The play is filled with acerbic one-liners, many of which made me laugh out loud.
"You have to be careful what you open your mind to," one character gravely warns in Kay Dixon's Maya and Me, running through Feb. 20 at Broom Street Theater.
Kim (Dixon), a single mother and co-owner of a salon, becomes deeply and inexplicably obsessed with Maya (Christine Khouyoudi), a devout Christian she met briefly at a public library. The play follows Kim as she deals with her horrible family, her horrible employees, her horrible business partner and the various horrible librarians, receptionists and medical professionals she encounters on her path to get closer to Maya.
Dixon, the first African-American playwright to debut on Broom Street's stage, is not only the show's playwright, but also its producer, director, and star. This is often an ill-advised combination. It's hard for a playwright to get enough distance from her work to direct it effectively.
This production is not an exception. Dixon's direction has a cinematic quality with frequent, ambitious scene changes, ubiquitous music cues, and even a live-action montage. But often these choices miss the mark on a small set, with unnatural, aimless blocking, cartoonish humor that doesn't match the tone and too-loud music that sometimes drowns the intimate performances on stage.
Dixon's own performance is captivating to watch. She's a confident performer with natural timing and a strong stage presence. The other actors are hit and miss, sometimes not having much to work with in one-dimensional roles that feel more like caricatures than people. Collin Erickson is particularly effective as Dr. Thompson, Deon Green has great comedic delivery as Rev. Sanders and Susan Shoemaker gives a fine performance as Dr. Sanders, the only remotely likeable character in the play.
As a writer, Dixon's strength is in her wit. The play is filled with acerbic one-liners, many of which made me laugh out loud, but the story tries to do too much with an unwieldy plot and too many themes. Individual scenes are slowed by dialogue that could have been cut, such as mundane small talk (how many times during a play can we listen to people ask each other 'what's up?') and unnecessary information (we listen with exasperation as characters spell out names and addresses on the phone when ordering delivery or making appointments).
Hardest to swallow is the play's menagerie of antisocial characters, each more heartless and self-centered than the one before. If I had even one interaction as senselessly antagonistic as the ones in every scene of this play, I'd give up on civilization and move to a shack in the upper Andes. It's unclear who we're meant to root for, if anyone, and what we're meant to root for them to do. Some of the bizarre antagonism is explained later, but there's a lot of yelling to sit through first.
The end of the show, while not terribly surprising, is genuinely moving and effective. There are a lot of nice moments in Maya and Me overall, a few strong performances, and some genuinely funny bits, but there's a lot of work still to be done.