“Tough Titty” is a Terrifically Tough Piece of Flesh

4 May

May 2, 2014

 

“You have breast cancer.” Those four words strike fear into the hearts of every woman (and sometimes men) shaking them to their very core. Tough Titty, written by Oni Faida Lampley, dives head first into this scary world. Lampley uses compassion and humor to discuss this ominous topic. The result is a profoundly human and heart-felt journey of discovery and acceptance.

 

The story begins with Angela, an ostentatious young catholic school girl, making a bargain with God. She wants to misbehave now and redeem herself at the ripe old age of 36. Time passes and, at the age of 37, Angela gets some advice from a friend to get a mammogram. Thinking it is harmless and routine, she gets one and to her horror she finds out that she has breast cancer. The next 90 minutes are filled with her inner fears, being spoken aloud by an ensemble of actors, and her dreadful health decline. Angela is a strong woman who does everything she can to fight the cancer monster. Her husband, over-taken by his own fear and self-pity, offers her little support in her losing battle. Angela’s mother, and friend Imani are the only two supports she has to lean on. Angela’s seven year battle and ultimate descent takes us on a dark ride and leaves us feeling helpless. The audience wants to protect her from the demon and gets frustrated by their own powerlessness.

 

Ami Brabson plays Angela with great skill. Her ability to feel the multitude of raw emotions and gripping fears, that anyone would feel over such a terrible diagnosis, is honest and real. Her sincerity allows us to go on the helter-skeltar journey with her, ans we are grateful for the opportunity to enter into her decaying world. Elizabeth Van Dyke is compelling as Sheila, Angela’s mother. We feel her pain about watching her daughter’s demise at every turn. Sheila’s powerlessness is empathetic and palpable. Victor Williams plays the bottled -up husband with groundedness. His lack of emotional access is believable and, when he finally does allow himself to feel vulnerable, the audience has a true catharsis.

 

Overall, The other actors round out the cast well. Their ability to shape-shift frequently is commendable. However, some of the characterizations of the minor characters are stereotypical, which makes their presence jarring. For example, Antoinette Lavecchia, who has the most characters to play, goes too far in trying to make them all seem distinct. Lavecchia, has some fine moments, but sometimes she feels over-the-top and in a different play altogether. Similarly,Christine Toy Johnson falls into the same trap, at certain moments. It is unclear whether the writing or the direction are too blame for this mishap. It’s a shame because the realistic beauty of the play is jolted when these superficial characters act so differently than the rest of the play. I think they were meant to provide comedic relief, but the comedy is base and seems more disruptive than fun. As it is now the forced, supposed comedy is at battle with the rest of the play and doesn’t compliment it.

 

In one unexpected moment Angela meets Mr. Whiteman in a waiting room. We discover that he, in fact, has breast cancer. This was a beautiful moment that shattered prevalent beliefs that men can’t get breast cancer. I wish Lampley would have went further with this moment. Jason Sherwood’s set is fantastic, allowing the actors to create many different locales flawlessly. The humanness of Tough Titty, makes its emotional impact real and poignant. Thanks to this production, we are able to walk a mile in their shoes and leave the theater thankful for being able to do so with a lot to think about.

 

Tough Titty plays now through May 11, 2014 at the Paradise Factory, 64 E 4th St, with performances Wed.-Sat. at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm, there is also a show on Monday, 5/5 at 8pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at www.SmartTix.com or by phone at 212-868-4444.

 

 

 

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