Review: ‘Pretty Fire’

Set, Shelley Barclay; costumes, Rita Ryack; lights, Brian Nason; sound, Bruce Ellman; production stage manager, Dianne DiVita. Artistic director, Meadow; managing director, Barry Grove. Opened, reviewed Dec. 7, 1993.

Set, Shelley Barclay; costumes, Rita Ryack; lights, Brian Nason; sound, Bruce Ellman; production stage manager, Dianne DiVita. Artistic director, Meadow; managing director, Barry Grove. Opened, reviewed Dec. 7, 1993.

Few solo performers are as unabashedly ingratiating as the charismatic Charlayne Woodard. Best known for her Tony-nominated performance in “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the actress stands alone in herautobiographical play “Pretty Fire, ” and she more than fills the stage.

Other one-handers might offer more memorable, or at least edgier, writing, and both Off Broadway and Broadway stages have been home to quirkier personalities, but Woodard has few contemporary equals for sheer likability. She charms an audience from first word to last, presenting five sweet-natured vignettes chronicling her life from premature birth to the moment, at age 11, when she embarks on a life in the performing arts.

Woodard’s achievement is in telling lovely stories about a loving family, while charting her own growing recognition of life’s injustices. Typical of Woodard’s breadth are the two vignettes that form the play’s second act. In “Bonesy,” she relates the haunting story of her childhood molestation at the hands of a neighborhood boy. She follows this horror with “Joy,” the appropriately titled tale that finds Woodard, at the urging of her beloved grandmother, joining the church choir and quickly becoming its star.

Even at their darkest, her reminiscences are layered with great humor and warmth and skillfully structured.

“Pretty Fire” was effectively and unobtrusively directed by Lynn Meadow.

Pretty Fire

(Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, New York; 660 seats; $ 40 top)

Production

A Manhattan Theater Club presentation of a play in two acts written and performed by Charlayne Woodard. Directed by Lynne Meadow.
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