As a storyteller I strongly urge you to buy tickets to see The Night Watcher at The Studio Theatre, especially if you appreciate good storytelling, a fine actor, and a thought-provoking story. As a child I always wished for a trusted “auntie.” As a mother who hoped that her children had such an adult in their lives, and a storyteller who relishes fine, honest, and meaningful stories that are well told, I loved
this wonderful theatrical experience.
Charlayne Woodard, playwright and performer of this one-woman show, is a bundle of energy, a polished actor, and a grand storyteller. The play, based on her personal experiences as a generous ”auntie” to other women’s children, is honest, sometimes gut-wrenching, often touching, as well as having some very funny moments. All this is woven into a solid structure which makes a good story. The full house who attended my performance laughed and sighed in the right places, and appreciated Woodard ‘s performance, and gave her a well-deserved standing ovation at its close.
Charlayne Woodard is an Obie Award-winning actress and an Emmy Award nominee. The Night Watcher is her fourth play developed from personal material. She says, “Instead of being frustrated that the type of stories I wanted to see and hear were not being told, I decided to tell them myself.” And she tells them well.
At the start of the play Charlayne bounced onto the stage – youthful and energetic – offering the audience a big smile as she claimed center stage. Her body language telegraphed that she had a story to tell and that she was confident in doing so. Dropping onto the single chair on stage, she picked up an imaginary telephone and launched her story.
On that first call she dodged adopting an offered baby “fresh from the oven” and shortly afterwards accepted a friend’s invitation to be a “godmother. Her description of the Baptism and her realization that godmothering came with responsibilities was funny, very moving, and introduced the underlying theme that it often takes more than parents to raise a child, or as Hillary Clinton once said, “It takes a village.” And from there she develops her character as “Auntie Charlayne.”
Charlayne has written an insightful play based on her personal experiences as a married woman who is not a biological parent but is an “auntie” who generously mothers other women’s children. Ten vignettes of those relationships tell of the lives of children in today’s world [I do not want to give away all the details of these vignettes because I want you to come and see the show]. They give examples of how others can step into the gaps when parents miss the boat on protecting and guiding their children.
Her stories are not all sweetness and light and are windows onto the real lives of some of today’s children who have floundered in a world filled with potent dangers, especially if they are not shepherded by aware and sensitive adults. She shares true stories of youthful pregnancies, childhood angst, and a story of child sexual abuse that took my breath away, while skillfully slipping in very funny lines to lift the mood and save the audience.
For a few of the children whose lives she touched she becomes the fairy god-mother who hoped to save the day or to be “the night watcher.’ I was particularly moved by the story of a an innocent adolescent girl who, seduced by society’s emphasis on physical beauty and lip service use of the word love, could not recognize the ”wolf” when she met him. It is a difficult story to listen to. How fortunate that the young woman had an advocate looking out for her from the parental sidelines
In the hands of a skillful actor like Charlayne Woodard all this comes together into an absorbing experience of powerful storytelling . She’s wise in using her excessive affection for three pampered Maltese dogs as comic relief.
I do wish, however, that Woodward did not roam so all over the stage so much during her performance. Resting in one place can more effectively allow the audience a chance to settle into the story. When she portrayed the young people whose stories she was telling, they, at times, sounded the same. I did, however, loved her the voice she used during her spot-on portrayal of an irritating 11 year-old spoiled-brat with a peck of attitude who exhausted Auntie Charlayne’s vast patience. It elicited many laughs from the audience and from me. And I also wish that there was no intermission because the tone that had built to a crescendo by the end of the first act was broken by the intermission.
The set designed by Luciana Stecconi, a wall of Joseph-Cornell-like framed assemblages, was an effective complement without intruding into the performance. They also functioned to move the scenes along when they were individually lit to indicate a switch in characters. When all of the the boxes lit up, the wall became a charming family album of all the children in Woodard’s life. This reminder that this is a true story – was a moving close for the play.
The Night Watcher is an experience that will stay with you long after seeing Charlayne Woodard’s heart-felt performance. Do not miss it!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.
The Night Watcher plays through November 17, 2013, at The Studio Theatre – 1501-14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.