L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry News Contacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Theatre in Review

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

Theatre in Review: All of Me (The New Group/Pershing Square Signature Center)

Madison Ferris, Kyra Sedgwick, Lily Mae Harrington. Photo: Monique Carboni

In Laura Winters' invigorating romantic comedy, boy meets girl when their motorized wheelchairs cross paths in a hospital parking area. He is Alfonso, a public health official partially paralyzed due to a childhood accident; she is Lucy, a former jazz singer whose muscular dystrophy has compromised her ability to speak, let alone vocalize. Both communicate using text-to-speech devices, a state of affairs that would seem an insuperable barrier to sparkling dialogue; But Winters turns it to her advantage, using the devices' robotic voices to amusingly underline the pair's tartly candid exchanges. "Hi," he says. "My name is Alfonso and I just moved here from Manhattan." To which Lucy replies, "To Schenectady! Are you dying? Did someone die?"

Alfonso and Lucy are immediately drawn to each other but, if you're worried about things getting ickily sentimental, All of Me is as much about class as disability and Winters has no time for Hallmark notions. In addition to a career, Alfonso is well-fixed thanks to an unseen father, a Wall Street trader described as an "absent cocaine addict," and a mother, Elena, who is hooked on inspirational literature and marijuana; whatever the familial drawbacks, he dwells in a spacious home and can afford human helpers. Lucy is crammed into a small bungalow with her overbearing mother, Connie; her frustrated sister, Jackie; and Moose, Jackie's partner. Connie, who drives Lucy around the bend with prayer and nagging, works two jobs and suffers from debilitating back pain; haunted by her ex-husband's opioid problems, she refuses to touch painkillers. Jackie is desperate to get out of the house -- a plan that Moose is diligently trying to finance -- but somebody has to manage the household. It's a rickety, fractious setup; they're getting by, just barely, on Connie's inadequate wages, supplemented by Medicaid and Lucy's disability benefits, but a single complication, like a failing dishwasher, can herald days of chaos.

Many playwrights might treat this situation as a bleak, earnest snapshot of lives of despair, using the Alfonso-Lucy relationship for easy tears. There's no question that Alfonso has benefited from superior care and a good education, affording him meaningful work and an independent life. Lucy's family, short on money and wracked by frustrated dreams -- the best anyone can imagine for her is a gig as a Walmart greeter -- hovers, perpetually, on the edge of disaster. But Winters mines her characters' troubles for honest laughter, noting, in her clear-eyed, yet sympathetic, way that the real obstacles to love here are money, status, and meddling parents.

The playwright's knack for wisecracking humor ingratiates us into caring about Alfonso, Lucy, and the loved ones who make their lives hell. Lucy, having disarmed Alfonso by quoting a Sir Mix-a-Lot track, notes that it's "a common white-girl party trick," adding, "The game is picking a song that will be most butchered by this fucking Stephen Hawking robot voice." Displaying a bad attitude calculated to rile her mother, Lucy says, "I'm gonna head up to my room-slash-coffin now." Fed up with Connie's helpful suggestions, she adds, "If one more person suggests I work at Walmart I am going to roll off a cliff." Farcical complications ensue when Connie mistakes Alfonso's phone voice for a robocall. On a dime, however, the dialogue can turn brutally frank: When a furious Connie accuses Lucy of making her look like a welfare mother in front of Elena, Lucy replies, "Yes, you are a welfare mother. Of a disabled welfare daughter." Lest anyone get too misty-eyed about Lucy, she also drafts Moose into a brazen scheme to sell her excess medications for cash.

Ashley Brooke Monroe's direction helps her talented cast strike exactly the right tone, balancing anger, laughter, and regret like so many spinning plates. Deprived of the use of their perfectly good voices, Madison Ferris (armed with a withering stare) and Danny J. Gomez (a sly charmer) handle the text-to-speech technology with unforced skill, emphasizing each remark with a mordant facial expression. They'll have you rooting for Lucy and Alfonso to get together. Lily Mae Harrington is a boisterous, appealing presence (with faint bridezilla tendencies) as Jackie, enviously trying to find her voice as a singer. Brian Furey Morabito's Moose is a good-hearted screw-up, eager to do right by Jackie yet prone to making bad choices. The always-welcome Florencia Lozano makes the most of the underwritten Elena, who, behind her nice manners, is a bit of a trainwreck. Towering over everything is Kyra Sedgwick's Connie, a tough, grating, heartbreakingly hopeful survivor, who accurately calls out Lucy for ignoring her vital physical therapy yet, suspicious of Alfonso's influence, throws cold water on any ideas of a college degree. It's a stunning performance, a reminder that Sedgwick has been away from the theatre for much too long.

The production has the sensible, flexible design it needs. Brett J. Banakis and Edward T. Morris' scenic concept delivers several locations, most notably Alfonso and Lucy's starkly different living rooms. (Wait for the moment when a ramp in Lucy's house fails, leaving her stranded; it cues an incident that makes blazingly clear how close to the edge she and Connie exist.) Reza Behjat's otherwise admirably restrained lighting includes one spectacular moment when Lucy seizes the star spot at Jackie and Moose's wedding. Sarah LeFeber's costumes are especially good at drawing class distinctions among the characters, and Jackie's wedding ensemble is an eye-popper. Matt Otto's sound design is a parade of well-chosen musical cues, beginning with a preset playlist chosen from Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, which gives contemporary pop/rock hits the big band treatment; we also get vocal renditions from Lucy (in her heyday) and Jackie, faultlessly rendered text-to-voice effects, and, of course, at least two renditions of the title tune.

The best thing about All of Me is its light-handed way with serious issues; it has plenty to say about disability, our scandalously poor healthcare system, and economic inequality, all of it communicated through humor and engaging characters. (It also makes some vital points about the right of disabled persons to emotional and sexual fulfillment.) In a production that is a spring bouquet of fresh faces in the acting, design, and directorial departments, Laura Winters may be the most striking; already the new season has given us an intriguing new playwright. --David Barbour

(15 May 2024)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook