Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 5, 2024

Review: Goodspeed, "A Complicated Woman"

Goodspeed, Terris Theatre, East Haddam, CT
through June 2, 2024
by Suzanne Wells

“A Complicated Woman” is a moving story of the life of John Kenley presenting at the Terris Theatre. “Complicated” is the perfect adjective to describe this musical. This show will open the eyes of theatregoers to the social stigmas of the mid-20th century, the overwhelming isolation of being “different,” and the beautiful bonds that can be formed with “acceptance.”

The play is based on pioneering legend John Kenley, born bi-gender, he is known for managing the Ohio summer stock premiers of the biggest Broadway shows from the 1900's, as well as his alternate life as Jean. Nora Bridgid Monahan is inspiring in the role of John; an ambitious, successful producer, as well as Jean, a fun-loving, sexual woman who desires a loving family. 

Nina May, portrayed by L Morgan Lee, represents everything Jean desires. A liberal, free-thinking, trans-gender woman who finds love and a family. Lee’s singing of “In the Light of Day” and “When I Chose You”, accompanied by Christian Brailsford as Oscar, Arewa’ Basit as Diamond, and Zachary A. Myers as Muhlaysia, is mesmerizing. 

Klea Blackhurst plays Myrtle “decidedly” well. Myrtle is the opposite of Nina Mae, representing the conservative mindset.  She presumes to be responsible for much of John’s success as long as he complies with the bible-belt’s social conditioning.   
Music and lyrics by Jonathan Brielle preverbally make toes tap and when combined with the vocals of L. Morgan Lee, become almost spiritual like a gospel choir. Set designs, by Tobin Ost, consist of an arch which transforms from bedrooms to offices to restaurants; and a billboard one can easily envision along a highway that transforms into a panoramic series of advertisements seen on the streets of New York.

The Terris Theatre is a small venue within a glammed-up industrial building. The lobby is a mixture of painted cement blocks and duct work with chandeliers, bistro tables and upholstered sofas. Within the theatre, half the view is of the stage, and the other half of the wings. While intimate, the stadium seating ensures that the audience will have a clear view and may even feel in the thick of the action.

From the location to the performance, nothing is uncomplicated in this poignant tale of diversity and inclusion.