Writer: Chisa Hutchinson
Director: Jessi D. Hill
The first production of Keen Company’s 2019 season is the New York premiere of Chisa Hutchinson’s Surely Goodness and Mercy, directed by Jessi D. Hill, at Theatre Row. Set in an underfunded public school in Newark, Surely Goodness and Mercy tells the story of two friends who, against the odds, help each other through the mess of growing up and growing old. The cast is led by 19-year-old newcomer Jay Mazyck, making his Off-Broadway debut.
Mazyck plays Tino, a bible-toting boy with a photographic memory who befriends the cantankerous old lunch lady, Bernadette, played by Brenda Pressley. Rounding out the cast is Sarita Covington as Aleena, Courtney Thomas as Deja/Teacher, and Cezar Williams as Preacher/Principal.
The play’s execution is enjoyable, though some of Lee Savage’s set design choices appear cluttered and can be somewhat distracting. There are about five different playing areas, each with their own clumpy set pieces. It seems the production would work just as well if not better sans the church pew, bulky couches, and dual bedrooms. Instead, take more advantage of the lighting and sound design skills of Devorah Kengmana and Sadah Espii Proctor, respectively, to create spaces onstage.
Also distracting are the multiple voiceovers delivering major dialogue and monologues throughout the play. It takes one out of the story rather than immersing one in it, and offers no additional explanation of the actor who enters three-quarters of the way through the production to empty two garbage cans and speak no lines. Why that actor (or the others) can’t play the voiced over characters from onstage is unclear.
All in all, Surely Goodness and Mercy is a worthwhile piece to witness, not least because of the strong performances from Mazyck and Pressley, and the several cathartic moments the playwright delivers.
Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Carol Rosegg