As Much As You Can is a play by Paul Oakley Stovall about acceptance, and a family trying “the best that they can“ to live with the complicated realities of their lives. Unfortunately, the playwright bites off more than he can chew, attempting to cover too many subjects: coming out, racial prejudice, black on black prejudice, religious intolerance, gay marriage, interracial relationships, and infidelity. The result is melodrama instead of drama because we, the audience, never really fix on what character to follow.
The funniest lines are given to a secondary character (the hysterical J. Nicole Brooks), the family's pushy lesbian friend. The most interesting characters are also secondary. The half white, half black sister in the family is well played by Yassmin Alers. Her cool is matched by the Swedish boyfriend (Wes Ramsey) of the lead character Jesse (Paul Oakley Stovall). Jesse tends to be too wishy-washy and nervous to ever fully engage our sympathies. The other brother, also of mixed race, is nicely played by the handsome Andrew Kelsey. He is to be married, which is the reason the family has gathered, but we never meet the bride.
One of the reasons to see the show is the appearance by Tonya Pinkins as the uptight religious sister Evy. She has been nominated for three Tony Awards, and won in 1992 for Jelly’s Last Jam. For the last seventeen years she has portrayed “Livia Frye” on ABC’s All My Children. Evy is a difficult role because she is so intolerant. Pinkins manages to elicit our sympathy despite quoting Leviticus, but her conversion in the final scene to compassion and love really hasn’t been earned by the playwright.
As usual the Celebration Theatre, the oldest gay and lesbian theater in Los Angeles, has put on a good show, though a flawed one. The acting is very good and there is much to mull over. I was sad to hear that the rent had skyrocketed, as it has at a lot of other theaters in LA. But they are hanging on. They could use a donation. At the Celebration Theatre through January 27 (Miss Pinkins will not appear Jan. 17 or 18).