Monday, October 28, 2019

Off-Broadway Theater Review: When it Happens to You

Tawni O'Dell and Kelly Swint. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
When it Happens to You
By Tawni O'Dell
Directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett
Sheen Center
Through Nov. 10

By Lauren Yarger
What's it All About:  
The story of a daughter's rape from the mother's perspective, based the real-life experience and memoir of playwright Tawni O'Dell ("Back Roads"/"Angels Burning"), who stars. She takes us from the moment her daughter, Tirzah (Kelly Swint makng an impressive NY theater debut), calls to say she has been attacked through the months after as the family tries to deal with the tragedy that has changed them forever. Also affected in Tirzah's brother, Connor (Connor Lawrence) who toggles between grief over what has happened to his sister and jealousy that his mother seems to have no place for him as she tries to help Tirzah. And Tirzah needs help. She copes in a negative way, detaching from things she loves (including school and pursuing a career as a chef) and attaching to drugs and a deadbeat boyfriend an his dysfunctional family.  E. Clayton Cornelious. playing a multitude of characters throughout the story, rounds out the cast.

What Are the Highlights:
A gripping performance from Swint creates sympathy for the character despite the poor choices that bring her and her family more grief. She portrays a woman trapped in a roller coaster of emotions, nicely helmed by talented Director Lynne Taylre-Corbett. Here's an actress to watch.

What Are the Lowlights:
Interestingly, the main force of the play -- the story told from the mother's perspective -- ends up working against itself. Because we feel more sympathy for the daughter, we kind of want to hear more from her perspective. And while we can't truly understand how we would react in the same situation unless we have gone through this horrible tragedy, we find ourselves questioning some choices the mother makes. They seem more oriented toward her own needs rather than those of her children and a surprise twist at the end seems to confirm this. So the main character we are supposed to bond with seems a bit hard to embrace and the larger story of why we are sitting in the theater for 90 minutes gets cloudy. It feels a bit awkward since the real person is right there on stage. The play didn't start as a theatrical piece, in all fairness, though. It was an act of healing. Here are some thoughts as she expresses them:

"The first time I held my daughter after she was born I made a silent promise to her I would always protect her,"  O'Dell said. "Then came a night in our future when that promise was shattered. I couldn't protect her from the man who stalked her through the streets of her beloved New York City, broke into her home, and assaulted her. During the next few years, her life fell apart and so did my own as I tried to help her deal with the fallout from this awful crime. As a way to help make sense of what we were going through, I did what writers do: I wrote about it. I didn't know if I would ever share our story with the world, but I'm proud to say my daughter has decided that we should in the hopes that we might be able to help other victims and their families. Rape touches just about every one of us. More women are sexually assaulted in this country than are affected by heart disease and breast cancer combined. To say it is an epidemic, is not hyperbole."
More information:
When it Happens to You runs at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker St. at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC). Perfromances are Tuesday and Sunday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday at 2 pmM and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $49.50 - 79.50:; 212-925-2812.

Additional Credits:
Scenic Design by Rob Bissinger and Anita LaScala, Costume Design by David C. Woolard, Lighting Design by Daisy Long, and sound design by Caroline Eng.

-- Obviously mature themes
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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