Wrong Turn at Lungfish
But just when the audience nestles into the familiar cadence of sitcom-style line delivery, the second half of the play turns schizophrenic, with darker undertones and serious confrontations. Sometimes, it’s effective. Other times, it’s a stretch.
What makes this Chautauqua Playhouse production work is the cast, most notably Chandra Ashton as the Bronx-based bombshell Anita, who not only brings books to a blind man but also introduces him to her messy personal life. In a nasal Fran Drescher accent and sexed-up attire, Ashton shows her acting diversity by presenting a heart-of-gold tart that is miles away from her repressed Nora character in Chautauqua’s A Dolls House last season.
Although Anita is toting impressive literary tomes, she has no idea who the authors are or what the stories and poems really mean. She’s merely filling the literature orders of Ravenswaal (Michael Beckett), a cantankerous retired college dean who recently went blind and is dying in a dingy hospital room. Anita’s job is to read to him, even though he makes it clear he resents her intrusion, her optimism and, above all, her ignorance and mispronunciations.
The story is the familiar one of class and education differences, and, like in Pygmalion, the book-smart one is not necessarily the wiser one. But, thankfully, it’s not just about refining the unrefined—the dean doesn’t try to remake Anita, and Anita doesn’t try to reform the rude Ravenswaal. Rather, they each get a glimpse into the other’s world and find an unexpected friendship in each other.
Ashton is handed a great character in Anita, who talks in constant non sequiturs and rationalizes her life in wonderful delusions. And Beckett gives a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of a lonely, scared and scarred senior facing his life and death. His character is a little more problematic, however, because he berates Anita mentally and, at one point, physically, while, at the same time, trying to get her to see her own worth.
Rounding out the cast is DeAngelo Mack as Anita’s abusive yet charming boyfriend, and he succeeds in portraying both sides of this suave, street-smart thug. And Jamie Mack gives us a funny, take-no-prisoners nurse who pops in with comedic asides.