Smile, the play, turns out to be anything but smiley, as it portrays the complex relationships a young girl must maneuver through cultural layers far beyond what is asked of white girls of her age. Rachel (Isabella Feliciana) is sent to the office of the sympathetic school counselor, Helen (Andria Kozika), when she gets into a fight with some boys at school. The fight turns out to be less straight-forward than meets the eye. Rachel, a Puerto Rican, always has a knife on hand, and when one of the boys playfully urges her to “smile,” grabs a kiss, and one boys pushes her into another, the resulting stabbing is an almost involuntary result.
After hearing her story, Helen is prepared to come to Rachel’s defense at the inevitable disciplinary hearing. In the process, we learn of her own travails at home, while Rachel continues to navigate between two worlds accepting her aid, while increasingly wary of her motives.
Playwright Melissa Jane Osborne has managed to portray these two women almost from the inside out, and director Michelle Bossy has teased out sensitive performances from both actresses to express their own subjectivity. In the writing, both of their emotional lives are laid bare through the complexities of each woman’s relationships with the men in their lives (played by John Lavelle as Matt and Ronit Kathuria as Joey). Yet, at the core, their differences are reflective of a society that assumes a homogeneity that is yet to be achieved.
IAMA Theatre Company has produced this complex play with a minimum of fuss. A few stage pieces appear here and there as needed against the background of a tenement fire escape (designed by Yuri Okahana-Benson with projections by Sean Cawelti). Expertly lighted by Dan Weingarten, costumed with period detail by Vicki Conrad, with accompanying sound designed by Erin Bednarz, the production supports the emotional weight of this subtly evocative play.
Smile concluded its run Sunday, December 5th at the IAMA Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre; 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039 For information about the upcoming 2023 season, go to www.iamatheatre.com.