“Don’t Be Sad – It’s a Musical” by Nicole Jesson
If you know the downstairs at the Soho Playhouse, you know there are no frills. It’s two tiny, raised platforms for stages, a handful of lights, cafe seating and, of course, a bar. If you have a hit downstairs at the Soho Playhouse, it’s based on the merit of the work – not your production values.
Maggie Lalley has a hit.
Don’t expect soaring arias or complex harmonies with the spirit world but do expect an absolutely wild ride with a teen witch.
It’s open seating downstairs, so if you don’t arrive early, you won’t get the best view. I arrived on time, but not early, and took a seat stage right at a small table currently occupied by what looked like a scotch, neat. I pull out a small notepad, a pen, and a scarf to cover the pad so the performer wouldn’t catch me making notes. Soon joined by the owner of the scotch, I meet Dorothy, Maggie’s mother. “Dear God! I cannot have mom see me writing a review!” My plans dashed, I resolved to enjoy the ride and the company. A man comes over to my new companion, “Are you sure you don’t want to sit with us?” “No” she replies, “This is my spot”.
“That’s one of Maggie’s brothers. They’re both here. They don’t know the whole story.”
And what a story it is!
To quote Maggie, (and after this experience, I feel I can call her Maggie. I mean we’re practically family at this point). “This completely true story explores my relationship to cult mentality, mind control, folie a deux (a psychological term that means madness between two) sexual abuse, LGBTQ+ exploration, witchcraft, love, mid 2000s popular culture, millennial celebrity culture, and, wait for it… Harry Potter.”
Maggie takes the stage in a plain black sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers and proceeds to mesmerize the audience with her tale of her early teens as a Catholic schoolgirl in a working-class family in Harlem. Accompanying herself, “come with me to the keyboard”, Maggie delivers the first shocker – “it’s only going to get worse – so you may want to go now if you aren’t ready!” There is never a second the audience wasn’t on the edge of its collective seats waiting to hear what happened next. Interspersed with witty songs, this dark, disturbing and, surely for some, triggering tale is served up with humor, suspense, and a healthy dose of forgiveness for her teenage self.
This magical 90-minute, intermission-less, one-woman show does include assists from “Lee Beloved” her adolescent confidant and an audience member taking the role of “Mom” in a brief exchange. (Dorothy was convinced to take the stage and play herself – a first from all reports – and as she said, “[She] slayed!”) From what I could tell, the performance doesn’t always have such a “spicy” audience but it’s not every performance your family finds out what was going on under the roof of their Harlem apartment in the early 2000s. It’s safe to say there were two shows last night, but you will still have a great time just seeing the play in one of the remaining nine performances at the Soho Playhouse.
Soho Playhouse | April 19- May 6, 2023 | https://www.sohoplayhouse.com/sex-witch-the-musical