Saturday, September 5, 2009

review - The Night Is a Child

The Night Is a Child
by Charles Randolph-Wright
directed by Sheldon Epps
Pasadena Playhouse
through October 4
Tragedy. The loss of a son. The young man killed several people, including children, before he took his own life. The confusion. The pain. The blame. Why did he do it? A mother's torment. Sounds like a very depressing basis for a play. Well, it is, but in the hands of Charles Randolph-Wright, the mother's exploration becomes a joyous celebration of life. The Night Is a Child at the Pasadena Playhouse, with its roots set deep in spirituality, is another hit in a very successful season for the Playhouse and Artistic Director/ director Sheldon Epps.
Set in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and Brookline, Massachusetts, Harriet Easton, beautifully portrayed by the consummate JoBeth Williams, has retreated surreptitiously for the first time to Brazil from her home near Boston while her 2 remaining children, daughter Jane, Monette Magrath and twin son Brian, Tyler Pierce try to make sense of her disappearance. Eventually they recall their mother's passion for the Portuguese language and for Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 and go to Brazil in search of her. In Act I the plot juts back and forth between the 2 places. Act II settles in on the Brasilian experience. When we find ourselves at the Charles River in Boston at play's end, we are still emotionally tied to Brazil.
Harriet finds consolation in the form of a mysterious female spirit Bia, played with ethereal grace and passion by Sybyl Walker. Bia guides Harriet to a type of redemption wherein she finds inner peace and a reason to go on with her life. Along the way she meets innkeeper Joel, who also happens to be Bia's brother, Maceo Oliver and investigator Henrique, played with delicious charm and comic flair by Armando McClain. Epps, as director, has effectively allowed his actors to feel the freedom and musicality of Wright's lovely piece.
There exists a mysterious contradictory mixture in Rio's potion: on one side there is the belief in Christianity, expressed by the enormous statue of Christ with his outstretched arms dominating the entire city and on the other the culture's paganistic rituals in the alarmingly open practices of voodoo. Then there are the uniquely alluring beaches and unbelievably tempting sexual creatures of both sexes and of course the music, the allure of the samba. Place yourself in the midst of all of this exotic splendor and you will be intoxicated by a healing power unlike any other.
In The Night Is a Child those characters visiting Rio for the first time find change, as do some permanent residents ... even the audience will find joy. One suggestion: let go of excess baggage and feel free to assume the innocence... of a child. Let the music carry you away; it offers a very rich and life-affirming experience. Felicidaje!
5 out of 5 stars


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