By John Baggett
In July, Tyler Civic Theatre kicked off its 2016-2017 season with its summer musical, “The Little Mermaid,” and before their next “big” show, they are proud to present a special one week run of Mary Carol Stunkel’s play, “Random Access.”
“Random Access” is the story of Renee (pronounced “Renny”), played by Hannah Johnson. Renee is the mother of 5 year old Dylan, who has been taken away by CPS after her unemployed boyfriend Mark (Nick Buntin) went out for three hours to get cigarettes, leaving the young child alone. A neighbor called the police after the child woke up by himself, screaming from night terrors. In order to try to get her son back, her Social Services caseworker helps by enrolling her in computer classes that will help get her placed in a better job. Until then, she has to make do with her current job, working as a housekeeper for an assisted living home for elderly residents.
While working in a new wing, she meets Arnie Saltzman (Sean Holliday), a former architect (of sorts), who is slowly losing his memories. Knowing his time is short, he works tirelessly to finish drawing his plans for a designer home with plenty of closets to store memories and doesn’t waste the space that a regular home might. At first, the two are pretty blunt with each other, but slowly both warm up to each other, with Arnie trying to teach her the importance of mementos and the memories associated with them. Renee also gets a lesson in learning patience from Dr. Koster (Ken Haygood). He catches her doing her homework on a computer that she isn’t authorized to use, but promises to keep her secret.
“Random Access” was written by Mary Carol Stunkel. It is part of the TNT’s POP! New Play Project. The Civic Theatre production is directed by Helaina Wilkerson, who has been part of “Clue: The Musical” and “The Elephant Man,” as well as serving as an instructor for TCTC’s ACT I Conservatory. Wilkerson did a great job with Stunkel’s play. She was able to get well balanced performances that are frequently as funny (at times) as they are heartbreaking.
Johnson and Holliday carry the play, with both characters being hard to like at first, but they are truly the emotional core of this play. By the end of the first act, you can’t help but root for both of them, and by the end of the second, they’re going to bring you to tears. Haygood is great as well, providing the kind voice Renee needs as she embarks on her life changing journey. He has the warmth I wish all doctors could have. Buntin is fantastic as Mark, becoming a truly despicable character that is as loathsome as his performance in “Charlotte’s Web” was loveable.
Just as important as the main characters is the supporting cast. Daye Collins is wonderful as the slightly confused Dottie, who is the assisted living home’s resident fashion expert. Samantha McDaniel, who was last seen in “Perfect Wedding,” is great as the front desk nurse who both helps Renee do her schoolwork, but reminds her that anything she does on the computer has consequences. Regina Money shines handling two roles – Dottie’s daughter Carolyn and as Renee’s case worker. Despite having only a couple of scenes, Regi Fowler is great as both an EMT and lawyer Kravitz.
“Random Access” is a wonderful, heartfelt slice of real life that feels at times less like a play and more like we are glimpsing at reality. It also some pretty edgy material, having been given a Mature rating for some language. The show isn’t for kids, but the audience I saw it with handled this riskier production with grace, laughter, and a very vocal desire for Renee to dump Mark.
“Random Access” show has a limited one week engagement, running from September 8 until September 11. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive – just off W. Front Street. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://tylercivictheatre.com/