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Review: SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY at Blackfriars Theatre

Review: SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY at Blackfriars Theatre

Blackfriars Theatre continues its 2022 season with a heartwarming story about kindness and doing good in the world, featuring a talented cast led by two young performers from Rochester's School of the Arts.

From the playbill: "Surely Goodness and Mercy", by rising playwright Chisa Hutchinson, tells the story of Tino (Annan Bates), a shy boy with a photographic memory who finds solace in his newly found Bible and Miss Bernadette (Kat Rina Davis), the cantankerous old lunch lady. In spite of Tino's obstacles at home and Miss Bernadette's worsening ailments, and with the help of an unlikely new friend (Deja, played by Genesis Arrindell), they help each other on their journeys of growing up and growing old.

I was struck by the way Chisa Hutchinson tells a story centered on faith and religious curiosity in a way that doesn't condescend or trivialize, as these stories often do in the hands of a less thoughtful playwright. In Tino, Hutchinson finds a boy on a quest for deeper meaning and richer relationships, and does so in a way that inspires and gives the viewer hope that kindness and compassion can still win the day, especially in an age that seems to be dominated by division and bitterness toward others.

"Surely Goodness and Mercy" is buoyed by the strong performances of its child actors, particularly Annan Bates' Tino, who plays the role with a delicate gentleness and curiosity that counterbalances the difficulty and, often, viciousness, of his home life and school experience. The character-and Bates' performance-reminded me of the lead character in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime", a character who similarly embodies an innocent sweetness against a harsh backdrop of trauma and chaos. Also excellent in a purely auditory role is the preacher, voiced by Anthony Aceyon Owens.

While it features several exemplary acting performances and important themes of kindness and compassion, "Surely Goodness and Mercy" does suffer a bit of a pacing problem, particularly in act one, which is sparse in terms of both dialogue and plot propulsion. By act two the storytelling finds its footing, but in a two-hour play with only four characters it's a tough hang for audience members to stay engaged and excited when the first half of the production features long stretches of minimal dialogue and character movement.

"Surely Goodness and Mercy" is a rich and heartwarming story about-well-goodness and mercy, that features excellent performances, particularly by young local actors who will hopefully continue gracing the Blackfriars stage. It's playing until April 9th, for tickets and more information click here.

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