A collection of stories from actress and playwright Charlayne Woodward’s life, “The Night Watcher” focuses on issues of motherhood. Woodward struggles with difficult life questions while maintaining a positive outlook on the future. Ending on a note of somber introspection, the one-woman show steadfastly journeys through Woodward and her children’s most personal highs and lows.
Because it is a one-woman show, Woodward plays all the characters. Having an immaculate talent for impersonation, she completely transforms her speech, movement and mannerisms to encapsulate a character’s spirit. When she talks about her troubled nephew, Nala, she becomes him. Her “am nots” change to “aints.” Her fluid gait alters to one of a child scared to take his own steps. Her seamless transitions gracefully and simply flow from her body without a second thought, showing her impeccable gift for impressions.
From the moment Woodward steps on stage, the personable storyteller gently cajoles the viewer into her hectic life. It’s an intimate conversation between old friends who haven’t seen each other in years. Woodward has no reservations about past events, yet she is seemingly trying to justify her own actions. She ostensibly needs to reconcile her decisions with those of others, and using this play as a medium, she appears to be moving in the right direction to reach her own state of nirvana.
Sectioned into influential life moments, “The Night Watcher” exposes the playwright for what she always was, but never physically came to be: a mother. Affectionately nicknamed “Auntie” by the dozens of children for whom she cares, Woodward effortlessly takes on the demanding role of a caring, concerned maternal figure. Her stories feature her insecurities about her own capabilities of taking on parental responsibilities, but her children repeatedly prove her wrong. Her children come to her with their inner-most secrets, even revealing young pregnancies and teenage illiteracy. As Woodward battles with her demons and those of her children, she majestically triumphs over all odds. Expressing that anything is possible, the play rings in a bell of melancholy hope.
Furnished by a minimalist set design, the entire stage has only two objects: a sleek Ikea chair sitting center stage and a wide projector screen hanging in the back. Both items serve as a vehicle through memory lane. At Woodward’s convenience, the chair becomes a car, a metro train, a couch, a hair salon and a kitchen. As the chair changes its purpose from a dining stool to a car, the projector screen tells Woodward’s story via pictures. The stark contrast between her complex stories and the simplistic set design demonstrate that the only thing necessary for a good story is a great storyteller.
Although deciding that motherhood was never for her, Woodward still yearns to play that part. Conceding that “motherhood is for life,” she doesn’t believe the odds stacked against her. In fact, with courageous perseverance, the world is at her fingertips. Unrelentingly soulful, “The Night Watcher” is playing at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City through Dec. 18.
Natalia Evdokimova has been involved with theater throughout her life and has reviewed
theatrical productions for local and citywide publications since 2005.