floor, Hollywood, CA  90028

Darlene Donloe is an entertainment journalist based in Southern california. Contact her at [email protected].