madea-xmas_web.jpgFamily plays a major role in A Madea Christmas, Tyler Perry’s latest play. The Mancells are a wealthy Boston family spending the Christmas holiday in Cape Cod. John and Lillian Mancell (played by Maurice Cordoza Launchner and Chandra Currelly, respectively) are a married couple with a big secret. Their daughter, China (Tamar Davis) is home from grad school with her medical school student boyfriend, Bobby (Shannon Williams). The Mancells’ son Japan (Zuri Craig) is along to witness the mayhem, being the only virgin in his family.

Just when it seems the Mancells are just another boring bourgeois family, enter Margaret’s family. Margaret (Cheryl Pepsii Riley) is the Mancells’ beleaguered maid and saintly Christian in the play. Her daughter Lucy (Alexis Jones) is a pole dancer, her son George (Jeffrey Lewis) is a thief and her oldest son Eric (Tony Grant) is a community college student. Eric and China used to date and are about to rekindle the flames — much to Lillian’s dismay.

But the life of the play rests in its older characters. Madea (writer/director Perry) brings the laughs. Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) is still Aunt Bam. Newcomer Ms. Hattie (Patrice Lovely) is the family cook whom the Mancells inherited from John’s uncle — she was his mistress.

Lovely’s Ms. Hattie will be greatly talked about. Perry acknowledged Lovely’s talent and gave her an opportunity to appear in a larger platform. She plays the cantankerous country cook like a female Perry. Only time will tell whether she has the ambition to reach further than Ms. Hattie.

Perry has kept the random songs to a minimum nine in A Madea Christmas. Stellar singers who happen to be so-so actors are a staple of his plays. The performers may sing with the utmost of God’s anointing, but when it comes to bringing a character to life, many seem to be all thumbs. Williams’ personality is engaging, for example, but his wooden acting never translates onscreen.

A Madea Christmas is classic Perry throughout.

At two-hours, it would feel complete had Perry dropped three songs and substituted more character development. Instead it is two-thirds of a play waiting for a storyline, the family drama par for the course. Those looking for something fresh are likely to be disappointed. The reality is it’s another Perry play with familiar faces and one new highlight: Ms. Hattie.