Monday, October 13, 2008

Play Review--I Can Do Bad All By Myself

I Can Do Bad All By Myself
written and directed by Tyler Perry
starring Tyler Perry, Kisha Grandy, David Mann, Tamela J. Mann, Elaine O’Neal, Tyga Graham, Carl Pertile, Donna Stewart.

Mable “Madea” Simmons (Perry) is a wizened pot-head whose been raising her great granddaughter Kiesha (O’Neal) and lusting after the lawn maintenance man, Bobby (Graham). She lets out the holler that she’s ill on something or too stoned or whatever and the family slowly begins trickling in. Her sad and dejected granddaughter Vianne (Grandy) moves in because she busted up with her man and needs some space to recoup. This production, Perry’s second, is a veritable soap opera with hysterical drama competing for moments of genuine comedy. The relationships get a bit entangled and there is sometimes too much going on to keep it all straight. Regardless, there is always Madea toting her pistol just waiting for an excuse to put a bullet in one of her nattering progeny. It almost feels like she’s going to do it too but all she does it put a few in a jack-asses car.

The story itself involves the sassy-frassed Maylee (Stewart) who comes by toting her new man–the jackass Antony (Pertile). She is the absent mother of Kiesha and Madea’s other granddaughter. Maylee is the sort that has a different hairdo everyday. She’s grossly materialistic and doesn’t much care for the pains and sorrows that come with spawning. She’d rather spend her time thinking about the easy lifestyle her future husband will afford her (plenty of more extensions and wigs) than caring for her daughter. Subsequently Kiesha finds the time to do the nasty and get herself all knocked up. So right there we have a “serious” issue that is all dolled up and ready for prime time. This is a family that despite seeming unable to hold a conversation without invoking the name of Jesus sticks together through thick and thin. Then Madea’s eldest daughter Cora (T.J. Mann) shows up to complete the family picture.

The real tension is between Vianne and Maylee because as fate would have it Maylee’s new man is Vianne’s ex whom she has barely divorced. The sisters go at it with a few claws and a bit of hissing and each seems to be able to get as good as she gets. The best moments are when they are trying to tear each other to shreds but fail because the bond between them is just too strong. All the while Madea is shooting off her mouth, not really helping, and bitching because the pot she’s been growing gets cut down by a self-righteous Vianne. It seems like she isn’t particularly ill but more that she needs targets for her erudite wit.

Madea is in her early stages in this performance. She’s quite a bundle of energy and can leap up the stairs with all the vitality of a man half her age. She’s a character that can either grate on one’s nerves or inspire with her deft ability to zing fresh insults at anyone who gets in the way. Of course she’s careful enough to make sure that the others don’t actually hear her when she’s slamming them to the mat and putting them in a headlock. She’s got a household to run and she does so without needlessly leaving her perch on the sofa.

The play is blatantly Christian and there are many instances when the action ceases and various characters break out in song. They are mostly songs about needing Jesus to help with some terrible emergency that is afflicting them. Jesus is really significant in this production as each character is under his spell. The songs are all gospel tinged except one where Bobby tries to instill in Vianne’s mind that he’s man enough for her.

The production continues along the same vein with complications that are naturally worked out before the curtain closes. There are several instances where the cast cracks up leaving one to wonder if there were adlibs that were injected into the script. Regardless, it ends up seeming a bit amateurish although charmingly so. This is a fine introduction to the character of Madea. She gets all the best lines and seems to be on her game most of the time. She is the grandmother with an eagle eye who knows if you try to sneak a piece of candy off the coffee table before dinner. This play also includes a diatribe by Anthony regarding the black man’s adoption of Christianity. He suggests that Bobby read the Koran instead. It’s a weird moment and one that resonates for the rest of the play.

Overall this play keeps the jokes coming and it’s a pleasure to watch Perry shaking his padded ass and flopping his enormous fake breasts all about when Madea is getting down and low. The characters on occasion seem a bit overdone but for the most part they serve the script. It’s a classic family drama with distinct moments of conflict and chaos. These are mostly god-fearin’ folks who exhibit dramatically when they are in the spirit of the Lord. It’s rare to see something so frankly devotional and that works in the play’s favor. Ultimately, the play celebrates family in a clear and vital manner and this family holds together despite barriers that come in their path.

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