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Tyler Perry kids around with fans during 'Madea' play

January 20, 2010 | 11:34 am

Tyler Attending a Tyler Perry play is unlike any experience in mainstream theater. The actor-writer-director has an established fan base and seems to thrive on audience connection. If this means frequently breaking character, then so be it. 

Perry's latest stage production, "Madea's Big Happy Family," is playing now at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood as part of a national tour. (Future venues include Madison Square Garden in New York and the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.) 

The production, which continues through Saturday, features Perry in his signature role as Madea, the silver-haired, plus-sized force of nature whose disciplinarian attitude often sends her relatives running for cover. The play tells the story of Miss Shirley (Chandra Currelley), an aging single mother who has just received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. With the help of Madea, she assembles her grown children (and their significant others) for one final reunion, during which loyalties are tested and unpleasant truths are spilled.

Those who have attended Perry's plays in the past know what to expect in terms of the actor's seemingly spontaneous inclination to break the fourth wall and directly address the audience. Perry's production company invited Culture Monster to last night's performance at the Kodak but requested that we not review the show.

For those who are new to the game, here are a handful of Perry pointers.

Get to the theater on time: The curtain will rise at the designated hour whether you are in your seat or not. And if you're not, be prepared for a scolding from Madea herself. During a recent performance at the Kodak, she singled out latecomers as they scurried to their seats. "Sit the hell down!" she said. "People pay good money not to have you crawling all over them in the dark."

R&B knowledge is a plus: Many of Perry's plays feature musical interludes in which characters break out into song. Some of the numbers are original and others are well-known hits from the R&B canon. You can also expect Perry to turn the lights on the audience for a sing-along or two -- and you had better know the lyrics. "You're not singing," Madea said, pointing sternly to an audience member at last night's performance.

Bible knowledge is also a plus: It's no secret that Perry's fan base is largely female, African American and churchgoing. His characters have a tendency to quote Scripture and invoke God and Jesus. These references tend to get big responses from the audience. If this bothers you, think twice before buying a ticket.

Don't expect narrative cohesion: When Madea gets going, it's hard for her to stop. Her long-winded monologues are the centerpiece of Perry's new play, combining elements of stand-up comedy and old-fashioned maternal haranguing. They bring the play to a halt, perhaps deliberately so. "I'm so far off the script right now," said Madea during Tuesday's performance, before doubling over in laughter.

Expect to stay late: Perry is known for coming out on stage after the show and speaking to the audience, though he doesn't always do it. Last night, he appeared (out of Madea drag) to talk about the tour as well as his mother, who recently passed away. "I wrote this show in her memory," he said. "I could have just made another movie ... but I wanted to be out in front of people. You have no idea how much I need you and appreciate you." 

He also took the opportunity to blast director Spike Lee, though he didn't mention the director by name. Last year, Lee publicly made comments about Perry's films and TV shows, describing them as "coonery" and "buffoonery."

Perry said: "I can't understand why certain black directors can't just stay in their own yards. You tell your stories and I'll tell mine. And that's the nicest way I can put it."

-- David Ng

Photo: Tyler Perry as Madea. Credit: Alfeo Dixon / Lionsgate Films

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