Hilarity and Heartbreak Share the Stage in
The journey begins with a tale of how the African-American Woodard and her Caucasian spouse nearly got talked into adopting a newborn, mixed race child on the spur of the moment, by another estimable actress with the same last name, Alfre Woodard. Charlayne and her husband reason that, with their busy, often bi-coastal lives, it would be a bad idea to have a childadopted or otherwiseand the show makes a good argument for choosing not to raise children, while acknowledging the impact a close friend or family member can have on a child. With no effort at all, we see the children who have affected Woodard brought to life, and a few key adult figures as well.
High hilarity is the order of the day in a piece which finds Woodard shopping for her own "baby," a newly purchased maltese terrier puppy, in a chic L.A. boutique called, naturally, "Puppies and Babies." Mid-purchase of a puppy coat for a trip to the chilly East Coast, Charlayne's own imperious mother rings on the cell phone and has a fit at the mere idea of such an excess. Then there is the surly, mixed race brat who comes to stay with Woodard and her husband, and is appalled that Woodard is not the A-list movie star she imagined. Woodard barely survives the visit, but recounts it all with hearty humor.
The darker hued talesone spotlighting a grandmother who recounts the near tragedy endured by one of her many illegitimate grandbabies due to domestic violence, and another in which a friend's ebullient adolescent daughter, left motherless at an early age, finds the wrong kind of love coming at her from a male family member during summer vacationtake Woodard to dark and painful places. With guidance from Sullivan's expert direction and knowledge of his leading lady, we follow her every step of the way. The actress comes across not as some sort of fairy godmother in the children's lives, but surely as someone whose care, concern, humor and even willingness to take a tough stance with them, will surely be remembered and maybe even appreciated by them as they mature.
A vital though economical scenic design by Tom Lynch is a triumph of horizontal blinds and projections, which enhance but never steal focus from the star, and Geoff Korf's pitch perfect lighting design also adds welcome nuances.
The Night Watcher will undoubtedly be tightened as it moves on to other venues beyond Seattle, but even at the present length of a bit over two hours, I never grew the least bit antsy. Though the strain of long rehearsals showed in Woodard's voice at times, it also further endeared us to her. And, in the few moments when Woodard raises her voice in stirring song, we're reminded of her early career triumph in the original Ain't Misbehavin', though the voice, as the actress herself, has grown and blossomed beautifully over the years.
The Night Watcher runs through October 26, 2008 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street in Seattle Center.For further information, visit www.seattlerep.org.