Pictured: Jo-Beth Williams and Sybyl Walker. Photo by Craig Schwartz (Errata)
This image won't stay up. Apologies to the Pasadena Playhouse.
Charles Randolph-Wright’s The Night is a Child, on stage at the Pasadena Playhouse through October 4th is a complicated mélange of ideas, buoyed up by beautifully executed scenic design. Yael Pardess’s scrims and Jason H. Thompson’s projections sweep us away to Brazil one moment and back to the chilly winds of Massachusetts the next. The device works, but at the expense of almost overshadowing the essence of the play.
Harriet Easton (JoBeth Williams), middle aged mother of three adult children, has lost her son, Michael. The details of his death remain vague. Harriet’s other two children, alcoholic Brian (Tyler Pierce who doubles as his brother Michael) and daughter Jane (Monette Magrath), are distressed to receive an email from their mother announcing that she’ll be out of touch, but, not to worry, which, of course, puts them in a tizzy; desperate to find her because of her delicate condition. It has only been a year since Michael’s death.
The circumstances of Michael’s death come to light as Harriet explores the glory of Ipanema. Befriended by Bia, the very spirit of Brazil and Samba (an exquisite Sybyl Walker), she is directed to a hotel where she is well received by the owner, Joel (Maceo Oliver.) Mysteriously, Michael appears to tutor Harriet with her Portuguese. She comes to believe that the local practice of Santeria may have something to do with her visions and entreats Bia to guide her to a ‘real’ Santeria ceremony to reconnect with her son. Bia’s inability to enter the Santeria church foreshadows events to come.
Epps guides his actors with precision. Each delivers an excellent turn. Armando Mcclain as Henrique (along with incidental characters), adds welcome grace notes. The play itself remains somewhat of a mystery. We do find empathy and even sympathy for the individual characters. The idea of ‘letting go’ ultimately becomes the issue for each of them and is revealed to some satisfaction by the final curtain. The text itself holds little depth except as a vehicle for some interesting explorations into how we deal with unimaginable and excruciating challenges in life. This sounds like a contradiction. The problem I found was caring enough about the characters and the basic argument of the play to appreciate the revelations that come to each of them as they experience what Randolph-Wright has brought them through.
The final tableaux is beautiful and spectacular.
In the annex gallery, the Playhouse has installed artwork reflective of Voo Doo. Worth a look when you venture out to see the show.
39 S. El Molino