The Wheelock Family Theatre has been presenting inter-generational, multi-racial productions of thought provoking plays for eighteen years, and this October the theater received a national award from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities for their after-school theater program for deaf teens. But that's not why you should see "The Good Times Are Killing Me".
You won't see better ensemble work anywhere: That's why you should see Lynda Barry's bittersweet play about coming of age in the early '60s. "The Good Times... " is a lovely, little play about two small girls and one big issue. Barry deftly exposes the hurtful wounds of racism by concentrating on one simple story.
Two little girls who share the same age and the same love of music become best-friends, but the white parents are afraid of their new African-American neighbors --- and fear breeds racism. When the friendship blossoms between Edna and Bonna, Barry's play glows with hope and humor. When their friendship is threatened, it reverberates with the power of tragedy.
Barry nails the '50s and '60s with her hilarious memories of music groups like Archie Bell & The Drells, and those interminable singalong-Sunday drives. She even conjures up the universal '50s Girl Scouit leader (at least she coinjurs up MY Girl Scout leader!). These are very funny touches in a genuinely touching play.
Wonderful performances abound here. Led by Jennifer Beth Glick's earnest Edna and Esme Williams' spunky Bonna, this ensemble radiates energy. Every character, under Sue Kosoff's sensitive direction, is full of life.
Monique Nicole McIntyre gives a rivetting portrayal of a warm, joyous woman whose spirit buckles under the weight of grief. Jeff Robinson shines as her understanding but exasperated husband. Gamelia Pharms is Bonna's plucky aunt, and she gets to deliever the achingly beautiful "Precious Lord".Ronald Fuller, Jr. radiates talent as an irascible charmer, and Mi-Haita Almeida gets to strut her stuff as his girlfriend.
Kevin Belanger and Susan Bigger handle the comic relief in grand style yet without going over the top --- not an easy task to make these bigots into real people. Cyrus Akeem Brooks is simply adorable as the pesky little brother, and Jane Staab is a vision as the nasty, chain-smoking scout-mistress with "two-colored" hair. Frank Jones brings great dignity and strength top his cameo as the reverend.
Add Robin McLaughlin's colorful period costumes and Andrea Doane's clever choreography for "The Alabama Shake" to Timothy Jozwick's brick and cement cityscape --- with John Malinowski's ingenious historical black and white films projected onto the side of the house --- and you get a performance worth raving about. Don't miss this one.