By Lauren Van Hemert
The last few moments of the Cary Players’ production of Men Always Leave are pure magic. That’s when playwright Naima Yetunde Ince takes the stage in a fit of rage and spoken word that is riveting.
Unfortunately, Ince’s performance makes the rest of the play, the backstory that has led up to this pivotal harangue, seem superfluous.
The rest of the cast, although playing it a little too melodramatic at times, are fine. Single mom Maya (Tyanna West) and her bestie Jade (Chanda Branch), bustle about the kitchen set preparing oxtail and cornbread, bantering about men, and fussing over Maya’s Mama Millie, played by a scene-stealing Celeste Hinnant. It’s all convincingly familial, down to the side-eyes and inaudible whispers muttered between the characters on stage.
Maya’s ex, Jermaine, diligently played by standout J. Mardice Henderson, is a devoted father to their nine-year old son Hakeem (Jireh Ijeoma). Jermaine is wrestling to break the cycle of abuse and cheating he witnessed growing up from his own father. He is steadfast in his resolve to prove to himself, as well as to Maya, that good men don’t always leave.
But all this leads up to that big moment when Ince enters the stage. Her words are rhythmic, impassioned, and on point, a sharp contrast to the rest of the dialogue, some of which feels stilted and dated. Still, Ince’s performance alone might make Men Always Leave worth the price of a ticket. It’s also worth celebrating that this is only the second time in 16 seasons that Cary Players has produced the work of a local playwright. Kudos to Cary Players for that!