LA Weekly




"...Levels'  intense stage

presence beguiles..."






Los Angeles Times




"...Levels' assured

performance more than

meets his biographical objectives..."


Los Angeles Wave


On the Levels:

Actor channels James Baldwin for

one-man show

by Gene C. Johnson, Jr.

Calvin Levels has literary legend James Baldwin down cold.  His performance in James Baldwin, Down from the Mountaintop, now playing at the 4305 Village Theater in Leimert Park, is intense and moving. In the one-man show, the Tony-nominated actor mixes in the right amounts of humor and drama, bringing back to life all of the famed writer’s mannerisms and idiosyncrasies.


From the start, it is obvious Levels has done quite a bit of research into Baldwin’s life, from his Harlem, New York beginnings to his personal relationships with such literary powerhouses such as Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.


Born August 2, 1924, Baldwin was best known for his literary contributions to the 1960s civil rights struggles, and his books and plays include Go Tell it to the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, and The Amen Corner. In 1962, Baldwin wrote an essay entitled “The Fire Next Time,” which prophesied of riots and violence in the streets of America. Baldwin died in 1987 after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus.


 The play, written by Levels and directed by Art Evans, opens on Kobe Brooks (Levels), a performer-playwright taken over by the author’s spirit just before he is to perform a play he’s written on Baldwin’s life.


With a ubiquitous drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Levels even explores Baldwin’s sexual orientation — offering up details about the writer’s sexual molestation as a child, and his alleged affairs with a Harlem mobster, actor Marlon Brando and a brief riff on how Capote “had a thing for (Baldwin).”


Part of the performance includes interaction with the audience, and a screen showing Baldwin, some of his life influences in his life such as Hughes and some of the places the writer visited in his world travels.


Levels' performance is intimate, passionate and telling. If you’re not necessarily a fan of Baldwin’s work, Levels’ portrayal will pique your interest about the man’s personality and what motivated him to live, and write.



This review is of a Los Angeles, California

production with Art Evans as director.


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