Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Farewell – The Play Tour

— He has his fans. He has his detractors. Yet for 25 years, Tyler Perry has entertained audiences with Madea, his doppelganger, in theaters and on screens. For reasons known only to him, Perry has decided to hang up Madea’s heavy-duty bra, hausfrau flowered dresses and blue-rinse white powdered wigs.

He’s giving her the boot the way he introduced her, on the stage. There will be a movie too (Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral—opens March 1, 2019). But, if you want to watch the big man/woman sweat through her Lane Bryant dresses in person, one more time, you’ll have to see her live in this play.

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Farewell, a traveling show, pulled into town at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami. Folks who came to witness the end of a tradition were as interesting to watch as the actors onstage. Blue, orange, platinum blonde and pink hair could be spotted everywhere. Ladies in leopard print hot pants and matching shoes strutted around with their men in tow.

African American theatergoers dominated the space, though white and Latino fans were in the crowd too. And, if you had a penny for everyone over 80 years old, some with walkers and motorized wheel chairs, you’d be rich. Showtime.

A character named Darlene stands stage front, male dancers gyrate behind her as she sings Ann Peebles soul classic, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” The stage splits open, revealing her living room. Darlene expects family and friends to stop by to help her celebrate her twenty something-year-old son Malik’s graduation from medical school. Malik, his extremely tall transgender sister Ti-Ti, his best friend Devin and others show up too. The audience is engaged, respectful and watching the family dynamics unfold.

The temperature in the room heats up when stars from Perry’s TV show Meet the Browns enter. Hot-blooded and elderly Aunt Bam (Cassie Davis) takes a seat at the dinette table. She’s perfectly cordial and lecherous as she ogles the handsome and much younger Devin. Mr. Brown (David Mann) walks in wearing a white suit patterned with loud neon-color shapes that look like narrow road signs. And, Cora Jean Simmons-Brown (Tamela Mann) comes in too. As each of the legendary actors enter, the crowd claps and oos and ahs.

With rapid fire, the characters exchange funny lines, accuse each other of all sorts of misdeeds and let their feelings be known (“I betcha you sweat prune juice”). The trumped-up drama and petty arguments escalate as Madea makes her entrance and the fans go wild. The big lady acknowledges members of her family and the audience, some of whom she heckles: “You know the show started at 8! Why are you late? Turn off that camera!” She engages the audience, harasses a few and the place is reeling with laughter as Perry breaks the fourth wall.

What ensues is a steady stream of comic putdowns, infidelity, betrayals and rivalries that build and build until Madea pulls a large silver object out of her purse and slams it on the table to gain control of the hysteria. The actors looked shocked. The audience too. It’s a gun. Chuckles turn into group laughing fits that are so forceful a few bladders must have lost control. As the first act ends, the tattered family heads out to attend the graduation ceremony.

Knee-deep into the second act there is shocking revelation about two lovers who have kept their dalliances a secret. Their affair announcement provokes audible gasps from the cast (fake) and the fans (real).

Finally, it is Madea who calms the family, assuring them that if they express their true feelings and trust in God, they will all be fine. As in most Perry productions, there is a spiritual aspect to the story, and that’s an element audiences expect. They come from afar for the humor and stay for the soul-cleansing. Madea: “When you build walls to keep people out, you can’t get out.”

At points in the play, actors walk to the front of the stage to perform pop, soul or gospel songs that advance the plot. Toward the end of the second and final act, this shtick becomes an over-abundantly used crutch. It’s as if Perry ran out of ideas or had no faith in the three-act play format and decided that one and a-half acts will do.

The drama ends abruptly and actors break into songs that have no connection to the proceedings, though they’re fun to watch. The most interesting musical performances are the male cast crooning and dancing to Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” and the superb Tamela Mann singing her heart out with “Take Me to the King.” Minus the frustrating ending, what’s on view could have a solid shot as a Broadway comedy, even though that may not be part of the plan.

The play is a great way for Perry’s fans and naysayers to have a fun night out and laugh together. After 25 years of Madea being front, center and all up in your face, she’s about to bow out gracefully. The wigs, falsies and plus-size dresses will gather dust in a closet or be periodically refreshed in a museum showcase. She’ll be history.

Regardless of what you think of Perry, his humor and crew, the big lady is an indelible part of black culture. Something like Flip Wilson’s Geraldine—only on steroids and able to tackle Odell Beckham Jr. or body-slam Hulk Hogan.

The national tour of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Farewellis scheduled to end in Atlanta, GA at the end of May. Until then, Perry and his gypsy troupers will portray the iconic characters that have surrounded the well-known matriarch until they run her into the ground. Literally.

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.

Film Review: The Upside

On paper, a story about a low-income black health-care aid who is befriended by a rich white male quadriplegic sounds suspect. Patronizing films like Driving Miss Daisy come to mind, and potential filmgoers upon hearing the plotline may feel anxious, angry and nauseous all at the same time.

On-screen, The Upside, an American remake of the 2011 Cesar-winning French blockbuster called Les Untouchables, which launched the career Omar Sy (Jurassic World, X-Men: Days of Future Past), is iffy but still quite touching. Three-dimensional compelling performances by Bryan Cranston (that is to be expected) and Kevin Hart (a welcome surprise) are its saving grace.

Kevin Hart fans may think that this role of an underling is beneath their favorite comedy actor. Instead they should view it as an opportunity to see him show more than his class-clown approach to performing. Thrown into the deep-sea depths of a dramedy, Hart proves he can swim just fine.

Dell (Hart), a young man with a criminal past is behind on his child support payments; pity his wife (Aja Naomi King, The Birth of a Nation) and son (Jahi Di’Allo Winston, The New Edition Story). He needs a job and money in a bad way. Dell haphazardly gets a position as a caregiver for a wheelchair-bound, millionaire, author Phillip (Cranston), a grief-stricken widower. Queue the violins! How rich is he? Only boxer Floyd Mayweather has more high-end cars in his garage.

Dell’s budding relationship with Mr. Moneybags, is heavily scrutinized by a snoopy secretary, Yvonne (Nicole Kidman). Yet, the two men learn a lot from each other— apparently opera music is not so bad, and Aretha’s Franklin’s voice can light up a room and a friendship forms.

Screenwriter Jon Hartmere takes the real-life experience of Tunisian-born French businessman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, who became a diabetic quadriplegic in 1993 after a paragliding accident and Americanizes it. The social and racial dynamics in the U.S. are different that those in France (more progressive), so the entire premise feels passé—boarding on offensive— even with a modern New York setting. That said the nuts and bolts of the screenplay are short on sentimentality and long on the viable bromance.

Director Neil Burger (Divergent) knows when to pepper scenes with comic moments and when to season lightly with pathos. Nothing on-screen is awful, but not much stands out: musical score, Rob Simonsen; cinematography, Stuart Dryburgh; editing Naomi Geraghty; and production design Mark Friedberg.

Performances by Cranston and particularly Hart save this film from the trash heap. The former eats drama for breakfast. Crusty, scruffy roles in Trumbo and TV’s Breaking Bad chart the Oscar-nominated actor’s rise into the upper echelon of serious actors. His interpretation of the lost-in-angst Phillip is just another well-conceived portrayal.

Hart, a standup comic who churns out comic movie roles as if he is in a factory that has to meet a deadline, is a different story. Working his way through the Ride Along franchise, Think Like a Man and The Wedding Ringer didn’t prepare him for weighty roles. Yet somehow, he manages to dig deep enough to delve into both sides of Dell: the hustler, the caring friend. Scam artist traits are in Hart’s wheelhouse. The more sensitive moments with Phillip require nuances in emotion that he manages to summon quite nicely. It makes you wonder where his career could go if he took more artistic chances. Is Othello in his future? Not likely. But judging from what’s on view, he’s only scraped the surface of his full potential.

If prospective moviegoers can’t get past the film’s premise, so be it. If they can, they’ll watch a shallow film become a touch deeper because Cranston and Hart create an authentic chemistry.

The syrupy sweet Les Untouchables won France’s highest film honor, a César Award, and so did Omar Sy. It’s unlikely that “The Upside” will achieve such accolades but the performances but Cranston and, especially Hart certainly rate praise.

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com.