By John Baggett

Did you know that every decision you make is either an example of left brain or right brain thinking? All of them – how you put on your socks and shoes, how you pour a bowl of cereal, how to talk to a girl, I do mean all of them. It is this dichotomy that is the subject of the first play of the new season at Tyler Civic Theatre and the winner of the 2019 New Play Festival, the hilarious comedy – “A Mind of My Own.”

“A Mind of My Own” is the story of Ross (Luke Pearson), a teenager whose every decision is an absolute struggle. This is because there is a war inside his head between the two sides of his brain – Left (Jessica Fite) and Right (Sarah Pharr). Left Brain is more analytical,  strict, and rigid while Right Brain is more free spirited, creative, and emotional. Their tug of war over every decision forces Ross to live his life unable to make a decision at all.

The only thing he has been able to decide on is that he has the biggest crush on his classmate, Shira (Layla Wragg). No matter what side of his brain is in control, one thing is clear – Ross is hopeless. Every time he is around her he turns into a babbling wreck. When his friends August (Johnathan Hodges) and Barry (Zach Combs) try to step in and help, it just makes matters worse. If Ross is going to open up his heart to Shira, he’s going to need all the help he can get.

“A Mind of My Own” was written by Lila Katz. This is her first produced play, and one thing is very clear – she can write. I actually have gotten to see this story performed twice – once at the New Play Festival in which the show was read aloud and the fully realized production. Both versions managed to nail Katz’s humor and heart, which is all over this story.

The production is directed by Hannah Claire, who previously directed “The Disappearance of Maud Crawford” and, most recently, “The Taming of the Shrew” for Tyler Civic Theatre and she assembled a perfect cast to bring this show to life.

As Ross, Pearson delivers a knockout performance. He makes his character incredibly real and uncomfortably relatable because I’m pretty sure I’ve been in Ross’s shoes more than once in my life. He’s also got great comedic chops and I hope he continues to do shows in the future. Wragg, in her first production at Tyler Civic, is great as Shirah, who is more than just “the love interest.” Her character is smart and self-driven, as well as incredibly aware of Ross’s crush. She’s got some good acting chops and I hope to see her on the Civic stage in future shows.

Hodges and Combs are fantastic as August and Barry. Hodges, also in his first role at TCT, is cocky and smarmy in all the right ways, almost like the villain in an 80s comedy. He does a wonderful job and I hope to see him in future shows. Combs, fresh from performing in “Newsies” just a few weeks ago, is absolutely hilarious. He has great, natural comic timing and absolutely steals one of the scenes.

Which brings me to the Brain. Fite and Pharr are incredible. They practically steal the show, especially Pharr who is not afraid to go for it, delivering an absolute laugh out loud performance. Fite’s character is the straight man in the pair, the Abbott to Pharr’s Costello, but that’s not to say she isn’t a delight to watch. I could watch these two go back and forth all day, but I’ll settle for what I got.

“A Mind of My Own” is a great show. It may have been written by a teen and performed by (mostly) teens, but the themes of this show are universal and everyone will get something out of it. It may be about being an awkward, love struck teen, something we’ve all been; but the examination of right vs. left brain thinking is genius. Katz has a talent beyond her years, and I feel like she is only getting started.

My only criticism of the show is that it’s too short. When I say that, I don’t mean that the show is rushing to tell its story. It gets everything across perfectly and there isn’t a wasted second on the stage. What I mean is I want more of this world Katz has created. I want more adventures of Ross and his brain. So, I appeal to Lila, please, give me more – sequels, spin offs, a series of short film, maybe a Netflix series. Just give me more.

“A Mind of My Own” is a great show; funny, intelligent, and incredibly heartfelt. It’s another shining example of the great collection of young talent.  Also, it’s only running for a single weekend, so I would take full advantage and come see this show while you can. This is another one of those Tyler Civic Theatre productions that if you miss it, you’ll regret it.

Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive in Tyler. This play is has a short run, August 29th-September 1st at 7:30pm. For more information or to purchase tickets go to https://www.tylercivictheatre.com/?fbclid=IwAR0rvLg24nEODcZiXkHhYYNrBitcc2pfQSrzf3cSbpS194kZbGXfo4IDN7Q

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