The 70% Club
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 21, 2008
No one could deny that keeping marriages together, or relationships in general, is one of the biggest problems plaguing our society. In the past few decades, a growing sense of independence in both males and females has made some marriages seem rushed and the breakneck pace of our world makes it harder to nurture growing or even well-established relationships than it was in the earlier half of the 20th century. And, at its heart, it is this issue that Mary McCallum's new play, The 70% Club, tries to tackle.
The 70% Club more specifically focuses on the forces tearing apart black marriages (the title is based on a statistic reported that 70% of black women live alone). These challenges are manifested by the trials Deanna and Jackson face in the days before their wedding and expand through their circle of friends. Though nothing seems amiss at the start, things start to unravel as Jackson is revealed to be having an affair with Deanna's maid-of-honor, Annete, and Jackson's best friend, James, confesses his long-standing love for Deanna and has been waiting for Jackson to slip up so he can have his shot. Even before the affair is revealed, Deanna's mother seems to disapprove of Jackson.
The increasingly unhappy would-be marriage is juxtaposed against the failed marriage of their friends, Chris and Cynthia. Chris feels marriage is tying him down and Cynthia, pregnant with a third child, is trying to hold on for dear life. The play begs the question: with all of these external pressures and evidence of once-good relationships gone bad, can any budding relationship survive in the 21st century or are women destined to join the 70% club?
While the question being asked is very worthwhile, it is sometimes obscured by the execution of the show. McCallum's script feels a bit overwritten at certain points. There are a few characters—including a random family member and one of Deanna's friends, Melissa—who don't really add much to the story that couldn't have been fleshed out in other characters.
The comic relief of the show seems to come at inopportune times, almost shying away from being too dramatic. However, most moments with Deanna's mother (a hilariously wise, if a bit too young-looking, Jene India) and gay best friend (well-timed and spontaneous Rashad Rayford) hit the right spot.
There's a little too much of characters saying exactly what they're thinking, instead of themes being instilled within the action. An exception to this is the relationship of Chris and Cynthia, which is beautifully and believably written and portrayed spot-on by Shawn Whitsell and Tamiko Robinson. Whitsell revels in Chris's need for independence but manages to sneak in the right amount of hidden love for Cynthia. Robinson's brilliantly depicted Cynthia is a whirlwind of emotion and near-breakdown, holding on to the last strand of her sanity for her best friend's sake.
John Wiggins's direction is also confusing at times, as some characters stay completely within the world of the play, while others seem to drop the fourth wall and literally wink at the audience. The big moments of tension need higher stakes (rarely did one feel any real fear of a fight between two characters in heated conflict). However, he has constructed a hilarious, engrossing bachelorette party from beginning to end.
Despite its flaws, The 70% Club, is sprinkled with very good performances and some touching, relevant scenes that can speak to any watcher's fears about commitment to another person. It also has the great sense to leave the audience to decide whether being part of the 70% club is really all that bad of a thing.