Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Cherry Smoke"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"Cherry Smoke"

by James McManus
Directed by Brett Marks

Scenic Design by Matt Whiton
Lighting Design by Chris Fournier
Costume Design by Brett Marks
Sound Design by Adam Garcia
Properites Master Joa Stenning
Fight Consultant Angie Jepson
Assistant Stage Manager Christine DeLima
Assistant Stage Manager Michela Ricci
Stage Manager Vawnya Nichols

Fish..........Chris Graham
Cherry........Jackie McCoy
Duffy...........Joe Ruscio
Bug........Chelsea Schmidt

Its a little hard to think of a prize-fighter having a philosophy, but this one does: do whatever you can to Fish but he will not fall down --- he'll keep coming and destroy you. Fighting is what he's good at, the only thing he can do. In a ring, wearing gloves, he fights where people pay to see his sweat mix with blood --- often his own. Elsewhere, in bar-fights, his bare fists are destructive enough to get him three months in "juvie" (Juvenile Correction), and throwing a tie around his neck ain't gonna get him no job with the baby-coming. Ain't nobody could love someone like Fish, right? Well, Cherry does --- but she's a little weird herself, right?

"Fish loves me," she insists, "He doesn't know it yet, but he does." She's been learning how to predict the future ever since she met Jesus down by the river-bank and he lit her cigarette just by touching it with his finger. On her own since she was ten, sleeping by the river, she admits her father burned their house down --- with her mother and the man sleeping with her in it --- and then shot hisself. She took a hammer to her belly when her grandpop made her pregnant, and then he shot himself too. But she likes Fish.

James McManus' two-hour play jumps about a lot in time and place, and Matt Whiton has designed a set that has a boxing-ring at its center (where Chris Graham fights, his taking-punches fury outlasting and nearly killing opponents), a river-bank where he catches fish (with his teeth) and talks to Jackie McCoy's Cherry, and the porch where he talks with his "Irish twin brother" Duffy. Joe Ruscio's Duffy is still learning stuff, like when to kiss or get kissed and not to lead with his right ("If I get left back again I'll be the only kid in the 5th grade with a driver's license") but he too has a philosophy. He's a "cut-man" --- stops the bleeding over his eyes so Fish can see to fight, though what stops bleeding best is letting the other guy hit the cut again. He acts as manager and Fish does what he says, mostly --- until he wants to see enough to kill the guy, and that makes the scar-tissue thicken till its easy to get cut again.

There's another room in the second floor of the set, where Duffy's girl Bug (Chelsea Schmidt) irons clothes and does mid-wifing. She knows Duffy will make a great father, though she can't have kids herself, but she's teaching him about that kissing.

McManus chomps off the ends of his terse scenes with pungent black-out lines that Chris Fournier and Director Brett Marks time brilliantly. There's no intermission, but the play flows like a meandering river from one abrupt revelation to another until an inevitable smash. These are all gritty, driven misfits brim-full of life and no-compromise violence. They play the cards they've been dealt, as best they can --- and their brief sky-rocket lives are unforgettable.

Where, I wonder, does the Gurnet Theatre Project find such unexpected theatrical gems?


"Cherry Smoke" (9 - 24 July)
@ Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA

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