Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Charley’s Sonata

Written and directed by Mike BrayndickON THE SPOT THEATRE COMPANY, charley's sonata

Original Music by Stephan Gawrit

Produced by On Spot Theatre Company & La Costa Theatre

At La Costa Theatre, Chicago

Promising script get lost in the details

As I have said many times,  a playwright should never direct his own world premiere.  An outside director comes to the project with a more objective eye since his role emphasizes staging, schooling the actors and developing the story concept. Too often the playwright is much too emotionally involved to see the flaws. Best theatre  comes from collaborating with producers, writers, directors, actors and the entire creative team.


Unfortunately, Mike Braybdick went sole with his Charley’s Sonata. I’m not sure if Charley’s Sonata is a drawing room comedy of manners or a drama since both are intermixed? The distracting and needless short scenes followed by long blackouts to move furniture and props diluted the pace of the show. As it creeps along, the short, often underdeveloped scenes, confuses more than moves the story along.  An outside director probably would have solved both the blackouts and short scenes into a tighter focus.  I’ll bet the players spent as much time learning when and where to move the set pieces as they did their lines.

The story tries to do too much (again an outside director would have argued for massive cuts). Despite these major flaws and the poor British accents and the over-acting by the quirky British cousins, there is a worthy play lurking here.

Charley’s Sonata contains stock characters out of early 20th Century melodramas. The modern, hip American cousins encounter and their quirky British relatives. The Brits are hopelessly caught in the bygone Victorian lifestyle involving a demanding matriarch and her weak dotting son who is also married to a demanding woman.

Add the American father and daughter who arrive to hear the reading of the will from the deceased patriarch of the English clan.  It seems that four years earlier, Charley (Stephen Gawrit), the American savant son, disappeared while visiting London.  Through most of the play, we see flashbacks to Charley’s life in America and his last days in London.  However, little attention is paid to finding Charley. Why? Playwright Brayndick mixes character sketches of the dysfunctional Brits and add a romantic interlude for American college student daughter.  The American mother arrives from the Brazilian rain forest in time both fight with her husband and observe the Brits fighting over the will.

The slow pace, the blackouts, the poor accents together with the mumbling and over acting made for a long tedious night.  I begged to know more about Charley – how, why and what happened to him?  The play’s resolution presented more problems that it solved. This play needs a major overhaul.  As played now, it seems to be anyone but Charley’s story.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

At La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston, Chicago, IL, call 773- 273-6294, tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

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