note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Beverly Creasey
The Gurnet Theatre Project has a reputation for finding edgy new scripts and playing the heck out of them. The reputation is well deserved. Check out their CHERRY SMOKE (at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre thru July 24th). James McManus’ gritty little play about hard luck scrappers is getting a meticulously crafted production (with Brett Marks at the helm)… especially the boxing matches we witness from the perspective of the opponent. I haven’t seen such clever staging in a long, long time.
Can’t say I relish plays about violence (animal or human, self-inflicted or otherwise) but the crackerjack cast at Gurnet makes these lost souls understandable, even (gasp) sympathetic…and brilliantly tragic. Hold on to your hat, Chris Graham gives a performance which should have every company in town beating down his door. He’s the charismatic volcano who erupts as much outside the ring as in it. He’s paired with Jackie McCoy (who also turns in a stellar performance) as Cherry, the wild, desperate runaway who sees the boxer as her salvation and Jesus as her “smoking buddy.”
The overblown imagery coming from Cherry’s mouth is consistent with her wacky character but playwright McManus has everyone metaphorizing, which undercuts his storytelling. We don’t have to be told over and over about the “magic” between Cherry and Fish. We can see it. Joe Ruscio and Chelsea Schmidt play the more grounded couple in McManus’ contrast set-up but the actors manage to make the characters charming. McManus couldn’t wish for a better production.