Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Night Watcher (Primary Stages)

The Night Watcher
Primary Stages at 59E59
October 3, 2009
Charlayne Woodard (writer)
Daniel Sullivan (director)

If you enjoy watching a charming performer confide in an audience like you're his or her oldest friend, you can stop reading now: head over to The Night Watcher for a pleasantly diverting evening. And if you like sentimental stories about children, you'll get your fill. But if you get impatient listening to self-serving monologues, or if you cringe when an adult imitates children by adopting wide eyes and a lisp, then skip Charlayne Woodard's one-woman show.

In between her acting gigs, she explains, she's an active godmother to several friends' children. But at every moment, Woodard is a consummate actress. That's great when she stretches onstage like a cat in sunlight, offering warm stories of surrogate parenting with expertly-timed quips and snatches of Sly and the Family Stone; not so much when she's casting herself as the heroine in harrowing melodramas that resemble after-school specials.

The evening's climactic anecdote is particularly telling. In it, Woodard doesn't comfort a child, she confronts a bullish subway rider who condemns her lack of children. She shreds this straw man with a sermon of self-justification. The final beat of self-deprecation—her monologue has caused her to miss her stop—disguises the fact that her catharsis belongs only to her.

Still, courtesy of Geoff Korf's subtle lighting and Obadiah Eaves' warm blanket of music, The Night Watcher looks and sounds lovely. The total effect, thanks to Daniel Sullivan, is that of a bedtime story. But I'm suspicious of any work that's as anodyne as Watcher: in this case, Woodard and her team uses their talent to mask her narcissism.


The Night Watcher plays at 59E59 (59 East 59th St., betw. Park and Madison Ave.), closing on October 31. Tickets?

Photo credit: James Leynse

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