Complaint Box Fails To Challenge Its Audience

A Review By H. G. Welch

It's a hard balance between trying to ask social issues and not getting preachy.  Cone Man Running's presentation of Complaint Box and/or Good Times tries to mix a tale of dysfunctional sisters having to address their casual racism but doesn't go far enough to make for an interesting story.  Abby Koenig's tale of a broken family trying to right itself tries to be a dramedy, but it is equally light on comedy as well as drama.  It stops short of truly engaging the audience, instead of going for some scarce laughs instead of confronting the characters with their multiple flaws.  Unlike other plays where the message is hammered across the audiences' skulls, this one seems to be too timid to actually address the issues raised.

The concept behind the play is sound enough, three sisters each with their own personal difficulties having to deal with their mother's ongoing dementia together while cleaning out their old vacation home for sale.  One is in the middle of an ongoing divorce, another struggles with drug problems and third is wracked with guilt over difficulties with her fertility.  They are have been estranged from each other for some time and are suddenly shoved together to deal with their long standing family issues, including long standing parental issues.  Throw in a moody teen and a friend of their mother's sent to help and you have the recipe for drama, only the story often makes the sisters mostly come out as unlikable and petty.

 

The cast's performance is fine.  They portray the characters they are given.  Katrina Ellsworth is the guilt wracked Margo, who is trying to take up the mantle of the family matriarch.  Laura Grayson plays Mindy, the sister struggling with suddenly being a single mother.  Cindy Lou Parker is the alcohol and drug using younger sister trying obscure her lies from her family.  Miles Dismukes is Milton, the son of Mindy, who was obviously excited about his role from the constant smile on his face.  He is an emerging actor, so this performance is a good experience for him.  Cameron Banks rounds out the cast as Jesse, an employee of the care home the sisters have put their mother in.  The story pivots on his introduction going from bickering sisters to dealing with the black man now in their presence.  Leighza Walker direction leans more towards the comedy side of the script than the drama when the dramatic portions of the play were the more entertaining. 

The plays singular flaw is that it didn't go far enough.  None of the characters seem to react strongly to what's going on around them.  Jesse's response to Mindy's over active libido comes off as more annoyed than shocked to what's happening.  Margo's guilt over her difficulty having children and the steps she took seem a little far fetched as it means none of her sisters visited her during her pregnancy or even when the twins were being born.  The casual racism that is projected towards Jesse is less about race and more about a total stranger showing up to your mother's house looking for things without presenting any proof of his claim.  These are minor issues with the script but compounded they drag the story down. 

Unfortunately, it's not a good play as it stands.  When the mystery of the titular complaint box is finally revealed, it's a bit of a letdown.  It makes the characters come across as petty rather than scarred.  The reconciliation is a bit trite as the curtains draw to a close.  But the play isn't a total loss, with some minor changes it can drop some of the racial aspects to focus on the sisters and their broken history.  Jesse's race seemed to be interjected into the story when it didn't need to be, he could easily be any color and still keep the tension of a stranger suddenly inserting himself into a tense and private family moment. 

The Complaint Box and/or Good Times is currently running at the Beacon Theatre through August 5th at 5102 Navigation Blvd.  Call (281) 972-5897 or email at www.conemanrunning.com for more details.  Come early as parking is an issue.

   
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