Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Tommy J. & Sally
Black Theatre Troupe

Also see Gil's reviews of Miracle on 34th Street, Pippin, Junie B. Jones ..., Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Harvey

Sarah Chapman and Roosevelt Watts
Plays about differences in the races and the sexes are usually highly intriguing. So it's shame that playwright Mark Medoff's Tommy J & Sally is over talkative and at times even boring when the subject matter and situations should result in a suspenseful, crackling drama. Black Theatre Troupe's production opened last week and, while the direction, cast and creative elements are professional, they can't do much to improve upon the shortfalls of Medoff's script.

Pop star Sally finds herself a prisoner in her own apartment when a black man forces his way into her house, holds her at gunpoint, and then proceeds to tell her that he believes they actually know each other and that he is the man that her family took in for a year back when they were both in high school. The fact that the man's name is Tom Jefferson and the woman's name is Sally Hemings, the same names as the President of the United States and his slave and alleged mother of some of his children, comes somewhat into play, but never fully materializes into anything more than talk. Tommy J's allegations about his and Sally's past also starts and sputters throughout, with Medoff seemingly not sure what he wants to say about the connection. At first Sally denies their shared history, then seems to acknowledge the possibility but is still aloof and uncaring throughout, and the ending doesn't quite have much to add. Sally is also Jewish, which is brought up by Tommy numerous times. But, with the exception of Sally's need to forget her past, including getting a nose job, Medoff, who is also Jewish, doesn't quite seem to know what he wants to say about Tommy having an issue with the wealthy Jewish family that took him in, only to spit him back out when trouble arose that it appeared Tommy might have known about. Medoff wrote the highly successful Children of a Lesser God so it's unfortunate he wasn't able to bring the interesting themes and situations he explored in that play to life in this one.

The cast for this production is fine, with Roosevelt Watts' portrayal of Tommy adept with the right layers of pain, suffering, confusion, trust issues, etc. Sarah Chapman is good as Sally, with an adequate portrayal of the pop star, ex-addict who claims she is in rehab, though possibly might still be using. I only wish we got a better sense of fear from her when Tommy starts waving his gun around. Chapman has a pleasant singing voice which is put to good use on the short pieces of songs in the show.

Director Janet Arnold keeps the action moving and the tension fairly high but can't get around the shortfalls in the contrived script. Set designer Thom Gilseth has created a realistic apartment setting and Mario Garcia's costumes are character appropriate.

Famous playwrights often have misfires and Tommy J & Sally is definitely that for Medoff.

The Black Theatre Troupe production of Tommy J & Sally runs through December 14th, 2014, at the Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 East Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 602 258-8129

Written by Mark Medoff
Directed by Janet Arnold
Scenic Design: Thom Gilseth
Lighting Design: Jeff Davis
Costume, Hair and Make-Up Design: Mario Garcia
Original Music: Kyle Sorrell
Sound Design: Bill Osborne
Technical Director: Joel Birch
Stage Manager: Layne Racowsky
Properties: Brianna Catlin
Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Sally: Sarah Chapman
Tommy J: Roosevelt Watts

Photo: Laura Durant

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix

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