Cori Thomas’s My Secret Language of Wishes at Mixed Blood Theatre is a sterling showcase for gifted actor Brittany Bradford. Bradford plays Rose, a sensitive, brightly spirited teenager severely afflicted with muscular dystrophy and is utterly convincing.
In fact, the full cast is quite capable with Nora Montanez, Taj Ruler, Jevetta Steele, Signe Harriday and Mo Perry all turning in solid performances. Had they a viable script with which to work, this would have been a powerful production. Instead, the ensemble makes its way through a static morass of inert storytelling that, indeed, tells — time and time again — a great deal more than it ever shows.
The premise: Rose, who is Black, is the object of a struggle between her loving White friend and caretaker Dakota (Taj Ruler) and a Black couple, both sides seeking custody of her. Enter the couple’s lawyer, Brenda (Jevetta Steele) who confronts Dakota and the attorney she’s hired, Josephine (Signe Harriday).
What should prove to be a passionate, moving showdown swiftly bogs down in artifice with ludicrous coincidence that Brenda turns out to be Rose’s biological mother who literally left her on a church doorstep at birth. Whereupon we suddenly hear no more about Brenda’s clients, as they somehow simply drop out of the equation.
Implausibility follows implausibly, including a pointless digression, the pathetic push and shove over emotional commitment between Josephine and her live-in lover Cecelia (Nora Montanez) that stretches into excruciating boredom. Thomas tries to con us in accepting things between these two as being parallel to the central goings-on.
Most particularly, we’re supposed to buy the contrivance that Rose’s ultimate outcome is the key that unlocks Josephine’s frigid, frightened heart to Cecelia’s desperate love.
Rose’s fate expediently turns on a clumsy, inaccurate note. Brenda gets the upper hand by way of biological parentage and ill-gotten information. In reality, motherhood doesn’t automatically win a court case. And judges don’t allow caseworkers to leak confidential information without consequence.
The writing just plain takes a lazy short cut. The more it drags on from there, the more ponderous the dialogue grows with characters taking turns to wax supposedly profound. By the time things draw to an approximated climax, it’s with such sluggish tedium the play may as well be a slowly dying animal you want to shoot in order to end your own misery.
Along with Bradford’s brilliant, heartbreaking turn, Montanez beautifully inhabits Cecelia with steely resolve, seething passion and a world of gravity. Ruler makes a hard job look easy, handling frenetic, rapid-fire monologues like it was second nature. And almost stops the show with uncanny immediacy when Dakota’s heart is broken.
Steele gives Brenda wry, sophisticated grit. Harriday has sound stage presence, brandishing an officious, hard shell Josephine can’t shed at home. Mo Perry doesn’t have a great deal of room in which to move as Josephine’s secretary/receptionist, Sylvia, who may as well be talking furniture. Perry, nonetheless, makes the most of her moments, coming across with measured energy and sharp timing.
The problem isn’t with Thomas’ characters. It’s that she doesn’t trust them to authentically interact. Instead, she shoves platitudes down their throats, mistaking the cerebral for the dramatic.
Marion McClinton serviceably directs, but ultimately My Secret Language of Wishes is sloppily thrown together, cloying and convoluted.
Cori Thomas’s My Secret Language of Wishes runs through Nov. 27 at Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 South 4th St. in Minneapolis, 612-338-6131.