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.
Dec

The Wrong Kind of People

The Wrong Kind of People, by George W. Corbin, is a contemporary look at some of the sort of every-day prejudices that still inform some aspects of African-American life, in the style of the drawing-room comedies of bygone days.

The location is “the colored room,” a room designated in every hotel to accommodate African-American guests. Theo (Ken Ivey) has booked the room in order to find some peace and quiet in order to study for the California Bar. But there is a catch. One of the bellmen, the resourceful Fixit (Damon Rutledge), uses the room to ferry an assortment of back-door players into the hotel. What could possibly go wrong?

The Robey players, nimbly directed by C. Julian White, strike just the right comedic tone. Foremost among them, Rutledge as Fixit shows a quiet dignity; while the Purdys (Darrell Philip and Stephanie Schulz), maintain a realistic, love/hate balance that exemplifies long-married spouses. Artistic Director and producer, Ben Guillory, enables the performance with solid production values, while director White laces the proceedings with evocative pop songs of the period.

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Nov

Elijah

In Elijah, a group of travelers find themselves stranded by hurricane Elijah in a TGI Fridays Restaurant near a Federal prison. The manager, Lori (Kathleen Bailey) has sent home all the staff but for her wayward niece, Ashley (a spot-on MacKenzie Rickaby), who slouches through her duties. The “inmates” have converged on the Texas town because of a highly publicized execution about to take place. They represent a spectrum of views about capital punishment, from God-fearing Patience (Elle Vernee), reasonable Greg (Jordon Wall) to activist Tim (Jesse Merrill). But it is Dawn (an appealing Molly Gray), who has the biggest stake in the inmate’s death. Throughout, the characters serve Leora’s message, which results in a series of uneven characterizations. Ultimately we ask this questions: does one death solve the problem? It seems that despite the debate, we’re still left with the same questions.

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Nov

Fruition

Fruition pictures a world, hopefully, far into the future. Playwright DeLaRosa (who also plays the upstanding resister, Rainer) has assembled a representative group of survivors to tell his story. Theatre of Note’s production values are exceptional. The company has responded to DeLaRosa’s vision with black-box walls covered with artistic renderings of graffiti that, in themselves, should be viewed as public art!

DeLaRosa tends to overuse violence and the ‘F’ bomb to prove his points, yet his argument asks us to resolve our current stalemates while we still can. Although current observations pop out, wrenching me momentarily out of the future he created, DeLaRosa’s characters ring true . Forest (Trevor H. Olsen) seems to be playing both sides against the middle, while Laila (Kathleen O’Grady) protects Helga (Faith Imafidon). Periodically they must work together to push back the militia (Nick Smerkanich and Thomas Firtzgerald). But with the arrival of Rollo, (Travis York) the right/left, resister/Militia divide comes into focus in a surprising way.

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Nov

THE ART OF DINING

Double and quadruple cast, Gloria Gifford’s production of Tina Howe’s 70s-era, episodic portrait of a Jersey neighborhood restaurant, purported to be situated in the actual home of its cook and head waiter, paints a fascinating portrait of 60s and 70s social life.
Ellen (Kelly Musslewhite) frantically readies herself for an onslaught of guests while her husband, Cal (Billy Budinich), dreams of expanding their little enterprise into a full-scale restaurant. Do you see the tension here?
Celebrants Hannah (Keturah Hamilton) and Paul Galt (Danny Siegel) and blind dates, David (Haile D’Alan) and Elizabeth (Sabrina), are disturbed when a raucous, ravenous threesome (Leana Chavez, Samiyah Swann and Gloria Alvizar) invades. But the most fun of all comes from the action in the working kitchen (part of the overall design by Gifford, Hamilton and Lucy Walsh).
Gifford has accomplished the difficult job of revolving casting, transitioning between the couples with a minimum of fuss. The best part? The friendliness of Gloria Gifford’s bunch of aspiring actors is such a welcome treat.

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Nov

Buried Child

It’s a comfort to see A Noise Within’s resident artists bring such clarity to Sam Shepard’s Buried Child, his most quintessentially absurdist play. The playwright plops young Vince (Zach Kenny) and his girlfriend, Shelly (Angela Gulner), into the midst of his tight-knit and quite eccentric farming family, headed by patriarch Dodge (Geoff Elliott) and his wife, Hallie (Deborah Strang). A great deal is remarked about the fact that corn has not been planted out back since 1935 (It’s now the 70s). As behaviors get stranger, and Vince settles into his family’s rhythms, Shelly finds her inner housewife.
In this second time around, Director Julia Rodriguez Elliott, teases the humor out of the grotesque, ever mindful to highlight the play’s sense of nostalgia. The actors’ created eccentricities seem so organic, we almost feel we’ve stumbled into a time warp.

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Oct

4.48 PSYCHOSIS by Sarah Kane

In Son of Semele ‘s production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, the hallucinogenic cacophony interrupted by nuggets of dialogue exemplified by Don Bottitta – a psychiatrist who left her too soon – represents the “soup” of Kane’s despair, within which her attempts at recovery swam. Miss Dylan Jones has the unenviable task of repeating this journey four times a week, and any less grounded actor may not have been able to travel the distance from start to finish. As a result, audiences can sit at a safe, dramatic distance without sinking into the same despair. In Kane’s ultimate demise, we catch a glimpse of the hope she held onto even in the act of suicide. “Remember the light,” she wrote. “And believe the light.” Certainly death was her effort to reach it.

Director Matthew McCray brings coherence to the echoes and reverberations this poet set down in an effort to explain herself. Of necessity, the addition of muses Melina Bielefelt, Taylor Hawthorne, Jinny Ryann and Betsy Zajko, in representing her voices, brings order to the chaos; but it robs us of Kane’s disordered mind and the reason she (may have) wanted to express it to herself.

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Oct

The Abuelas

The search for lost children figures at the heart of The Abuelas, a new play by Stephanie Alison Walker about Argentina’s “dirty war” at Anteaus Theatre. Such an example is Gabriella (Luisina Quarleri), a brilliant musician whose Argentine mother, Soledad (Denise Blasor), comes to town. Gabriella’s life positively unravels when a new friend, César (David DeSantos) brings to dinner an uninvited guest, and we learn that the guest, Carolina (Irene De Bari), is Gabriella’s real grandmother. This complex play might have become lugubrious but for director Andi Chapman and Anteaus’ producing team.

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Oct

How the Light Gets In

‘Light’ is an apt metaphor that describes Boston Court’s Emilie Pascale Beck invisibly light touch as director of E.M. Lewis’ new play, How the Light Gets In. The play examines the toll breast cancer takes on Grace Wheeler (Amy Sloan), an otherwise empowered ‘woman of a certain age’, whose emotional journey succeeds only with the aid of a pair of improbable allies: Kat (Chelsea Kurtz), a teen camped out beneath the weeping willow in a Japanese Garden and Haruki (Ryun Yu), a world-renowned architect commissioned to build a simple tea house there. The result is a sweet reminder that we are all capable of providing enough light to heal those around us who are suffering. Dieterich Gray as the tattooist Tommy Z provides welcome surcease from the sort of sentimental treacle most dramas about disease exhibit.

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Sep

The Solid Life of Sugar Water

The Solid Life of Sugar Water, written by Jack Thorne, follows a couple as they negotiate the waters of trauma due to the stillbirth of their child. Randee Trabitz, who directs with sensitivity, has brought the play to life against an aerial view of the marriage bed as a backdrop. The projections —the bed; life size reproductions of the actors — elevate Deaf West’s production beyond more modest aspirations, with Tad Cooley as Phil and Sandra Mae Frank as Alice, drifting in and out of the evolving scenes, punctuated by front–of–stage interactions with their speaking counterparts (Nick Apostolina as Phil and Natalie Camunas as Alice), who also portray other characters as necessary.

This image of a couple in crisis ends in an explosive confluence of events so emotionally fraught that, on the night I attended, the action sent at least audience member from the room. Make no mistake, this production is an extraordinary achievement

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Sep

Early Birds

In Early Birds by Dan Schwartz, an encounter on the high seas between two women in different financial circumstances reveals that warm, human encounters can happen anywhere. With only Saturday and Monday left before it closes, please hurry over to see it! Schwartz’ writing is a light and gentle character study, taking us along with breezy repartee between two unlikely friends. Ivy (Jayne Taini) is a brash, fast talking and comfortable-looking woman, while Nora (Jean Gilpin), fashionable and rather stand-offish, can afford to go anywhere at any price. Stylish Captain Devon (Wendy Elizabeth Abraham), though, is at the ready to attend their needs as they, and we the audience, gradually learn the true nature of the cruise.

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Sep

Nick Dear's Frankenstein | California Premiere

Onstage for a short run at A Noise Within, Frankenstein helmed by Michael Michetti, features an astounding, sympathetic performance by Michael Manuel as the creature. Michetti and his team constructs a visual and aural extravaganza feature dream sequences and impressionistic flash-backs to dramatize the story.  From the opening dumb show as the creature learns to walk and operate his unusable arm (thanks to movement director, Rhonda Kohl) to the more devastating vignettes as the creature becomes the monster (dramatized with original music by Robert Oriol), the spectacle engages our senses. ANW’s impeccable production no doubt deserves a longer run.

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Aug

An Enemy of the People

It’s startling to see the Theatricum Botanicum stage populated by robed members of the Ku Klux Klan at a meeting chaired by David Duke (Conner Clark Pascale) in 1972. But we soon learn that that the main character, Dr. Stockman (Christopher W. Jones) and his wife, Katherine (Earnestine Phillips), were once run out of the little town of South Fork because of their marriage. Stockman has retained friendships across both sectors of the town, however. He unites with Horatio (Max Lawrence) editor of the “Black” newspaper, while Mildred (Katherin Griffith), the town’s mayor is none other than his own sister. Ibsen twists the knot ever tighter when all, even Stockman’s family, turns against him and he is declared “enemy of the people.”

Echoes of our own times abound in Geer’s update. The performers recreate the town’s inhabitants to chilling effect. From the repugnant KKK meeting to the final denouement, the play elicits a visceral effect. To paraphrase Trump’s “There are fine people on both sides” --- here, there are culpable people on both sides.

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Aug

Apple Season

Artistic Director Anthony has overseen a triumphant production on the tiny Moving Arts stage in Atwater Village, helming a three-person cast that features the redoubtable Rob Nagle as Billy Rezz, a former basketball star, now a reclusive farmer who comes to make an offer on the Apple Orchard next door. His offer stirs old wounds for Lizzy (Lisa Hernandez, who works hard to connect), as memories conjure her brother, Roger (a sluggish Justin Huen, seen in flashbacks), ultimately leading to an explosive conflagration. Playwright E.M. Lewis’ storytelling demands ever-changing perspectives of inner and outer moments of dream-like recollections, best achieved by Martha Carter’s magical lighting sleight of hand that, among other things, evokes a traveling box-car, while Scenic designer, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, commands dimensionality in her rustic evocation of an Oregon back yard

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Aug

Twelfth Night

In their wooded glen, Theatricum’s Twelfth Night unfolds as Count Orsino’s court has been transposed to the world of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the ship-wrecked twin, Viola (Willow Geer), has transformed into a boy in order to make his/her/their way in the early nineteenth century. Her brother Sebastian, (Cavin Mohrhardt) meanwhile, has washed ashore with a ship-mate, Antonio (Sean McConaghy) and two wend their way back to civilization as well. Shakespeare’s clever device pits their journey against Viola’s adventures to create the time frame for the play. Director Ellen Geer shows theatrical flair when portraying the officious Malvolio as a woman. There is much to savor in this Twelfth Night. It might be fun to see Independent Shakespeare-in-the-Park’s production as well to enjoy two variants on the theme of misplaced siblings and misguided loves.

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Jul

The Direction Home

Do You Remember 1979? Former hippies were getting jobs, getting married and growing up; aspiring actors were --- well, still aspiring. That’s where we find the denizens of Greg Vie’s fondly remembered comedy, The Direction Home on view at the Actors Company. Home recalls a fateful six months when a disparate group of roommates find themselves overbooked by one: the inexperienced, shy Steven (Jacob Barnes) winds up with the beautiful but level headed Katie (Emilie Martz) as a bedmate.

Director Kiff Scholl has done his best to integrate the actors into a cohesive ensemble, but there are difficulties that can’t be overcome. It’s hard for the others to counter Amir Levi’s over-the-top portrayal of Ted; Barnes’s gentle, realistic portrait of the central character, Stephen is no match. While Martz is the most even-handed as Katie, Vaughn Eelis as Brad seems ill at ease onstage, and I wonder how “ok” he is about his nude scene.

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Jul

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Executed in a mix of song and dance, narration and dumbshow that his own “Epic” effect popularized, Stephannie Shroyer utilizes every inch of Anteaus’ long stage to keep everything moving in a precise kaleidoscope of story and sound.  Anteaus’ strong ensemble ethic is well represented as veterans interchange roles with newcomers and back again.  It’s no use trying to single out any one performance – they are all strong – but each ensemble member brings his or her own distinctive style to the play. Again, Shroyer’s direction comes to the fore, as these actors represent, they do not embody characters.

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Jul

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

This spoof of a 1920s drawing room drama out-spoofs even the venerable Noises-off. The fictional Cornley University Drama Society production of (organ music here) “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” comes to us as The Play That Goes Wrong. The equally fictional program notes by Chris Bean (Evan Alexander Smith), the director, voice coach, dialect coach, fight choreographer, casting director and costume designer for the drama society, are worth the price of the ticket. Laughter begins almost immediately when the curtain rises on Jonathan Haversham’s “dead” body (Yaegel T. Welch) before he has crawled into place, and it just goes wronger from there.

The piece de resistance of the evening involves the malfunctioning set that is so genius that it received its own Tony Award for the Broadway production. The only sour note forces ingénue Florence Colleymoore (Jamie Ann Romero) and “stage manager” Annie (Angela Grovey) into a senseless and unfunny battle with each other for supremacy at the end of the play.

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Jul

The Narcissist Next Door

The Narcissist Next Door covers much the same ground as Larry Shue’s The Nerd, where the house-guest from Hell wrecks havoc on a variety of characters at a dinner party. Here Tony, The Narcissist, (Luca Malacrino), proves to be a charlatan as well as a pain when he introduces his next-door neighbor, Sebastian (Michael Nardelli) and friend Kate (Kincaid Walker) to a New Age practice called “The Source.” When the practice work wonders in their lives, they welcome Tony into their midst, but as he takes more and more advantage of their trust, inviting himself on a trip to Mexico to “shoot” singing star Charo Veraga (Maggie Miguel), a result from “The Source,” they finally admit his toxicity. Only when he opens the way for a pair of Banditos (Robert and Bryce Harrow) to rob the group, do they finally plot to get rid of him with hilarious results.

Narcissist, Ellen Buckley’s first full-length play, is sprightly and increasingly funny, pointing the way to a future of churning out one crowd-pleaser after another. It has been given a well-developed production by its producers with director Susan Dallan.

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Jul

Mil Grus

Stemming from a tradition of foolery that harks back to the Middle Ages, this grotesque ensemble keeps audiences amused and constantly off-guard. Their deadpan stares, their misshapen and gyrating bodies and their dumb-show drolleries are surreal rather than threatening. It helps, as various members climb through the audience, that they deposit tiny origami birds into outstretch palms. Since there is no through-line to engross us, a spirit of camaraderie descends upon the packed audience. When we are asked to help “tent” ourselves and we can no longer see the stage, we realize that we have been duped into ending the piece ourselves. I thought their joke on us ending their shenanigans was just right.

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Jul

Red, White, Black & Blue

These two one-acts came together in a set of revealing monologues portraying the difficulty of adjusting to lives in transition. Leilani Squire’s “Drowning” depicts Adam (Matthew Thompson), a returning vet whose short fuse has estranged him from his wife and precious daughter. Through his dialogic phone calls, we experience the amount of effort it takes to keep it together in the face of unrelenting rejection, from wary would-be employers to his vindictive spouse. Squire’s tightening tempo reflects the time-bomb ticking inside of this man whose only solution may be suicide.

In “Black & Blue,” Blaine Vedros plays Tom Wilkes, another man whose forced eviction from his job and subsequently his marriage leaves him desperate for retribution. But, as he ruminates, we realize that he is not exactly an innocent victim, and the only way out of his dilemma may be the self-realization that eludes him. Both Thompson’s Adam in “Drowning” and Vedros’ fierce Tom in “Black & Blue” reinforces the fact that, as a group, men have lost important support systems to aid them.

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ADS
  • CHARLEY'S AUNT
  • BEFORE with Pat Kinevane at the Odyssey Theatre
  • La Vie En Rose with Julia Migenes
  • THE ART OF DINING at the Gloria Gifford Conservatory

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