Lynn Nottage’s play, set in Manhattan and Brooklyn, has been revived by Signature Theatre, and my reaction to this production is much in tune with the favorable review I wrote when I saw it in 2004 (See Search). Cherise Boothe is triumphantly dynamic in the role of Undine, whose downfall from her public relations success leads her to examine her life anew. My impression is that she stresses the comedy of the play more blatantly than the excellent Charlayne Woodard did in the previous staging, and so does director Lileana Blain-Cruz.
Boothe’s Undine at the outset seems too sharp to have lost all her money to her absconding husband and her carrying on hysterically comes across as more amusing than earning sympathy. However, as the play proceeds, one begins to feel for her more even though she doesn’t lose any of her edge.
For all the laughter the play generates, this is basically a serious story of a 37-year-old African-American woman, originally named Sharona Watkins, who, to get ahead in the right circles, has tried to erase her past even to the extent of saying that her parents are dead. However, when she goes broke, and we see all of her possessions seized by movers, she returns to her family in Brooklyn to stay a while out of necessity. She also discovers that she is pregnant.
What follows is a re-bonding with her earthy family, but with complications. As a result of a mission to buy drugs for her grandmother, she does a jail stretch. But she also joins a rehab group, in which she meets a decent fellow who falls for her. He is played by Ian Lassitter, the versatile actor who also portrays the sleazily sexy Hervé, the Argentinean husband who ran off with all the money from their joint bank account and left her destitute.
One warms to Undine as she emerges more and more as a person who learns to accept her roots and is able to relate to the love extended by the new man in her life. Still, the play never loses the pizzazz of the staging, with its very busy and proficient cast members. Each, with the exception of Boothe, takes on more than one role. The cast includes Mayaa Boateng, Dashiell Eaves, Heather Alicia Simms, Nikiya Matthis, J. Bernard Calloway and Marcus Callender.
The ending is in an entertaining and celebratory mode, showing that Undine’s journey of self-discovery has been successful and we can forecast happiness for her. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed December 22, 2018.