Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Also see Garrett's review of James and the Giant Peach
Under the meticulous direction of Vivienne Benesch, nine different characters of various ages and races come to life before our eyes through the artistry of Tangela Large, telling their stories of heartache, loss and survival. Each character, a different person; each pair of shoes, a different story. And though their stories are unique, they are all connected by the unseen character of Mr. Joy, a Chinese shoe repairman in a predominately African-American neighborhood in Harlem. We hear the concerns of these characters, their prejudices, their dreams, and their ambitions as they all, at some point, visit Mr. Joy, not only to get their shoes repaired but to find a friendly face and perhaps even that emotion found in the friendly repairmen's name.
McKay Coble's design of the single set is inspired. Center stage is the interior side of the storefront of Mr. Joy's Shoe Repair, strewn with flowers, notes and shoes (we find out why as we piece together the characters' stories). Within, the dilapidated store is piled with more shoes of every style and type, from stylish pumps to cowboy boots, and we can't help but consider how many different lives have walked in and out of this store. Kathy A. Perkins' lighting design provides a visual reference for each character with spotlights finding a different pair of shoes as each person speaks.
Tangela Large, who recently performed this piece at ArtsEmerson in Boston and won the 2016 IRNE Award for Best Solo Performance, truly embodies each character in speech, bearing and demeanor. Whether she is Clarissa, a bubbly 11-year-old girl who dreams of designing shoes and is taken under the wing of Mr. Joy off the harsh streets of Harlem, or a white Upper West Side socialite who adamantly proclaims that she is not racist because her boyfriend is black, Ms. Large inhabits each character fully, carrying us from the hilarious to the heartbreaking at a moment's notice.
Mr. Joy left me with many questions that followed me home; "Who is the person sitting beside me? What is their story? What sort of dialogue might I have with them? How might I help them?" At any moment we might glance at a stranger and ask, "Would I be willing to walk in their shoes?" or even "Could I?" Mr. Joy would simply say, "Yes," and stretch them or size them down for you, if only you're willing.
Mr. Joy is presented by PlayMakers at the Kenan Theatre at UNC's Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 through April 30th, 2017. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online at www.playmakersrep.org or by phone at 919-962-7529.
Playwright: Daniel Beaty
Director: Vivienne Benesch
Performed by Tangela Large