Registered Critic: Leigh Kennicott

Leigh Kennicott has an extensive background in theatre, film and television and a Ph.D. degree in Theatre, awarded in 2002. A writer, director and actor, Leigh Kennicott began theatrical reviewing at Backstage, followed by Pasadena Weekly and Stage Happenings blog. As a director in Los Angeles, she directed a neo-realist "Romeo and Juliet" at the Secret Rose Theatre; a new play,“Charlotte Second Chance,” at DramaGarage; and “How I Learned to Drive,” “Nickel and Dimed” and “Top Girls” all at College of the Canyons. Presently, she teaches theatre topics at California State University, Northridge.
May

The Chekhov Comedies

Dean Productions brings Chekhov to Brand Park, but it's not a Chekhov that most people would recognize. One glance tells us that we must be indulgent, for the production is put together with a few random chairs and a table, cast-off looking costumes, no backdrop, platform or any other sign of set-building. The four determined young performers, Cassie Clark, Lilja Rose Michaud, Sierra Parsons and Madison Young, assembled by director Rebecca Lynne, have been asked to play a number of parts in each of five plays. Unfortunately, their understanding of Chekhov's subversive humor breaks down from the effort. We should note the contributions of lighting designer, Joshua Winkler; Jeremy Leung's sound; and stage managers Edward Fernandez and Hannah Trujillo for wrangling the whole thing.

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May

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

A porcelain rabbit may seem like a strange pet, but considering that all dolls came with porcelain heads in the late 19thcentury, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulanemakes sense. 24thStreet Theatre's Debbie Devine has taken the narrative apart and put it back together differently, with whimsical music (from Bradley Brough) and sundry industrial stage objects, from traditional “ghost” light, to mobile paint cart. The all-important doll is the province of designer Shannon A. Kennedy, while Matthew G Hill manages video design. Dan Weingarten's lighting creates wonder with an all-enveloping starry night that fills the theatre. But the real magic belongs to four versatile actors; Jennifer Hasty, Carlos Larking, Brady Dalton Richards, and Rachel Weck.

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May

Revolutions/Revoluciones

In LATC's intimate Avalos Theatre, Elaine Romero's tone-poetry unfolds a story at once iconic and specific, treating of Latin American revolutions writ large. Performed in Spanish with English sub-titles, Romero's simply structured play sheds light on the process that occurs again and again, always re-enacting an “amnesia of violence.”

Director Bruno Bishir from Foro Shakespearein Mexico City picks up Romero's lyrical repetitions, and the movement, by choreographer Olga Sokolova, accents a counter-tempo. The actors – Hasiff Fadul as the dictator, Oscar; his former lover, Pilar (Corina Vela) and Miguel (Javier Balderas), the son he never knew –create their own soundscapes lending the piece a grotesque air that takes us from the Afterlife to Real Life and beyond—to memory. Romero's conception rings through clearly: the amnesia of violence demands that would-be reformers become the very dictators they protest.

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Apr

FRIENDS WITH GUNS

At the Road on Magnolia, Friends with Guns is not about Guns. Although playwright Stephanie Alison Walker spends a lot of time parsing the basic argument, the topic proves to be a spring-board for female self-empowerment. Suffice it to say, it's well worth the journey to observe four well-rounded characters trying to make sense of a complicated social problem.

Shannon (Kate Huffman) admires Leah's (Arianna Ortiz) approach to motherhood, and wants to bring their husbands together to complete the picture. All goes well until the subject of gun ownership comes up. Director Randee Trabitz orchestrates the two couples' well-tuned debates with precision. In my opinion, the shocking ending of Friends with Guns takes on meaning depending on a spectator's ideology.

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Apr

Faith Healer

In The Faith Healer Brian Friel creates a masterful tone-paen to a passing, flavorful way of life. Like Rashomon, his prismatic look at Irish life reflects a by-gone era. Three characters, the faith healer, Francis Hardy (Paul Norword), his wife, Grace (Diana Cignoni), and the manager, Teddy (Ron Bottitta) relate their perspectives on the faith healer's catastrophic death.

Under Ron Sossi's direction, Faith Healer, presents itself as a series of confidences between the audience and each character. Dim lighting on the majority of the set offsets a spot trained on each, successive, and singular character. Such an approach necessitates a larger than life character to fill the space; however, on opening night, only Bottitta as Teddy, manages that feat.

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Mar

The Glass Menagerie

It may be confusing to hear hospital sounds over the PA system before the play begins in Geoff Elliott has managed to meld Tennessee Williams' fictional recreation with images of his real-life sister, Rose. With Rafael Goldstein as Tennessee Williams' narrator, Tom, Deborah Strang moves the character of his mother, Amanda, up a notch in an absurd journey into her youthful past. As Laura, Erica Soto works with a distinct “clump” to accompany her own intense introversion. Actor Kasey Mahafy paints the gentleman caller, Jim, as just as much of a desolate character as the rest of the family, who finds himself trapped in the tedium of a depression-era Southern town.

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Mar

Canyon

Why do racial assumptions and inherent distrust bubble up whenever people feel their property is at risk? Playwright Jonathan Caren takes that situation to illustrate how quickly trust – and intercultural relationships – can unravel.

An upwardly mobile couple, Jake (Adam Shapiro) and Beth (Christine Woods) employs Eduardo (Geoffrey Rivas), a hard-working Latino contractor with his son, Rodrigo (Luca Oriel), to expand his deck over a scenic canyon. Will (Brandon Scott), visiting with Dahlia (Stefanie Black), fuels suspicion when Eduardo suffers an accident at their home and the stage is set for misunderstanding. Caren's writing is so visceral that one almost wants to jump out of the audience and throttle his characters. In the wake of NIMBY protests over proposed homeless shelters, this play conveys a timely message.

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Mar

Othello

What if Iago does not personify evil incarnate? What if Othello is not full of himself? What if Desdemona is not an innocent damsel caught in a trap? The usual tropes are nuanced here, helped along by Kubzansky's decision to place the action in modern day Cyprus, a location still under stress some 400 years after Shakespeare wrote Othello. The subplots, often cut down the bone, in this production at A Noise Within, enrich the traditional tale.

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Feb

The Cripple of Inishmaan

In setting Cripple of Inishmaan on a remote island in 1934, McDonagh distances us enough that we can laugh at the foibles of an isolated population, while decrying the violence in Inishmaan's daily lives. It's hilarious to watch when the town gossip brings news of a visiting movie company from Hollywood, and the lives of Inishmaan's townspeople are thrown into turmoil. As always, Antaeus doubles its actors. To director Steve Robman's credit, the performers work seamlessly across both casts as the picture of Irish country-life heaves into focus.

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Feb

Death House

Jason Karasev's demanding play under Michael Peretzian's succinct direction brings the question of justice to light. Beginning with actor Sam Anderson's well-conceived pastor, the characters in Death House build tension personally as well as philosophically. George (Sam Anderson) has been beaten down as chaplain to death row inmates and now he faces his replacement by Allen (Chase Cargill), a cocky, young seminarian. Allen is over-confident while George shows compassion that has been softened by the years. Allen's arrogance is shaken when inmate Liliana (Verity Blanco) rejects his glib efforts to comfort her. Instead, she reveals her own humanity while admitting that in committing murder she “didn't kill, she saved” her victim. Throughout, the audience is challenged to discern, by imposing the death penalty, whether justice indeed has been served.

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Feb

Stockholm

Stockholm Presents a Troubling Portrait of Obsessive Love. In her play, British playwright Bryony Lavery gifts us with an attractive and vivacious young couple (Kimblerly Alexander and Jamie Wollrab), who seem to have everything. But their emphasis on the city of Stockholm has subliminal, troubling implications that unfold during the action of the play. As intricate as Lavery's play may be, Triptych's production values hold it together. Of note: choreographer Stephen Buescher moves the couple in an undulating pas de deaux of love and cruelty. Stockholm is an absorbing and disturbing play, well performed by Alexander and Wollrab, both of whom bring laser-like commitment to Triptych's superior production.

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Feb

A Misunderstanding

In this second dramatization of Matt Chait's central argument for intelligent design, the debate between a scientist (Bruce Katzman) and a disgraced professor (Matt Chait) is couched in the coinciding and altogether human dilemma of two young people. Howard Blair (Dennis Renard), A prospective Ph.D. candidate, was deeply influenced by professor Bertram Cates (Chait) before his dismissal from the Biology Department for espousing spiritual views on evolution. Blair's fiance, Melinda (Amy-Helene Carlson), is in opposition to Cates' ideas. The couple's opposite sides over Cate forms the emotional center of A Misunderstanding. Because Chait's ideas lean closer to physics than the subtleties of evolution, it's clear that Chait will continue on his journey to be understood.

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Feb

LINDA VISTA

In the character of Wheeler (Steppenwolf stalwart Ian Barford), playwright Tracy Letts manages to capture the essence of a 20th century man living in the 21st century. Linda Vista takes his hapless Everyman from a recent divorce through two groping relationships. Director Dexter Bullard keeps the focus on Wheeler as he navigates his new life, first with Jules (Cora Vander Broek), a life coach, and then, a pregnant waif named Minnie (Chantal Thuy). As our picture of Wheeler deepens, we see that the rules have changed with no clear-cut set of replacements for them. Ultimately, a chivalric yet destructive attempt to protect co-worker, Anita (Caroline Neff) leads the character, and the audience, to some sort of recognition and self-reconciliation.

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Dec

Sisters Three

In Jami Brandli's Sisters Three the ill-fated Brontes are three eccentric women suffering the aftermath of their cherished brother's death, now brought up-to-date, out of the vicarage and into a college student housing single. Emily Jane, played by Dana DeRuyck, has been recast as a graduate mathemetician. Her sister, Anne (a cheeky Kara Hume), has moved in to E.J.'s small student housing, dragging a two-seat canoe along with her. The play teeters irresolutely between sarcasm and satire; we are never sure if we should be amused or appalled. Evaluated as a work in progress, Sisters Three shows promise with the question to be resolved as “to what end”?

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Dec

A Christmas Story

Our 50s hero, Ralphie Parker (played interchangeably), is laser-focused on Red Ryder's Double-action BB air rifle as his choice for Christmas. Along the way, Ralphie's father, (Richard Van Slyke) wins an ugly lamp in a contest and insists on displaying it, much to the chagrin of Andrea Stradling as his long suffering wife. Nothing momentous happens on Cleveland Street in Hohman, Indiana, yet the warmth and recognizability of a nostalgic vision of Christmases past enable even Gen X-ers to recognize the clunky sweaters and antique toys from grandparents' attics. These kids are good! Their fights (by Ken Merckx) have survived intact and as fresh as ever.

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Dec

Confederates

Confederates packs a wallop, not so much for the situation, as for the self-serving propensities of the characters. Playwright Suzanne Bradbeer pits Will (Darryl C. Brown) and Stephanie (Melissa R. Randel), two card-carrying news-types firmly situated in the soup of media's sensation-seeking, 24-hour news cycle, and pressures them into making consequential decisions at the expense of Maddie (Miranda Lichtman), whose father is about to run for President. At Burbank's Grove Theatre, Bradbeer's play is well-acted and well-directed. Her characterizations are so well-delineated that we completely understand the psychology of each person, even while decrying the paths they choose.

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Nov

QUACK

If you want to know what's wrong with Society, Go See Quack. Playwright Eliza Elliott skewers our celebrity culture and its empty totums in Quack. CTG Associate Artistic Director Neel Keeler helmed this fast-moving production, which boasts a top-notch cast beginning with Dan Bucatensky as Dr. Irving Baer, a “Dr. Phil” like TV celebrity. Clark brings a theatrical sense to the play when Dane Laffrey's deceptively simple one-set design takes an extraordinary turn that fills in what the text cannot provide. Double Sweet!

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Nov

Members Only

Members Only by Oliver Mayer offers us less a play than a world. It continues the story of Pedro Quinn, who killed an opponent in the ring in Blade to the Heat, turning the entire boxing world against him. When Quinn takes a budding female fighter under his tutelage, he gives her the pass to the club's inner sanctum, and sets in motion the exposé that will eventually bring him down. Artistic director José Luis Valenzuela facilitates the cinematic flow of places and scenes while overhead, black-and-white fight footage reminiscent of 50s TV boxing matches, unspools over identical choreography onstage. Engrossing!

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Nov

Desert Rats

In the Avalos Theatre at LATC, the production of Desert Rats unveils an ugly undertone beneath hip, happy SoCal life. Written with authority by Nate Rufus Edelman, the play pits two dysfunctional brothers − Frank (Walt Gray IV) and Jesse (Derek Chariton) − against the wiles of Amber (Lila Gavares), their upperclass, teen-aged kidnapping victim. Guided by director Angie Scott, the play explodes onto the stage and does not let up until the fireworks at the end.

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Nov

Letters From Home

Kalean Ung has unique stories to tell: three of them to be exact. Ung grew up immersed in one world, but curious about her father Chinary's Cambodian origins. The result is a compendium of story telling, music and recitation. With the help of Director Marina McClure, Ung interweaves the discovery of her Cambodian heritage, her father's migration and ascent in the world of symphonic music, and the horrific effects of the Khmer Rouge on his Cambodian family. The enormity of the country's tragedy and family losses casts a long shadow over Chinary Ung's considerable success as well as Kalean's narrative.

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