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Review: IN REAL LIFE at Hattiloo Theatre

Rekeitha Morris Shines in Dream Performance

Review: IN REAL LIFE at Hattiloo Theatre

There's an old cliché that says, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Although it's basically another way to say that what you plan for and what actually happens to you can be vastly different, it can ease the sting a bit, if you'll let it. That's a big "if." Ironically though, not only can the reality be dramatically different, in some (or many) ways, it can be much better.

Hattiloo's current production of IN REAL LIFE (now through June 20th) showcases a woman's struggle with living the life she always dreamed contrasted with the reality of what she got. Is it a sign of failure if your dream to be a serious New York actress is supplanted with a Tony-Award nominating performance in a Broadway musical? Most would whole-heartedly say "No," but everyone has a dream that only makes sense to them.

Written and originally performed in New York by Charlayne Woodard, IN REAL LIFE tells the autobiographical story of Woodard's move to New York City to become a "serious actress" and her slow realization that some fantasies unexpectedly melt into disillusionment and vice versa. Nothing in the story is necessarily cataclysmic, so the conflict of the piece is of an internal nature-a struggle that is best displayed up close.

Under the impressive direction of Patricia Smith, this "slice of (real) life" theatre is virtually a one-woman show in the round. Yes, in the round. Theatre-in-the-round places the performers in the middle of the floor with the audience sitting literally around them. For those not used to experiencing theatre in this fashion, it can take some getting used to, but, if done correctly, can become visually acceptable in just a few short minutes. One of the main reasons it can work is because there are usually at least two characters on stage and, no matter where you are sitting in the circle, you'll almost always be able to see at least one of their faces. This unique production places one woman on the stage mostly by herself though and strategically keeps her moving in a way that her face is never out of sight for long. It's a lot harder than it looks, but it works spectacularly.

Rekeitha Morris
Rekeitha Morris

Rekeitha Morris portrays this autobiographical play's writer and star, Charlayne Woodard. Woodard starred alongside Broadway heavyweights, Nell Carter and Andre Deshields in AIN'T MISBEHAVIN back in the 1970's, all the while longing to be a "serious actress" instead. IN REAL LIFE chronicles her move to New York, her struggles to make it on her own terms before "settling" on starring in AIN'T MISBEHAVIN, and her admiration, followed quickly by her disgust of a spiritual mentor. Morris is phenomenal. She carries this 90-minutes show almost entirely by herself as she elegantly walks, spins and glides about the stage seamlessly in a way that never disengages from our gaze. Not only is she able to command your attention with aplomb, but she does it donning a see-through COVID mask while each fully masked audience member is locked away in what feels like a hermetically sealed sitting booth for everyone's protection. This production is set in arguably the safest room in America, yet still feels incredibly intimate.

Review: IN REAL LIFE at Hattiloo Theatre
Darious Robertson

Darious Robertson (in an irie turn) portrays Woodard's newfound source of Jamaican spiritual enlightenment as she latches on to him like an eager puppy until he later proves to be just as fallible and weak as the next guy. Robertson is the embodiment of Charlayne's being careful of what you wish for naivete. He's not the answer any more than is constantly complaining about getting what you got instead of what you didn't. In comparison, she is truly blessed.

IN REAL LIFE doesn't offer any over-the-top, edge-of-your seat conflict. What it does offer is the reminder that we all have our own personal dreams and no one else is really in any place to judge how big, small, right, or wrong they could/should be. Achieving those dreams is often hard, but the journey to reaching them is always filled with profound experiences and insights that may, in the end, change your definition of success. In real life, our dreams often don't come true. Thank God.

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The Cumberland County Playhouse has announced its 2023 season. Learn more about the lineup here!

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A Christmas Carol will be back on stage, December 2 - 23, 2022, in the Lohrey Theatre at Theatre Memphis for its 45th consecutive production of the holiday classic. The return of Ebenezer Scrooge and the three Spirits who visit him is an adaptation of the Charles Dickens' novel that follows the journey of the miserly businessman from childhood (through disillusionment and revenge) to redemption.

From This Author - Kevin Shaw

Kevin grew up performing in the Birmingham, AL community theatre circuit since 1974. After moving to Los Angeles and appearing in a number of theatrical, TV and Film projects, he transitioned to di... (read more about this author)

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