I see a lot of theatre. A very small percentage of it is truly incredible. So I mean it sincerely when I say that you do not want to miss this gem of LA independent theatre. This play really has potential to really move places. I'll be thinking about this play for a while.
A fresh find from the Humitas's Play LA, the young and brilliant Louisa Hill offers an extremely emotional storytelling of a mother and daughter's shot at a familial relationship, that gets torn down the middle like a piece of paper from their very first moment together. In act one of the play, Dee (played by Corryn Cummins) is a sixteen-year-old high school student in 1965 middle America, and a part of a very practicing Catholic family. She narrates her experience, informing us how she came to be accidentally pregnant by her suave neighbor Eddie (played by Adrian Gonzalez, who also plays the rest of the male characters). Suddenly, her world is turned upside down and her parents have no choice but to spend her college savings on sending her to a home/"rehab"-ish facility where she will carry out her pregnancy before the baby will be released to its new adoptive family. I'll jump in early and say that what changed me about this play, was that I didn't even know places like this existed until watching this production. Later on, a friend's grandmother enlightened me further when she gave me a little background and told me that places like this still exist. This was a true lesson in history for me. Through the first act we realize the emphasis on the shame of the pregnancy, for both Dee and her family. The Catholic Church does not believe in abortion, nor do they believe in sex before marriage (even though all the cool kids are doing it) and a bastard child's acceptance into heaven without the confirmation of a Catholic baptism is pretty much an off-limits conversation. We also watch Dee grow more and more attached to the child growing inside her, to the point where she breaks down in a fit of tears and rage when forced to finally hand the baby over just a few days after its birth. From that point on she knows her heart is broken forever. The second act continues from that point on as narrated by Corey, the baby girl Dee had been forced to surrender (played by Michaela Slezak). Turns out her life wasn't so easy either. After bouncing from one foster family to the next, she sees herself as a destroyer of nearly everything, which leads her to find solace in metal music. Eventually the mother and daughter are reunited under dire circumstances and it is up to each of them to put in the patience, understanding and love necessary to heal this tragic broken relationship.
I'm glad I went into the play with zero expectations because it ended up being a huge treat. I had never visited the Skylight Theatre before and I will definitely be returning. The staff is extremely hospitable, the venue is cozy, yet spacious and their open-air skylight courtyard adds to their welcoming ambiance. And they know how to pack the place, with a very respectful audience on opening night. I love this venue. Atwater Village theatre complex, watch out, you now have a contender in my book.
This was an extremely powerful performance. Many tears were shed in both acts of the play, which is balanced with light humor and a gorgeous cello underscore (played masterfully by Marylin Winkle). Both actors playing a plethora of roles did an outstanding job and are clearly excellent character actors, bravo. However, because there were so many characters apart from the principle mother and daughter, I was craving two more actors to disperse the roles amongst. As an audience member, I was seeing the same face on too many characters too many times. My companion and I both agreed that we enjoyed the first act of the play the best. We wanted more from the Corey character although we were not entirely sure what. I think she could be developed further and there is absolutely room for that in a later production of this play. We also might be feeling this way since Dee's character is very emotionally attached to the world around her. Her response to confusion and chaos involves clinging tighter to the things she wants, generating more dramatic impact and higher stakes for the audience. Corey's character makes a routine of dismissing her problems and emotions, by playing tough girl. So even when something very heart-wrenching happens to her, her shake-it-off mentality encourages the audience to do the same, where as if the same thing happened to Dee, we might sympathize for the poor thing a bit more. But maybe that's just the way those two characters need to contrast each other. Lastly, I think the title of the play is a bit long. Whenever anyone asks me the title of the play, after I give them my raving review, urging them to see it as soon as possible, I can't remember the what it's called. But no wonder, it takes me weeks just to memorize my lines.
When I spoke to my father in Chicago on the phone about my educational experience at the theatre, I think he made a great point when he mentioned that patrons of my generation might find this story enlightening, while those of his may see it as a haunting reminder of the limited options for women of the 60s. For such a young playwright, I think that's a pretty beautiful accomplishment. One of my fellow CTG veteran patrons emailed me directly after attending the show with his wife and members of their theatre-going group. "I can’t recommend enough your going to see this play," he told me, "We went with friends and talked for over an hour afterwards about it." Trust me, you're going to want to talk about it.
The production was just stunning at the cozy, welcoming Skylight Theatre venue in Los Feliz, but I could see this world premiere production becoming wonderfully successful at a larger, more endowed venue. I think this play would have an amazing level of impact at the Mark Taper Forum...and it's better than most of the shows I've seen there over the past few years anyway. I could definitely see this as a major contender for a revamp at next year's Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Since I do a little bit of script coverage for Skylight, I look forward to being a part of the inspiring process of discovering new plays to create meaningful world premieres at this truly lovely venue. I can only hope that this show will be extended in its run to reach the maximum amount of patrons in our community, but get tickets through May 14 and definitely tell friends. You will feel something, I promise.