Going home

Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery

By Shay Youngblood
Directed by Stephen Sunderlin
Vital Theatre Company
McGinn Cazale Theatre
2162 Broadway, 4th Floor (corner of 76th St.; 212/352-3101)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 6)
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery tells the story of a young black girl and the women who raise her. While there are so innovative epiphanies, the show has a lot of heart and some poignant, touching moments.

The show follows the Daughter (Kimbery Hebert Gregory) as she tells about her childhood. Mostly stream-of-consciousness, she talks about the women who raised her when she was deserted by her mother (Renee Threatte), who longed to be a dancer. Raised by her big-hearted Big Mama (Johnnie Mae) as well as Miss Lamama (Phynjuar), Aunt Mae (Kimbery "Q"), Miss Mary/Miss Shine/Miss Tom (Donisha Brown), her cousin Dee Dee/older sister Maggie/the elderly Miss Rosa (Erika Myers), and the mischievous, frank Miss Corine (Nysheva-Starr). By the end of the play, the Daughter realizes how lucky she is to be surrounded by so many strong, black women who love her.

Overall, a bit of the show felt a little contrived and cliché, but some of the parts were exquisite. The highlights included the following. First off, there were detailed stories told about various incidents that had shaped the women's lives, which would be played out on the side while narrated from the storyteller's chair. Second, sprinkled throughout were beautiful, joyful gospel songs, which vivaciously infected the audience.

The final highlight was the endearing, solid cast. In particular, Johnnie Mae captured the overwhelming charismatic care of Big Mama. Also standing out was Erika Myers, who was hilarious as her three smaller roles. She played up the comical aspects charmingly and pleasantly created different personalities for each.

Stephen Sunderlin's direction was tight and kept the show flowing perfectly. His staging was uncluttered, and the energy and pacing of the evening was seamless.

The rest of the creative team produced great work: Jenna Rossi-Camus's costumes were vibrant, colorful and flowery. Additionally, the lights designed by Carrie Yacono created many different, intimate playing areas, as well as used different-colored lanterns to extend the overall ambiance. Finally, Roberto Camus's eclectic, minimal, and functional set design produced a Southern, rural feel.

Thus, Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery inspired joyously. While not an earth-shattering, life-changing play, it was heartfelt, enjoyable and showcased some great talent.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2005 Seth Bisen-Hersh