For Email Marketing you can trust

Surely Goodness and Mercy


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.


The story 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


Nevertheless, 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 of generosity.


Jay Mazyck and Courtney Thomas


Tino does 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 Mazyck                                                                Photo Credit: CAROL ROSEGG


When 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 him in.


Bernadette 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?”


And that’s where Hutchinson ends her play…in a state of grace waiting to be discovered.


The story 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 illness.


Surely, 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 corner.


Unfortunately, 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.


Adults can 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.


As with 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.


Director 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.


Nevertheless, 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.



Playing at Theatre Row

410 West 42nd Street


Playing until April 13