Charlayne Woodard’s new solo show The Night Watcher, playing at 59E59 Theaters, not only features some marvelous storytelling, it also give some terrific insight into the sort of unconditional love it takes to rear a child in today’s world. And the show, directed with graceful ease by Daniel Sullivan, proves to be a truly affecting piece of theater.
Woodard herself has never been a mother; yet through her stories about an extended family of nieces and nephews, godchildren and friends’ kids who call her “auntie,” she proves that she has the warmth, humanity and even innate child-like wonderment that makes for a good parent.
Her stories can be genuinely funny. The tale she spins about the young woman who arrives to visit her in L.A. wanting only two things — a pair of Oakleys and some black acrylic fingernails — is particularly choice, especially when Woodard and her husband attempt to take their young charge camping.
At the other end of the spectrum are the stories Woodard shares about a young woman whom she learns is functionally illiterate and two nephews who are raised at her parents’ home in Albany. In the former instance, the story initially seems suspiciously familiar to the one about the snippy girl visiting L.A., but as the yarn unfolds, it proves shockingly and sadly different. In the latter two instances, the performer spins yarns about young men who manage to survive and succeed despite the obstacles that are thrown in their paths. Woodard’s involvement in all of these young people’s lives is no small part of their achievements and emotional well-being; and theatergoers with kids, or those who have young people in their lives, may find themselves learning a thing or two during Night Watcher.
The show unfolds on a stage that’s outfitted with just a chair (Charlie Corcoran and Thomas Lynch provide the spare scenic design that’s augmented beautifully by Tal Yarden’s projections), and as it unfolds, Woodard does not so much transform herself into the characters of her stories as indicate their essences. In some instances, her fluid characterizations create an intriguing prism of individuals. This happens most prominently during a segment about a woman who is trying to raise a grandchild — the fifth that she’s been put in charge of. There are moments when it almost seems as if Woodard is portraying the elderly woman playing her son and his girlfriend, and the result makes the tale — which haunts from the start — even more discomfiting.
There are other moments like this throughout Night Watcher, but more often than not, the show is filled with the warm and comforting glow of a loving woman and the talent of an engrossing storyteller.