LA Weekly



"...Levels'  intense stage

presence beguiles..."




Los Angeles Times



"...Levels' assured

performance more than

meets his biographical objectives..."

L.A. Watts Times

December 12, 2002


James Baldwin Speaks

by Darlene C. Donloe

James Baldwin wants to set the record straight. And so he does in “James Baldwin - Down From the Mountaintop,” a one-man play currently taking a turn at The 4305 Village Theatre in Los Angeles.  “Down From The Mountaintop,” starring Calvin Levels, who also wrote the introspective piece, is an ambitious staging that attempts to bring insight into the real James Baldwin, be it good, bad or indifferent.


The play opens on a troubled opening night Broadway performance with Levels playing the role of Kobe Brooks, an actor seeking to bring authenticity to his role as Baldwin by summoning the spirit of the man himself.  When Baldwin emerges he takes the audience on a journey through his life exposing his troubled early childhood in Harlem, his homosexuality, his writings, and his decision to leave America for what he deemed as a better life in Paris.


His childhood was laced with meanness at the hands of his stepfather who often called him frog eyes, ugly, small and black. He repeatedly told Baldwin, who eventually died in 1987 from cancer of the esophagus, that he would not fulfill his dream of being a successful writer. At the age of 13, Baldwin reveals he was raped by an older man. And at the age of 16, he fell in love with a much older male racketeer.


During the two-hour memoir, Baldwin lashes out at some and praises others who made an impact on his life, including his unbearable father, Truman Capote, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, Langston Hughes, The Actor’s Studio and America, whose racism sent him packing for Europe on Nov. 11, 1948. We witness Baldwin’s helpless rage over the death of his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, whose assassination forever changed his view of America.


What’s best about the piece is Levels’ and Baldwin’s unapologetic tone.  Levels, who may best be known for his role as Wayne Williams in the CBS mini-series “The Atlanta Child Murders,” pulls off his role as Baldwin brilliantly. With only a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red, a cigarette and Baldwin’s own mannerisms as props, Levels maneuvers his way through a maze of moments that come to define the genius novelist, playwright and civil rights activist.


Art Evans directs this staging using music and a slide presentation. Although the slide presentation didn’t always match the dialogue, its intentions were well received. Evans often brings Baldwin up close and personal with the audience - adding an intimate setting to the proceedings.


Levels’ command of the material as well as the character of Baldwin, is authentic. His coy, playful moments as Baldwin speaking directly to the audience are unique, tight and welcomed. While the first half of the production was slow, the second half brought a renewed kind of energy from both Levels, Baldwin and the audience.  Members of the audience should approach this play with an open mind and evaluate it strictly on its own merits. Some theatergoers will find this play a revealing thesis, for others it will reaffirm the complexity of the man who wrote such classics as “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “Giovanni’s Room” and “Blues For Mr. Charlie.”


Levels has appeared in David Mamet’s “The Shawl” at Lincoln Center Theatre and has received the Theatre World Award for Outstanding New Talents, and nominations for the Tony Award, New York Drama Desk Award, along with the New York Outer Critics Circle Award for “best actor in a play.”  “James Baldwin - Down From the Mountaintop” is a pleasing, must-see theater experience.



This review is of a Los Angeles, California

production with Art Evans as director.


THE PLAYTHE_PLAY.htmlTHE_PLAY.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0
PRINT / RADIOPRINT___RADIO.htmlPRINT___RADIO.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0