If you are just looking to relax and share a few laughs, stroll on over to the Harlem School of the Arts, located at 647 St. Nicholas Ave. at 142nd Street in Manhattan, and catch the Hadley Players’ comedy “Benefits,” which will be at the theater until Sunday, May 12.
Written by Martha J. Thomas and directed by Ward Nixon, “Benefits” features the cast of Chaunice Chapman, Donnell Smith, Valarie Tekosky, Cookie Winborn, Kimberlee Monroe, Colette Bryce and Albert Eggleston-which is pretty much the Hadley ensemble of players.
Winborn as Inez Browne keeps the laughter going. She is the matriarch of the household and has her fingers in all the pots as well as her nose. Inez shares her household with her daughter Alma Fields (Tekosky) and granddaughter Ebony (Chapman). However, Inez was fortunate to marry well. Although she is not too certain she loved her husband, she does know he was a hard-working man who left her well-situated after his death, and she wants the same security for her daughter and best friend, Vera Flood, portrayed by Monroe.
Vera is a rather meek and mild personality who barely gets by on her Social Security check, but don’t worry-Inez looks out for her friends and has spied an elderly gentleman at their community center who has an appreciative eye for Vera, who can’t believe she’s admired. A plain Jane, Vera is talked by Inez into dolling up in order to further catch her suitor’s eye, and doll up she does. In fact, Vera transforms herself into a geriatric knockout. Inez’s plan is for Vera to marry her admirer and benefit from his two pension checks. Vera is not so keen on it, but Inez completely dominates her, and before long, Vera is enjoying the benefits of being with her suitor.
Meanwhile, Inez’s daughter Alma has been dating Rudy Townsend (Eggleston) for 10 years with them both enjoying the relationship as it is. But once Inez starts pushing Vera to get security for herself, Alma realizes she won’t have a pension and begins to think that marriage to Rudy is not a bad idea after all. Thing is, Rudy doesn’t want to get married and no amount of Alma’s charm is changing his mind.
Her best friend, Delores (Bryce), tries to tell Alma to stand on her own two feet and that at 40, Alma still has time to train for a position that provides her with a career. However, Alma has a daughter to raise and thus thinks the best and fastest route to benefits and security is through Rudy.
Ebony is a typical teen and, while still a virgin, is straining at the bit to bring her womanhood into full bloom despite the warnings of her mother and grandmother, who do not want to see any babies in the household. They see Ebony’s rapper boyfriend Walter, aka Akeem, played by Smith, as a nice kid but directionless. Akeem has aspirations of turning his rap songs into a record deal, but Alma and Inez see that as highly unlikely.
There are some amusing scenes, especially when, to the surprise of everyone but Ebony, Akeem actually does get a record contract. While Alma is pleased and not so impressed, Grandma Inez, seeing dollars, has an about-face and accepts Akeem into the household with open arms. However, when Akeem starts to sing the song that got him his contract, a song filled with the N-word, etc., the cringing look on Inez’s face sets the audience off into peals of laughter.
Despite the best-laid plans of the somewhat larcenous Inez, things do not go exactly as she hopes. Never fear-wily Inez is not to be undone and figures out a way to resolve matters, but not without the entire family learning a lesson about independence, themselves and what they would do to assure their security.
“Benefits” is a delight, and I recommend going to see it to brighten your day.