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All the Natalie Portmans
Real world ain't like them movies, Keyonna.— Ovetta
Kara Young
Under Kate Whorisky's direction All the Natalie Portmans by C. A. Johnson is now in its world premiere in the Susan and Ronald Frankel Theater at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. It happens at the intersection of art and life and can remind you of the healing power of storytelling.

Set in Washington DC in 2009, the play brings before us a dysfunctional African-American family on the verge of eviction: There's the gay 16 year-old Keyonna (Kara Young) who aspires to be a film-maker; her older brother Samuel (Joshua Boone) who works at a local bar; their alcoholic mother Ovetta (Montego Glover) who cleans hotels and often disappears to go on drinking benders; and the memory of their father who died of a heart attack and left them in financial straits .

As the lights go up, Keyonna and Samuel discuss their mother's wild behaviors and wonder about her present whereabouts. Samuel then asks Keyonna how school is. A whip-smart student who attends a charter school, Keyonna likes to cut out magazine pictures of iconic actresses and add them to her Dream Board. Her latest addition is her muse Natalie Portman, who she dubs “the best in the game.” Indeed, Keyonna feels that one day she will be a mover and shaker in the film world, have a swank place of her own, and help advance actresses like Natalie Portman who are worth their weight in gold.

The play takes off when a Natalie Portman doppelganger (Elise Kibler) surreally materializes on stage. She enters balletically in a tutu and re-enacts an extravagant posture from Black Swan. Although Keyonna doesn't see the ghost of the famous actress at first, when she eventually does, it brings a frisson of fascination to her and pulls her into a world of enchantment.

Kibler's Natalie fades in and out of the action like a will-o-the-wisp. Although Keyonna is the only one Natalie relates to, that is more than enough. Watching the two bond is great fun, especially when the imaginary Natalie has Keyonna re-enact scenes with her from The Empire Strikes Back, each holding light sabers and preparing to save a patch of the galactic universe.

Besides glimpses of The Empire Strikes Back, you see Natalie resurrect snatches from Cold Mountain, Garden State, V for Vendetta, to mention a few. No, you don't need to be a Natalie Portman fan to enjoy this play. But if you are, you will savor the thematic overlapping between Portman's films and the larger play. What's more, you will be treated to an invigorating retrospective of Portman's performances on screen through 2010.

It's interesting to follow how this imaginary Natalie acts as a catalyst. While she comes across like a BFF to Keyonna early on, she later becomes more demanding and critical of her life. Take the moment when Natalie criticizes Keyonna for being silent and not keeping up her end of the conversation at one point. Keyonna of course snaps back with meta-theatrical flair: "That's because I'm tired, Natalie. I worked today. Have you ever heard of work? Have you ever had a real job?” This heated exchange created a ripple of laughter throughout the audience on the evening I attended. For who isn' familiar with the perception of the artist as somebody living in la-la land and not needing to be in touch with the harsh realities of life?

Kara Young plays Keyonna with a fierce tomboyish charm. Elise Kibler performs her imaginary friend n with buoyant conviction. Renika Williams' inhabits the bi-sexual Chantel with sensitivity, registering the fear and fearlessness co-existing in her character's mind. Joshua Boone's Samuel is well cast as a youth struggling to survive his impoverished surroundings. And Montego Glover is perfect as Ovetta, the alcoholic mother who desperately tries to keep her family together.

Donyale Werle's down-at-heel set, in collaboration with Stacey Derosier's washed-out lighting, captures the family's grim domestic situation. And nothing but kudos for Jennifer Moeller's costumes and Cookie Jordan's wigs and make-up.

All the Natslie Portmns brings a fresh new definition to the screen-to-stage concept. Johnson might not be a name yet in the New York theater world. But her new play should be applauded for its originality .

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All the Natalie Portmans by C. A. Johnson Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Cast: Joshua Boone ( Samuel), Montego Glover (Ovetta), Elise Kibler (Natalie Portman), Renika Williams (Chantel), and Kara Young (Keyonna), Raphael Peacock (Epps).
Scenic design: Donyale Werle
Costume design: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting design: Stacey Derosier
Sound design: Sinan Refik Zafa
Stage Manager: Alexandra Hall
The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, at 511 West 52nd Street-between 10th and 11th Avenue
Tickets: $37 - $76. Tickets: call the box office at (646) 506-9393 or visit
From 2/06/20; opening 2/24/20; closing March 3/29/20.
Running Time: 2 hours; 10 minutes, with one intermission.

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