The Night is a Child is the new production at the Pasadena playhouse in its season honoring women. The play is ostensibly about redemption, acceptance of a tragedy, and understanding in a family that has suffered a great tragedy. One son has gone into a school and shot his wife, another teacher, and three children, then shot himself, with no explanation. This leaves the family reeling: the sister has withdrawn into her shell, the twin brother has become an alcoholic, and the mother has run away to Rio to get away from it all. There she encounters voodoo, ghosts, and her dead son, relives the tragedy, and is somehow liberated.
Sorry to say, the play leaves more questions than it answers. I thought the text would try to wrestle with why these tragedies happen and who is at fault. Instead we get a confused story with nothing new, trying to trade on the profundity of the famous movie Black Orpheus and the strains of some Brazilian music to reach what is supposed to be a celebratory ending. It just isn’t so. The illogical nature of some of the story belies any involvement in the outcome.
What mother would leave her grieving family without telling them where she is going? Why Rio, why not Greece, and are these places really that transformative? OK, the mother’s purse is stolen, and glimpses of voodoo goings-on in dangerous parts of one of the most dangerous cities in the world suggest peril. The trouble is, once her wallet is stolen, where does she get money from? And an even more puzzling question: who tells the taxi driver where to go (she is supposed to be alone in the cab)? Why does the son suddenly sober up and the sister let down her guard – is it just because of some half-naked bodies on the beach?
Then there are the references to the song The Girl From Ipanema. The original lyrics weren’t about a girl, and a Jew from Brooklyn who now lives in Santa Barbara wrote the famous English lyrics. There is also nothing new about going to a country and learning to dance; Zorba did it much better. OK, some of these things could be fixed with improved dialogue, but as it stands it’s a bit of a mess.
None of this is the performers' fault. JoBeth Williams is very good as the distraught mother; I only wish she had been given a better script. Monette Magrath is suitably stern as the sister, and poor Tyler Pierce, who must rush around changing clothes so he can play both brothers, is fine in both roles. Sybyl Walker turns in another of her energetic and mesmerizing performances as Bia, a girl from Rio who goes to Boston to get an education as a doctor. Armando McClain and Maceo Oliver round out the cast.
The Night Is A Child plays at the Pasadena Playhouse until October 4th.