March 2, 2003
Madea's Class Reunion
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You may not know Tyler Perry yet, but you will soon. He is a man who can do it all. The writer, actor and producer of urban gospel plays has just signed a deal with CBS to develop and star in a comedy series targeted for this fall. His trademark role is Madea, who totes a pistol full of blanks, smokes her glaucoma medicine, and can’t imagine how her daughter "got saved growing up in my house." Perry’s hybrid format mixes hilarious street comedy with spiritual messages and exuberant gospel songs. It’s a winning combination.|
This is Perry’s fourth play featuring Madea, a widowed grandma with a trouble seeking mouth and a bosom so enormous it grazes her chin when she jumps around excitedly, which she does a lot. Madea’s class reunion of 1953 is just an excuse for an outrageous cast of characters to share stories that are rich with opportunities for forgiveness. Christian themes and biblical phrases are a definitive part of the production. But the preaching is kept in balance by high quality acting, raucous dialogue, and voices that can steal your heart and make you dare to dream.
Before he makes his appearance as Madea in Act 2, Perry plays Doctor Willie Leroy, who works as a bellboy who won’t carry bags, and a bartender who can only make rum and cokes, at a fancy hotel where all the action takes place. Leroy isn’t a real doctor. "My mama just named me that because she knew I was never going to amount to nothing." Leroy is a character who can’t get over how funny he is, and neither can the audience. I suspect a healthy chunk of the dialogue was successfully ad-libbed.
Peter Wolfs’ two story set design is detailed and effective. The hotel lobby occupies the first floor, while the second floor bedrooms provide a setting for personal scenes between couples seeking truth and redemption.
Supporting performances by David Mann as Mr. Brown, and Chandra Young as Emma are two highlights of a talented cast. "Took colored people breaking their backs to give African Americans what you have today," scolds Young, who plays a hotel housekeeper whose faith gives her strength, and whose voice commands the stage.
Mr. Brown, a widower, brings his wife to the reunion in a Pringles can. He speaks in malaprops, and wears an audacious combination of patterned pants and shirts that ride up this belly. According to Madea, he looks like a black "Shrek." Some of the subjects tackled include whether or not its appropriate to proselytize for Jesus on company time, whether a two timing man is worth loving, and whether prayer works to punish the wicked, as well as elevate the saved. Class Reunion is part pep rally, part psychological counseling, and a wholly satisfying piece of drama.
Lynn Trenning, March 2, 2003