Surely Goodness and Mercy
By Ron Cohen
As her title
suggests, Chisa Hutchinson has written a lovely blessing of a play in Surely,
Goodness and Mercy.
For those not
up on the Old Testament, the title is taken from the final lines of Psalm 23 of
David: “Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life…” And in her play, Hutchinson shows how
such goodness and mercy can radiate between marginalized people, even in
today’s chaotic world, elevating their lives and spirit.
centers on Tino (Jay Mazyck), a 12-year-old orphaned African-American boy. He
lives with his hard-working but ill-tempered aunt, Alneesa (Sarita Covington),
who seems to resent his very existence.
Jay Mazyck and Sarita Covington
Tino keeps himself neat, his behavior polite, and he excels at school, where
his mild manner has made him an outsider among his fellow students. He has also
taken to reading the Bible and going to a church, where he sits alone and
listens rapt while the preacher (an unseen Cezar Williams, whose booming sermon
comeJay Mazyck and Sarita Covington s from offstage) praises the goodness
Jay Mazyck and Courtney Thomas
find a friend, though, in a classmate, Deja (Courtney Thomas), an outgoing girl
with a vivacious spirit attracted to Tino’s smarts and modest personality.
Another connection Tino has at school is with Bernadette (Brenda Pressley), the
bossy cafeteria lunch lady, whose manner softens when dealing with Tino, as she
responds to the boy’s specialness.
Brenda Pressley and Jay
Credit: CAROL ROSEGG
Bernadette’s arms are suddenly paralyzed (it turns out she has multiple
sclerosis), she is hospitalized, and it’s Tino who steps into the void, doing
research on the illness and doctors who treat it. Together with Deja, but
unknown to Bernadette, he sets up a fund for Bernadette’s future medical
treatments on a charitable website. And people respond. A crisis comes when
Tino’s aunt finds out about the money being raised and wants her cut. Tino runs
away, spends his nights secretly sleeping in his classroom, but when Deja and
Bernadette, now out of the hospital, discover this, it’s Bernadette who takes
also makes a move to insure Tino’s future education, doing her own research on
scholarship possibilities and taking her case to the school principal.
Bernadette is still unaware of the money Tino and Deja’s efforts have raised,
but as she leaves her meeting with the principal, he tells her: “Did you know
you have a piece of mail waiting for you in the main office?”
where Hutchinson ends her play…in a state of grace waiting to be discovered.
unwinds in a forthright, unsentimental manner, in a series of short scenes with
colorful dialogue that doesn’t overdo the black patois. Some scenes, in
cinematic fashion, have no dialogue at all: we simply see, for example, Tino in
bed surreptitiously using his aunt’s cell phone to research Bernadette’s
Goodness and Mercy
has played in various spots about the country, and Keen Company deserves credit
for bringing to New York this rather gentle, uplifting work, depicting African
Americans living life without guns, drugs and racist police or pimps on every
it’s given the play a problematic production, marked by a notable gaffe in casting.
Jay Mazyck, who plays Tino, is a 19-year-old fellow who’s been trained at Rutgers
University and is an alumnus of LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and
Performing Arts. Despite the youthful mannerisms he has adopted for Tito,
Mazyck has the appearance of a young, fully grown and promising leading man, an
incipient Chadwick Boseman or Mahershala Ali, perhaps, or in a color-blind
world, a Matt Damon. One thing he’s definitely not is a 12-year-old kid, and it
robs the script of its piquancy, its poignancy, even a bit of its authenticity.
certainly play children, when persona and ambience are right, as evidenced in
Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and in this production as well.
Courtney Thomas, whose bio tells us she’s already graduated college, has the
youthful look and ebullience that makes her Deja, a girl on the brink of her
teens, convincing enough to suspend disbelief. But with Mazyck, even with his
obvious stage presence, disbelief keeps making its presence known.
Thomas, the rest of the casting is pretty much in sync with the material.
Sarita Covington’s aunt is appropriately fierce, and Brenda Pressley melds the
crustiness and empathy of Bernadette into a formidable figure. Cezar Williams,
whose lines as both preacher and principal are delivered offstage, delivers
solid if unseen characterizations.
Jesse D. Hill moves the story along briskly on Lee Savage’s set design, which
cleverly contains vignettes for the play’s multitudinous locales, each one made
visible when necessary by Devorah Kengmana’s pinpoint lighting. However, the
production too often has a by-the-numbers feel; scenes seem to play out in
similar rhythms, climaxes are muted, flattening out the arc of story.
Surely, Goodness and Mercy deserves to be seen – and felt, overlooking
the stumbles in production. The story is that heart-warming, a blessing indeed
for our uncomfortable climate, weather-wise and otherwise.
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