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Arts and Entertainment

'The Night Watcher' Amuses With Mediocre Characters & Tales

Charlayne Woodard in "The Night Watcher" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo - Craig Schwartz
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Theatre managers love to put solo shows on their stages because they're very cost effective. Actor, writer and sometimes the director are all one person, and a big set (or any set) is rarely needed. It's unfortunate, then, that one-person-shows are so difficult to do well. Successful solo works reveal the primacy of storytelling as pure theatre and usually spotlight what amazing talent that given performer may possess. When they don't work, however, the blame generally only has one target. Charlayne Woodard's new piece at the Douglas, The Night Watcher, is pleasant and generally amusing, but as an evening of theatre it feels thin.Woodard's general theme for the show is how her decision not to have children has affected her relationship with her family and friends--in effect, she recounts how it has made her a great aunt and godmother. She begins by saying how she was tempted to adopt when contacted by a famous actress and an adoption charity but continues that she and her husband simultaneously realized they liked their life as it was. Some well-meaning efforts to be a non-parental resource go unappreciated, as when Woodard counsels her 14-year-old goddaughter to consider putting up an unexpected child for adoption instead of having an abortion, and the girl's mother, Woodard's best friend, is furious. Other efforts, however, as when she recognizes that a teen niece is illiterate and gets her help or when she comforts a troubled nephew, demonstrate what a valuable friend or family member she is.

Woodard has a likeable, easygoing presence onstage, and she has the mechanics of a solo show down pat, segueing cleanly from story to story. Unfortunately, some of her character acting, particularly her teenage voices, come off as broad mugging more than any three-dimensional portrayal. Most of her writing is crisp and witty ("I can't have a headache on the left side of my brain--that's the side of my brain that I use!"), but her collection of personal stories doesn't cohere into much more of a point than describing what a great aunt she is.

Director Daniel Sullivan stages the production neatly, knowing when to keep Woodard in motion and when to use stillness. Geoff Korf's lighting and Tal Yarden's projection design combine perfectly to create settings on the empty stage, from a nighttime bedroom to a table at P. F. Chang's.

"The Night Watcher" plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through December 18, 2011. Tickets are available online.