There are two things I know for certain about R. Eric Thomas. One, his career as a playwright is red-hot, having had three premieres this season alone in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The other thing I know about Thomas is that he really loves TV. I mean he really, really loves TV. This love, coupled with an encyclopedic knowledge of the small screen, is on glorious display in Everyman Theatre’s world premiere of his latest play, Crying on Television.
Crying on Television, directed by Reginald L. Douglas, is both an homage to and sendup of television shows that have shaped so much of our collective memory, from Good Times to Friends to Law and Order to The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Grey’s Anatomy to…I could go on. Or, rather, Thomas could and does in a good-natured and very funny way.
The play begins with a chance meeting in an elevator between Mackenzie (Starr Kirkland) and Ellison (Everyman Associate Artistic Director and Resident Company Member Paige Hernandez), who Mackenzie eventually recognizes as a former contestant on a dating show called Fairytale Endings. Rounding out Thomas’s cast of characters are Chris (Dwayne Washington), a costume designer and Mackenzie’s unwitting partner in crime, and Taffy (the hilarious Erika Rose), the wacky neighbor who hates raisins but loves wine and can bring chips or hummus to the next get-together but never both.
The plot itself is textbook sitcom, filled with quirky characters, mistaken identities (a famous line from the musical Gypsy gets quite a workout here), and nosy neighbors. Hijinks ensue. But something else, something deeper is going on here. Thomas suggests that perhaps our love (or is it obsession?) with television is reciprocal. As one character puts it, “Sometimes television is just a screen you throw your feelings at.” And in return it gives us…what? Companionship. Comfort. Guidance. Escape. Maybe all of the above.
Thomas’s play is also successful when it touches on the precarious act of forging new friendships as adults and the difficulty of escaping notoriety for the most embarrassing moment of your life. It is less successful when, in its final moments and seemingly out of nowhere, Thomas preaches to the proverbial choir that despite much progress, homophobia still exists. And in the church, no less. Well, color me shocked!
Crying on Television works best when the one-liners and zingers come at a rapid clip. And they do for most of the two-hour running time. The opening night audience seemed to struggle to catch its breath in between laughs.
Daniel Ettinger’s set, all muted pastels and grays and faux finishes, has a decidedly retro vibe, when sitcoms were mostly filmed in front of studio audiences instead of on location. Ivania Stack’s colorful costumes have a similarly vintage feel.
There is not a weak link in Douglas’s cast. And truth be told, I’d gladly start a petition for Rose’s Taffy to get her own spin-off (hint, hint, Thomas)!
I continue to be amazed that Baltimore can produce such high-quality world-premiere work. Crying on Television is damn good. With credit to Florida from Good Times, “Damn, damn, damn” it’s good!
Running Time: Two hours 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Crying on Television plays through June 26, 2022, at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets ($29–$69), call the box office at (410) 752.2208 or purchase them online. Tickets are also available for the digital streaming option ($20) starting June 17, 2022. (Digital streaming access must be purchased by Sunday, June 26 at midnight. Viewers can watch on-demand until July 10.) Box office hours are Monday to Friday from 9 am until 6 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am until 5 pm.
Best enjoyed by patrons 14+.
COVID Safety: Masks are required to enter the theater. Everyman’s Guide to Patron Health and Safety is here.
Paige Hernandez: Ellison
Starr Kirkland: Mackenzie
Erika Rose: Taffy
Dwayne Washington: Chris
ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
R. Eric Thomas: Playwright
Reginald L. Douglas: Director
Daniel Ettinger: Set Design
John D. Alexander: Lighting Design
Ivania Stack: Costume Design
Tosin Olufolabi: Sound Design
Lewis Shaw: Fights and Intimacy
Cat Wallis: Stage Manager