The answer is comedy, and director Meg Coyle and the VSU Performers take their audience for a riotous romp full of mischief, malice, and heart-felt misery in Charley’s Jealousy and The Flying Doctor before they reach the ending required of comedic romance: a happy one.
In Charley’s Jealousy, the title character, Charley (TeDarryl Perry) is a hen-pecked husband whose wife–ironically named Angel (Noel Hickman)–is chasing another man and whose gullible father-in-law not only meddles in their business, but also always believes his deceptive daughter and takes her side.
In The Flying Doctor, a second daughter, Helen (Yolandah Mitcham), who is just as scheming as her sister, outwits her aging, senile father and marries the man of her choice instead of the chap of her parent’s choosing.
In Coyle’s adaptation, these two seventeenth century plays have been combined and are set in south side Richmond. The plots are simple; emphasis is placed, not on the playwright’s ability, but rather on the actors’ talent for exaggeration and improvisation. Director Coyle should be commended for simultaneously training her acting students in the art of comedy and educating her audience about the genre.
All the characters’ faults are exaggerated; family drama is larger than life—larger than reality TV; so the plays are all about hijinks and antics. Coyle asserts that this technique enables the audience to easily identify types and roles, making plots easy to follow. The familiarity of the characters and circumstances also allows audience members to feel better about themselves; they can both sympathize with the situations and dilemmas and feel superior to the performers for their weaknesses.
Supporting characters include a bossy, arrogant, and extremely money-hungry female preacher (Asia Johnson), who insists that she is too highly educated to be a simple minister, that instead she is nine times a reverend. (This pontification seems to spoof Lionel Ritchie’s “Three Times a Lady.”) The reverend constantly interrupts others and launches into word etymologies to show off her erudition. A second supporting character, Spike Leon (Devante Ballard), impersonates a quack physician. His shenanigans carry the show as his ignorance, lies, and prevarications build and build before they are finally exposed.
This presentation only lasts an hour—making it an easy outing for a weeknight or a weekend. The no-cost admission makes the show a perfect price. I am also willing to bet all of the collection in that good reverend’s plate that this derivation of Commedia dell’ Arte rivals any sit-com in the new primetime television season. There is some language, but much of the risqué material from the earlier periods of this genre has been omitted, making the selection enjoyable for all ages. Make plans to attend this short-run event, Wednesday, October 5th – Saturday, October 8th at 7:30 p.m. in The Little Theater in Vawter Hall on the Virginia State University campus.