My father used to get so upset about everything. He’d run
after me with the strap, and I’d take off. Very fast. But he
had the limp. And I felt guilty. So I’d slow down and let him
Kick is a very funny and moving solo play chronicling the odyssey of the fictional New Jersey Irish-Catholic Bernadette O’Connell. She is a spirited girl who clashes with her oppressive parents, The Church, and faces harsh realities, most notably the trauma of rape.
From the 1950’s to the present, her eventful life journey from Catholic school to becoming a Rockette, an actress, and a wife and mother are poignantly enacted with dark humor and fierce candor.
Written by Joanna Rush and based on her book Asking for It, the play is a very well-structured series of revelatory incidents and anecdotes. There is a decidedly feminist tone to the piece that is an understandable reaction to the many harrowing situations Bernadette endures. The message of empowerment is inspirational rather then strident.
Ms. Rush is also the performer and she is stupendous. In addition to playing Bernadette, she portrays a gallery of characters she encounters. These include her parents, a priest, her gay male best friend, her Rockette confidante, her husband, her son and a few others. Rush effortlessly switches back and forth among these multiple roles with precision and vivid physical and vocal details, offering great depth to each.
With her expressive face, flowing curly hair, and athleticism she is a superb performer who is able to be supremely comic and heartbreaking simultaneously. Exhibiting an abundance of talent, this visibly accomplished triple threat of dancing, singing, and acting, makes it quite clear that she really was a Rockette, was a backup dancer for Shirley MacLaine, was a replacement Cassie in A Chorus Line, and had a solid career in film and television. That she so far has not achieved wide name recognition adds a thrilling dimension of discovering her as an audience member for the first time.
As she did in her book, Ms. Rush performs as the fictional Bernadette though she has stated that it is her own story told with slight poetic license. That she appears to be decades too young to have actually lived through the chronology depicted is an amazing testament to her stunning vitality.
The noted director and choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett has masterfully staged the production. Amidst the affecting dramatic and comedic sequences that are skillfully presented, there are a number of perfectly choreographed vignettes such as a bit from Sweet Charity. The unison of these is compelling and highly entertaining. Though it’s a one-person show in a small theater, Ms. Taylor-Corbett’s inspired work lends it a visual as well as an emotional grandeur.
Dean Taucher’s set design is a simple but striking arrangement of levels of black panels on the sides of the stage with a raised large wooden table in the center that serves as various objects including a pulpit. The lighting design by Brant Thomas Murray boldly punctuates and highlights the numerous scenes. The bursts of evocative music and sound effects are keen features of Joachim Horsley’s sound design. Ms. Rush’s shimmering black ensemble that enhances the storytelling and performance is the creative work of costume designer Keili Camille Murray.
“There’s a part of us that can never be destroyed” is one of the many acute observations Joanna Rush makes in Kick and it’s echoed throughout her powerful play.
Kick (through December 13, 2015)
St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.kicktheplay.com
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission