“You will never know the truth of my life,” says Rita Heffernon (Deidra LaWan Starnes) to her son, Vincent (Manu Kumasi), in a moment of heart-wrenching honesty. “Children never know.”
The Good Counselor, written by Kathryn Grant, is a study of complex family dynamics, especially of the relationships between mothers, their children, and the world. 1st Stage’s production of this beautiful work is not to be missed. The cast of five vividly brings to life Director Alex Levy’s powerfully austere, yet sympathetic vision of the story of Vincent Heffernon, a public defender, who must contend with personal and professional challenges whose similarities he cannot ignore.
This small cast packs an enormous emotional punch. Bueka Uwemedimo as Ray Heffernon, Vincent’s wayward brother, is playful with an edge. His sudden flashes of aggressiveness are scary in their unpredictability, but balanced out by Uwemedimo’s ability to consistently convey Ray’s underlying vulnerability, you continue to root for him.
Manu Kumasi’s Vincent Heffernon more than lives up to the mighty role of serving as the play’s lynchpin. He appears in every scene, showing us a different side of Vincent depending on the character he is interacting with, whether it be a kid brother, a confused son, a capable public defender, or a mentee in need of guidance. Kumasi is able to establish believable chemistry, not only with his cast mates, but also with the audience through a couple of memorable monologues he addresses directly to us.
Three dimensional and complex roles for women have historically been in short supply in the world of theatre, yet this play boasts three: Evelyn Laverty (Dani Stoller), Rita Heffernon (Deidra LaWan Starnes), and Maia Aruna (Alina Collins Maldonado); all are mothers from different backgrounds but with more similarities than are apparent at first glance.
Stoller’s Evelyn Laverty is childlike, blunt, guarded, and often belligerent. She has numerous nervous tics and is sometimes deliberately off-putting and racist towards Vincent despite the fact that he is serving as her public defender. Yet, Stoller’s haunted eyes and erratic speech patterns belie the humanity of the desperate young mother who is just trying to do the best she can.
Starnes expertly pulls off the tricky feat of conveying both the feisty, tough-as-nails matriarch side and the struggling, desperate single mother side that make up Rita’s character without once veering into parody or caricature. Rita is instead treated respectfully by Starnes as neither a sinner nor a saint, just a human woman who is, again, just trying to do the best she can.
Completing this talented triumvirate is Maldonado’s Maia, an intelligent, self-possessed supervisor in the Office of the Public Defender, who serves as a sounding board and mentor for Vincent. Maldonado’s wry sense of humor was one of the lighter elements of the show, yet she still portrays Maia as a fully fleshed out character who can serve up some harsh truths when needed and point out details Vincent overlooks.
The set design by Kathryn Kawecki (who is also the costume designer) is stunning. Full of nontraditional entrances and shadowy corners, the two story set gives the ominous impression that the world it displays goes on to extend beyond what the audience can see.
Lighting design by Robbie Hayes contributes to the eeriness by utilizing darkness to create atmosphere, only lighting what is absolutely necessary. Expertly led by the Technical Director Aaron Fensterheim, Production Manager Anna Bate, and Stage Manager Jessica Short, the technical aspects of the show are smooth and organic. The minimal but purposeful and effective props were designed by Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa. Rounding out the talented crew are Rachel Barlaam (Sound Design), Joseph Cahn and Maya Zimmerman (Assistant Stage Managers), Megan Behm (Fight Choreography), and Jane Margulies Kalbfeld (Dialect Coach).
The complex family dynamics found in The Good Counselor are universal- thus making this show one that all audiences can relate to in some way. Do not miss out on this powerfully moving experience!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.