Join Charlayne Woodard as she reminisces about her childhood in Pretty Fire which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Autobiographical plays present a unique challenge in the usage of voice. A good play must have that sense of voice, but an autographical play is literally the author’s own voice. Sharing that is trickier because the author has to lay bare his or her soul and be supremely honest. It’s an extraordinarily difficult task and Woodard delivers with flying colors.
Her reminisces are rich and detailed and Woodard has no fear in sharing the good, the bad, the silly, and the tragic. Now you might feel a bit thrown as Woodard only discusses her childhood and you might feel there’s more to the story. And you’re right, there is. Woodard has written several plays covering her storied life and Pretty Fire is merely the first chapter.
Breanna Carodine provides a flawless piece of direction for the piece. When your cast is one person, there is always a danger of the show becoming static. Carodine avoids that danger by having her lone performer constantly on the move. Even when she is still, she is frequently gesturing or using vivid facial expressions which make her incredibly fun to watch. Carodine also has great control over the flow of the story, knowing which beats to emphasize and knowing when to slow things down or pick up the pace. She has guided her actress to a stellar performance and has well shaped the multiple characters she plays.
TammyRa’ is a bonfire of talent and has a searing performance as Charlayne Woodard. As previously stated, her animation is off the charts and her energy seems limitless. What I found particularly impressive about TammyRa’s performance was her use of voice to create characters. Outside of slight alterations to the timbre of her voice, she created characters through body language and the manipulation of her energy. As Woodard the child, she seemed physically smaller and her energy crackled like lightning. As her mother, she seemed to physically grow into an adult and had a quiet, strong energy. As a neighborhood bully, her eyes went cold and her aura simmered with violence. TammyRa’ has an incredible gift for phrasing as she knew what words to hit for maximum impact and I even found myself responding to her rhetorical questions as I so completely bought into the reality she had built.
Jackie Fox has designed a parklike setting with artificial grass, a couple of benches, and the hint of a living room with a coffee table and a record player. I especially liked her suspended flowery background which reminded me of changing clouds as I kept seeing a different picture each time I looked at it. Fox’s lights ebbed and flowed with the emotions of the scene with the midnight blue of Woodard’s most tragic story being of singular quality. John Gibilisco provides some nice ambient sounds to support the story. J. Isaiah Smith wraps the piece with a fine and subtle score. Lindsay Pape provides a colorful costume with a white shirt, green jacket, and tan pants.
There’s no theme to this play. It’s just the fascinating childhood story of one of the stage’s most lauded performers and playwrights. If you want a night of mesmerizing storytelling, this is it.
Pretty Fire runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 21. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $36 and may be purchased at the Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800, or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. Due to some mature content and language, discretion is advised. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.
Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse