Vayu O’Donnell is a ferocious one-man whirlwind, a “veritable “Rocky” in “Cherry Smoke” at Urban Stages til May 18. As a down-on-his-luck, in-and-out-of-prison small time troublemaker named Fish, O’Donnell has met head-on the challenge of one of the greatest roles he’s ever gotten. He literally blows up the stage with this anger at the world.
Part of his rage is that of a character searching for not only his turn to shine, but a character that is looking for a play. Playwright James McManus hasn’t provided him with one. Sometimes a writer writes a great character, but not a great play and this is one of them.
Director Tamilla Woodard, however, has allowed this excellent actor to explode, especially in a climatic fight scene pictured here, where he is shown angrily fighting with nothing there but air. Or himself, and it’s a knockout. And well worth suffering through the 90 mins. or more it takes to get there.
O’Donnell however does not give up and is at turns touching, child-like and angry, angry, angry as well he should be. He has no play to match his consummate acting skills.
Having seen him be one of the most memorable Pucks I’ll ever see in New Jersey Shakespeare’s outdoor “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”, I can attest to his skill with Shakespeare and physical comedy. In “Dream” he sported a wild green wig and an impish sense of humor, and a great, lilting tenor singing voice.
Still not convinced that this is a great American acting fighting his way to the top? Check out his web-series http://www.80/20show.com which he also wrote. He’s hilarious and heart-breaking in it. Yes, in 80/20, he could break your heart. In “Cherry Smoke”, he could break your head.
See it at Urban Stages til May 18. 520 Eighth Avenue, (212)244-3300 http://www.theworkingtheater.org