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A CurtainUp Review
The Night Watcher

What do you know about it? I was my parents' right hand. I couldn't wait to get to the rest of my life. So I could live free. . .free as air. I couldn't wait to get to college to finally be free of kids. . . I was 35 years old when my grandmother saw me out in the field playing kickball with a bunch of kids. She said, 'Looka there. . . Charlayne has finally grown up to be a child!'
The Night Watcher
Charlayne Woodard
(Photo: James Leynse)
Charlayne Woodward has been featured on stage, film and in her own solo performances (Pretty Fire, Neat, In Real Life). She is probably best known to audiences for her recurring roles in Law and Order: SVU and ER. However the one role she has never had is that of mother. She has, however, been the beloved "auntie"' to a good number of children who entered her life through friendships and family ties.

In Woodward's current solo show, The Night Watcher, directed by Daniel Sullivan, she recounts with considerable tenderness and humor the various stories of the children she has mentored. These were children whose parents were absent, deceased or incompetent. In fact, the number of parents Woodward has known who would not or could not raise their own children is truly remarkable. Or perhaps, in these days of dysfunctional families and fragile relationships, one should not really be surprised.

Woodward plays all the roles — from her long-suffering husband, Harris, who is forever being placed on the back burner to make room for Woodward's newest project, to the ineffectual parents and even the troubled children. She does okay with the adults, but the children all have the same naïve cluelessness that makes them too sweet and cloying to be believable. Woodward may have had lots of experience with children, but she seems unwilling to show just how savvy and knowing they (perhaps unfortunately) are today.

The traumatized children we meet include a teenage godchild (Indira) who gets herself pregnant; a "mixed race" niece (Benamarie) who needs to be taught the value of being a little black girl; the great grandchild (Kya) of a girlfriend's client, whose own mother threw her on the floor in a fit of anger; the motherless daughter (Africa) of a friend, who is abused by an uncle and then battered by her aunt; and a nephew (Nala, the night watcher) who has an abusive stepfather and needs to be encouraged to win the relay race for his school. There's even a section devoted to Woodward's own aunties. There's Auntie Pauline who bought Woodward clothing and took her to matinees. There's also Auntie Emma, the first black cheerleader at Albany High School, who passes the torch to Woodward. Finally, there's Miss Ruth, the only person with a master's Woodward knew while growing up, a beloved mentor who urged Woodward on to pursue knowledge.

The Night Watcher is certainly inspirational. Who could resist all those needy, innocent children? Who would be so cynical not to admire Woodward for the caring and comfort she offered them between gigs? What's more, Sullivan has augmented the story with appropriate music and projections that bring Woodward back to the time she is telling us about.

But what is the purpose of this two hour (with intermission) monologue? Is it to convince the audience to take better care of children? Is it to give Woodward a chance to feel better about her decision not to bear children? At the end of the two hours, she lists all the reasons she and her husband never had children: her parents' life issues, health issues and money issues; their own busy schedule. She concludes by informing an African man she meets in the subway, ". . .the world doesn't need more kids, mister, as much as it needs more people to step into the gap and help the kids who are already here." Maybe that's why at times The Night Watcher seems as if it might be more appropriate for a therapist than an audience.

The Night Watcher
Written and performed by Charlayne Woodward
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Set Design: Charlie Corcoran and Thomas Lynch
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Geoff Korf
Original Music and Sound Design: Obadiah Eaves
Projection Design Tal Yarden
Primary stages at 59E59 Theaters
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
From 9/22/09; opening 10/06/09; closing 10/31/09
Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. on October 4th & 11th, and Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m. on October 14th, 21st & 28th
Tickets: $45
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 4, 2009
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