Tyler Perry's The Marriage Counselor
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
April 7, 2009
Note to fans of Tyler Perry: though he wrote, directed, produced and provided "set dressing" for the touring production of Tyler Perry's The Marriage Counselor, playing two week-long engagements at the gorgeous, newly renovated Beacon Theatre, neither Mr. Perry nor his most well-known creation, "Madea," appear on stage.
Not that the audience on opening night cared. Never have I seen such enthusiasm for a play or its characters; never have I seen such a visceral reaction from so many people. The play isn't great, but Perry knows his audience, what they're expecting, and what they want to see. For his fans, this play delivers from start to finish.
One of the major themes of Marriage Counselor is that if you have faith in Jesus Christ (or any higher power), you will come through your troubles if you deserve to, or get your just desserts, if you deserve them. The play relates the story of Roger and Judith Jackson, a tax accountant and an Ivy-League-educated marriage counselor, respectively. On the outside, their marriage is perfect, but he forgets their anniversary and is, as she puts it, "a good man," but boring. Their rocky relationship is compounded by a visit from her ex-college boyfriend, basketball star Ronald Wilson, who has tricks up his sleeve to woo Judith back.
From acting to design to melodramatic musical underscoring, the whole piece plays as a movie or sitcom that's being performed live. The script conforms to the traditional sitcom standard of "one laugh per page," though it's more like one laugh per second, for the most part. There's even a shocking twist and, of course, a satisfying (though not necessarily happy) ending. These aren't necessarily flaws; it's exactly what Perry's audience wants.
There are songs, too; R&B-flavored tunes, impressively sung by the strong-voiced ensemble, about having faith and living with the cards you're dealt. These generic, oft-boring songs (written by Perry and Elvin Ross), two or three in every scene, stop the show in its tracks. It would be much better (and shorter) without them. Another problem is that the volume is turned up far too high, so we miss a lot of the lyrics and the outrageous high notes are ear-piercing.
Altrinna Grayson as Judith's mother T.T. and Palmer E. Williams as Roger's father Floyd, reprising his role from Perry's sitcom House of Payne, are by far the scene-stealing stars. They know their way around one-liners and really know how to deliver genuinely funny, original comic performances. They're both 20 years too young to play their roles, but we can easily overlook that. Tony Grant as Roger, Tamar Davis as Judith, and Timon Kyle Durrett as Ronald are serviceable in the straight roles.
Ultimately, the production does achieve what it sets out to do: entertain Perry's target audience. People were cheering in the aisles, pumping fists in the air, shouting back "you go, girl!" and so forth. They really loved it, and I would wager a guess to say that this is the reaction the play has received across the country. If you don't like his stuff, this isn't going to make a fan out of you. But if you are a fan, you won't be disappointed.