At the Apex of Tragedy, “Laughter is Therapy”

Lead Article, Reviews

by Chance Morgan
 
From the moment director Ozzie Jones took to the stage to address the audience before the show, it was clear that “Laughter is Therapy” was going to be something special. He assured the audience that “y’all gotta relax, let yourselves laugh when you want to laugh” and spoke highly of writer/performer Roni Graham, her passion and star potential. Mr. Jones knows a star when he sees one, because the audience recognized one in Ms. Graham.
 
“Laughter is Therapy” is more than a title, it is a truth of the world. Roni Graham demonstrates to great effect the power that humor and laughter have to transform dark and horrifying experiences into something bearable and relatable. Ms. Graham’s life story is marked by moments that, under normal circumstances, would be terrifying and awful. Somehow, Ms. Graham finds a way to bring the audience through those moments in much the same way she lived through them: with laughter. As Mr. Jones put it in his preshow speech: “If you find yourself asking, am I supposed to laugh at that? Yes, you can laugh.”
 
Ms. Graham bluntly and frankly discusses her Philadelphia childhood, which contained violence (domestic or otherwise), drug use, playing in crack houses, divorce, bullying, heartbreak and sexual assault. Ms. Graham frequently explains her use of slang and euphemisms (such as her “pharmaceutical wholesaler” father “going down south”) and laughs along with the audience at ridiculous moments.
 
“Laughter is Therapy” is a tight and polished show that never feels false or over‑rehearsed, which is no small achievement. Sound and lighting bolster key moments of Ms. Graham’s performance, and she never misses a step in the flow. Ms. Graham’s use of props, mostly to evoke the perspective of her younger self, is lighthearted and fun, while maintaining the darkly comic tone of the performance. Her smack‑talking Cabbage Patch Doll deserves special mention for providing hilarious advice of dubious wisdom.
 
In “Laughter is Therapy,” Ms. Graham is living proof that if you can laugh at the darker moments, it can be easier to get past them and live your life. Her transitions between the light and the dark were so seamless, oftentimes the audience only noticed the severity of a particular story at the apex of its tragedy. Mr. Jones promised that Ms. Graham is a star on the rise, and “Laughter is Therapy” is sterling evidence to support that claim.
 
“Laughter Is Therapy”
Written and Performed by Roni Graham
Oct. 23 at 9pm
Director: Ozzie Jones
Lighting: Lisa Barnes
Sound: Syd Redmond
Projections: Tonya Belton
Stage Manager: Khaira Nahl
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City

CHANCE MORGAN is a writer and director currently based in New Jersey. He has worked for Dorset Theatre Festival, Northern Stage, and Bay Street Theatre. He is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University’s theatre program, and spends his time developing his screenplays and musicals.
 

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