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LA Theater Review

The Night Watcher

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As Charlayne Woodard readily admits in her solo show, great parents—apparently hers included—make it look easy. But sometimes an extra few hands become necessary to augment the caring for and shaping of a child. That's where Woodard and millions of child-free adults around the world step in and serve as confidants, life coaches, bankers, tutors, clergy—honorary aunties and uncles. In better words, they become night watchers.

Directed by Daniel Sullivan, this production is gorgeous, seamless, and vibrant. Woodard plays on a platform stage that is comfortably carpeted in a sandy shade and furnished with one hard chair. But with scenic design by Thomas Lynch with Charlie Corcoran, backed by scene-establishing projections (Tal Yarden) and lighted (Geoff Korf) for sunny days and moonlit nights, religious services, and track meets, that spare staging serves as various bedrooms, cars, beauty salons,

rose gardens, and wherever else Auntie Charlayne finds herself through her decades of tending her precious crop.

However, Woodard's storytelling is so clear and strong, it needs no gilding. She can write, and her words are poetic and provoking, evocative and unambiguous. So, too, are her performing skills. With gentle vocal work and boundlessly energized physicalities, she creates tots, tweens, and teens, their parents and hers, and the occasional cop, friend, and foe in the kids' lives. Only the many songs Woodard breaks into—perhaps setting time and tone—distract from the storytelling and emit a whiff of "showcase." Certainly Obadiah Eaves' crisp, self-effaced sound design could handle these moments, too.

Most will find Woodard's talent for narrative loving and gentle. Some may notice a political agenda here and disagree with it. Some may consider this generally warm, inspiring evening an equally crushing denunciation of certain styles of parenting. As Woodard could be seen as saying, not every parent deserves a child, and not every childless person is selfish, useless, and unskilled at child rearing. This magnificent solo show certainly has the capacity to awaken in all of us a generally unsung realization: They also serve who stand and watch.

Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Nov. 20-Dec. 18. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m. (Dark Thu., Nov. 24; Sat., Dec. 3, 2 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 11, 1 p.m.) (213) 628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org.

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