Make It So
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 22, 2008
Edward Miller's play Make It So begins at a funeral. Mary, first wife of Walter Morgan, has died; the two women we meet looking at her open casket are the second Mrs. Morgan, Bertha, and her daughter Charlotte. Being a Christian woman, Bertha would never actually say so, but she's not the least bit sorry to see Mary go. (Oh, I guess she does say so. Bertha lets people know what's on her mind.)
From New York City comes Mary's eldest son Lester (the play takes place in Memphis), who has taken time off work not only for his mother's funeral but to visit with his father, Walter, who is in the final stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Bertha's not too fond of Lester, either, so she's miffed when Charlotte invites him to stay with the family during his trip. Besides Bertha, Charlotte, and the dying Walter, the household includes Justin, Bertha's spoiled son, and Jasmine Crothers, Walter's live-in nurse.
Bertha is really annoyed when Jasmine and Lester hit it off.
But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Lester's main concern is locating his younger brother Anthony, who has not been in communication with the family for many years. Anthony is gay, which his parents did not at all approve of; worse, from their perspective, he makes his living as a drag diva at a Memphis club called Verfangen Mit Hosen Unten (roughly translated: caught with your pants down) which is run by his partner, Tyler. Lester eventually finds Anthony, brings him home to see their dying father, and all hell breaks loose. Several times.
I haven't mentioned that Tyler and Jasmine are white. Bertha, proud matriarch of an African American family that she is, is none too happy about having them dating her step-sons.
Make It So is mostly a comedy of dysfunctional family dynamics, which is what makes all of this complicated plotting so very digestible. Miller's characters are well-drawn, so they transcend the types they might otherwise occupy. And the humor in the play arises from character and situation rather than mere one-liners.
The play has surprising power, though, because at its heart is an important and valuable theme of acceptance and of living the life you choose rather than basking in bitterness and regret. Miller brings the notion home potently in the play's remarkable final scene.
Director Sharon Fogarty's production of Make It So at Theater for the New City has a lot going for it, but ultimately it is not entirely successful (note that some of its problems will likely be solved by time, as the actors ease further into their characterizations). Mark Marcante's set is functional and effective, Ramona Ponce's costumes define the characters elegantly, and Alexander Bartenieff's lighting design is fine.
Most of the actors seem significantly younger than the characters they're called upon to play (the younger Morgans are all in their 30s and 40s), which makes the ruts many of them seem to be in less believable than they ought to be. There are also some problems with tone in some of the performances. Beverly Bonner as Bertha has that woman's outsized attitude down pat, but she still seemed a bit uncomfortable with her lines at the performance reviewed. Nnamudi Amobi (Justin) and Leonard Dozier (Lester), in contrast, give performances that feel somewhat wooden. Adam R. Deremer as Tyler and Georgia Sothern as Belinda (Justin's on-again/off-again girlfriend) give the most natural performances; both are delightful. Milan Conner is impressive as Anthony, especially in his drag persona (and Fogarty has written a delightfully dry number for him to sing called "It's Never Too Late."
As I mentioned, I suspect some of the weaknesses of the production will mend on their own as Make It So continues its run. It feels like a very strong script, and so I hope the show eases into itself; this is a piece that probably deserves a life after this initial engagement.