Written and Directed by Tyler Perry
Produced by Tyler Perry at the Warner Theater
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Going to a Tyler Perry production is like going home on Spring break-you know what’s coming, but it’s comfy and reliable, and there’s absolutely no place like home. Nobody hits the buttons, unburies the bones, dares the characters to “go there,” and splashes over the top like Perry. His musicals fit a winning formula– a mix of zany characters in serious life situations, good smacking the mess out of evil, the healing power of prayer and redemption, and enough gut-wrenching gospel music to qualify for Sunday service. Marriage Counselor packed the house so tight over the summer that Perry is having a second coming, I mean, a second limited run just before the Thanksgiving Holidays.
Already a gifted teller, Perry is honing his craft and glimmers of artistry actually shine through some of the contrived spots. The plot for this production is much better developed than usual-it’s still basic simple linear stuff, but there’s a tad bit more depth to it.
A marriage counselor and her husband are joined by her mother and his father, both on permanent displacement from Katrina-a sad reminder that all is not well from that aftermath just because it just stopped getting media attention and coverage. The couple’s budget, while affluent for two, barely stretches to support the unexpected parental additions, and there are moments when they all struggle to keep their heads above water, figuratively this time. Still, they make the most of the ties that bind, with the elders trying to maintain parental respect while being functionally dependent on their children for support. That alone is a tremendous social commentary that’s glossed over for the sake of the main story, but it’s a reflection of the neat layering in Perry’s writing, it’s subtle, not heavy-handed, just the right touch.
With a crisp look and demeanor of a polished professional, Judith played by Tamar Davis listens attentively to her clients and dishes out clear, articulate advice, but when she goes home to Roger, her accountant budget-conscious husband, she sneaks an item or two into the house from her recent shopping spree. She’s obviously in need of her own couples’ counsel. Later in the story, she’s confronted by something more tempting and devastating than the latest handbag from Neiman Marcus, and we watch her struggle with her choices and feel her pain in dealing with life’s twists and turns. Again, Perry provides some nice somber and mature touches mixed in with his usual silly fare.
Still, he hasn’t forgotten his winning formula. He knows what pays the bills, and so he keeps up the full-bodied laughter, shenanigans, and sharp verbal comebacks among the characters. The weed-loving father figure could have been saddled with the buffoon role, but Palmer Williams, Jr. is so good he actually makes it work. With impeccable comic timing, pantomime, voice inflections, George Jefferson busting moves, and non-stop facial expressions, Williams elevates the silly slapstick banter to satisfying hilarity.
The broad-brush silliness is still there, of course– it sells, so it’s not going anywhere soon and is manifested prominently in the stripper, aka “exotic dancer” now married to a church deacon/ former bartender. Perry gets lots of mileage out that unequally yoked mess, including her tendency to drop it like it’s hot at the slightest provocation, including an inability to pass up a pole without taking a reminiscent swing, including the stop signs outside the office. She’s got a heart of gold, though, and somehow finds her way to repentance.
Another character who is so fruit-loopy she comes full circle to being downright adorable is Becky, played by Stephanie Ferrett as the young white receptionist who fronts such strong sistah stylistics she may as well be wearing cornrows and smacking gum – like yo, you know what I’m say’n? Becky gets all up in everybody’s business while barely getting her own work done, popping in at pivotal moments to help move the scene all while stealing it. Nothing flatters the soul like imitation, so the more she puts on the sistah act, the more endearing she becomes, especially after she belts out a number with soulful pipes so fierce it made you want to slap your mama for holding out on you.
And then, Lord have mercy, there is the music. With a blasting combo churning out the soul stirring hits and the most gorgeous, voices this side of glory extolling the power of faith, it’s enough to make you feel redeemed. A.T. Grayson’s heartfelt rendition of “I’m the Only Mother You Ever Had” or Myra Beasley’s “Listen Between the Words,” demonstrate Perry’s amazing gifts as songwriter and producer to collect this powerhouse ensemble.
The Tyler Perry phenomenon is alive and well. He credits his success to Oprah when he took up the journal writing she promoted on her show which resulted in his first hit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman. After all his formulaic Madea productions, dumb and dumber television series, then branching into films, each subsequent movie, at least, seems to be a gradual improvement. Perry is a force to be reckoned with.
The Marriage Counselor proves that he keeps his eyes and ears open to life’s tart lemon stories, and squeezes out the sweetest lemonade. I have faith that the best is yet to come.
Running Time: 2 hours, one intermission
When: Limited Run, Thru November 16th
Where: Warner Theater, 13th and E Street, (between E and F) N.W
Contact: Phone: 202.783.4000 or visit the website.