Raggedy And Review - Impressive Diversity, Unimpressive Writing

 

Delia Kropp and Averis I. Anderson in Raggedy And, presented by Pride Films and Plays

 

Pride Films and Plays presents the world premiere of Raggedy And, a comedy by David Valdes Greenwood that centers on an unconventional family faced with a difficult choice. Featuring Pride Films and Plays company member Delia Kropp as Ondi, the show marks the first time a transgender actor has played a transgender role in a major Chicago production. Despite some funny moments and an admirable commitment to diversity, the play overall lacks polish.

 

Delia Kropp, Katurah Nelson, and Averis I. Anderson in Raggedy And, presented by Pride Films and Plays

 

Ondi Rivers is a self-described obscure poet, living a quiet but happy life with her wife Clem and son Ben, who announces to his surprised mothers that after a long history of dating women, he has started dating a boy. That boy, Jayden, is responsible for organizing the inauguration ceremony for the country’s first female president, the fictional Hannah Coleman. Ondi is thrilled when she’s offered the opportunity to read a poem at the inauguration—until she learns that Jayden wants to bill her as the first transgender poet laureate, a label she bristles against. Tensions run high as the family expresses different viewpoints on the situation and Ben and Jayden’s relationship is tested.

 

Averis I. Anderson and Manuel Ortiz in Raggedy And, presented by Pride Films and Plays

 

The play has some enjoyable elements. For one thing, the cast is delightfully diverse; it’s refreshing to watch a performance without a single white man onstage and to have an actual trans actor in a trans role. Ben’s character is the only positive portrayal of male bisexuality I’ve seen onstage ever. The dynamic between the family members is charming as well, although as lovely as it is to see a positive portrayal of an alternative family, too much time is devoted to their happiness before any real conflict comes in, so the show’s opening is rather boring. The issues that the play tackles are given complexity and depth, with Ben accusing his mixed-race mothers of conservativism at times and Ondi refusing to accept a cut-and-dry definition of her identity in the face of societal pressure to do so.

 

Delia Kropp and Katurah Nelson in Raggedy And, presented by Pride Films and Plays

 

With so much good material to work with, it’s a shame that the play falls short in so many ways. The writing in the first act is amateurish, with the conflict taking too long to develop and feeling shallow and emotionally unrewarding when it finally arrives. A key piece of information (that Ondi does not identify as trans despite fitting the contemporary definition of the word) is not introduced until after the confrontation with Jayden, making it unclear why she is upset by the use of the label trans in the first place. The storytelling improves somewhat in the second act, but it requires the audience to play a certain amount of catch-up in terms of emotional investment in the characters.

 

Manuel Ortiz and Averis I. Anderson in Raggedy And, presented by Pride Films and Plays

 

Delia Kropp is the strongest actor onstage, portraying Ondi with honesty and heart. Unfortunately, the other actors don’t quite measure up. Averis I. Anderson has certain boyish charm as Ben, but the combination of writing and acting make the character feel one-dimensional and flat. Katurah Nelson has some funny moments as Clem, but she also seems detached from her character in the less emotionally charged moments of the show. Least engaging of all is Manuel Ortiz as Jayden. The fast-talking, high-strung personality of the inauguration coordinator feels diluted in Ortiz’s performance, and his acting is often stiff or low energy, making the scenes in which he is alone onstage speaking into his Bluetooth the least interesting of the show.

 

Katurah Nelson and Manuel Ortiz in Raggedy And, presented by Pride Films and Plays. All photos by Paul Goyette

 

For all that the top of the show is weak, the ending is deeply satisfying. The incorporation of the title phrase in the final scene is particularly clever. There are moving moments, such as Ondi’s description of wearing a dress on Halloween as a child and Clem’s defense of her family at the end of the show, but the writing overall fails to impress. Raggedy And has all the right elements, but they fall short of the masterpiece that the show might have been in the hands of another writer and a different set of actors. The production overall is fairly average. Still, one can hope that Pride Films & Plays’ commitment to respectfully portraying marginalized identities onstage will spread to other companies and that one day, trans actors playing a trans roles will become commonplace.

 

Ticket Information

Regular performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3:30pm through April 10. Tickets are $22 Thursdays, and $27 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Discounts are available for students and seniors. The performance is at Rivendell Theater, 5779 N Ridge, and tickets can be purchased at 1-800-737-0984 or online at the PFP website.

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