With friends like these

Ally, MaryJane & Me

By Jorjeana Marie
Directed by Dan Spurgeon
Cobblestone Productions
78th Street Theater Lab
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by David Mackler

Playwright Jorjeana Marie originally wrote Ally, MaryJane & Me as a solo show and has performed it on both coasts. For the Cobblestone production, she adapted her script to include characters that she would have acted out or otherwise described as the main character tells the story of her childhood, addictions, and recovery. Much of the play still has the structure and feel of a monolog, but when the expansion worked, it worked beautifully.

Huge amounts of credit must go to Campbell Echols as the protagonist. She was achingly real as she reenacted growing up with a psychotic mother who attempts suicide to get attention and a father who resents the 11-year-old daughter who is smarter and more aware than he is. Echols was also infuriating, touching, and sympathetic as the teenager and young woman desperate for something to hold on to. But all this would have been smoke in the wind without Kelli Hornachek, Foye Dashiell, and Mary Regan as Ally, MaryJane, and Coco - the personifications of her addictions to alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. These women were breathtakingly funny, and when they were on stage they moved the play away from the more ordinary confessional/recovery exhibition (real and harrowing as it was) and gave it a theatrical appeal that let the subject matter breathe. Each gave a terrific depiction of the seduction of the substance she was playing, but they never crossed the line into parody. Regan had a tour de force as the speed-talking Coco, and Hornachek and Dashiell made little gestures and expressions continually engaging and fun. And it was doubly impressive that each was so good in other parts as well - Dashiell was hilarious as an Asian doctor, Hornachek did another terrific turn as Stacy (Ecstasy), and Regan played a succession of grim but funny nurses as well as the wild personification of crack.

But even though the play is about a decent into additions and the subject matter was essentially grim, there wasn't much suspense -- if the story wasn't being told from the point of view of a recovered addict, the tone would have been completely different. And not all the theatrical devices worked - scenes with the parents were intended to show why our heroine turned to alcohol for comfort, yet while the events were real and often heartbreaking, they seemed diagrammatic. A recovery romance (with echoes of I'll Cry Tomorrow) was rushed - it seemed more important than the space it was given. The play's spark was clearly with the drugs and booze.

Director Dan Spurgeon kept the pace moving at a steady clip, and the intermissionless 90 minutes passed quickly. The set (uncredited) was a black box with shelves holding pictures and personal items on one side and a collection of liquor bottles on the other. It was up to the lighting (designed by Mark Manne) to change scene and mood, and this was achieved superlatively. Costumes (by Dashiell) evoked aspects of character, like Mary Jane's trashiness or Ally's "sophistication."

The inescapable assumption is that Ally, MaryJane & Me is based on real life. Drama is shaped differently though, and when characters click they can really take off. And when villains are played as well as they are here, there's nothing to do but sit back and enjoy.

Also with Michael Simon Hall, Elleen Hannah, and Ron Micca.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting 2/Sound 1

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler