'One Monkey Don't Stop No Show,' but 3 long hours of comedy can

March 27, 1991|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,Special to The Evening Sun

"One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" is a comedy that tries to offer a little something for everyone. There are lots of funny lines about sex, race, class and the battle of the sexes.

In fact, the main problem with the show -- which opened at the Lyric Opera House last night -- is that it includes too much material. It seems that the writers included every joke they could think of along with several overly long soliloquies by a half dozen cast members.

Few shows can captivate an audience for nearly three hours, and this isn't one of them. Much of the dialogue is just pointless blabbering that doesn't help with character development or underscore some great theme. It's just there.

The star of the show is Kim Fields, lately of Slim Fast commercials, but who can still be seen on reruns of television's "Facts of Life."

Fields has grown up nicely, and slimmed down, but she should have opted for a meatier role.

She suffers in part from the child star syndrome. No matter what she does millions will remember her as the adolescent Tootie on "Facts of Life." This role doesn't require her to stretch much beyond the basic sitcom banter, all the time with a slightly dazed look on her face.

The audience is expected to believe that Fields is a country bumpkin named Beverly Harrison, with a dreadful southern accent, whose father recently died and left her 50 percent interest in his West Philadelphia nightclub. On her first trip north to claim her inheritance, she decides to lasso the man of her dreams.

Her pursuit of the man, along with the mating rituals of her father's upper crust brother and his wife and son, provide a three-ring circus of lust, love and lechery.

But the circus-like atmosphere is not responsible for the show's title. That comes from an African American bromide meaning that obstacles can be surmounted. In the play, one character yells it at another after their relationship dissolves.

The actor who gets the best lines and is most convincing is Fields' love interest, Caleb Johnson, played by Lewis Dix. He personifies the black male who is struggling to succeed while feeling oppressed by whites and looked down upon by middle class blacks. He radiates sex appeal and intellect, with just enough of a wink at the audience as if to say "Hey, don't take this guy too seriously."

It's hysterically funny when he takes a break in one of his monologues to ridicule late arrivers scurrying to their seats in the audience. (It appears unplanned, but it's part of the script).

Chip Fields, Kim's mother, gives a solid performance as Beverly's snooty aunt, Myra Harrison, wife of the Rev. Avery Harrison, played by Marvin Wright-Bey. His portrayal of a preacher in the throes of a mid-life crisis is too exaggerated. Does he really have to shake that much when he becomes amorous?

Kelly Neal has some funny scenes as the Harrisons' nerdy son Felix. But his character's transformation is not believable. Newcomer Desiree Lynn Coleman gives a convincing performance as the seductive Mozelle, whose cynical outer shell covers a fragile inner self.

The set design is rich with detail from the faux french provincial furniture in the Harrisons' living room to the African masks decorating the wall of Johnson's bachelor pad.

The play runs through April 7.

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