The Road Theatre: Doing What Theater Does Best in Death House

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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In answer to my own tantalizing question: what does theatre do best? My answer would be: presenting complicated issues with no easy answers that are personalized in order to illuminate the issues on both sides. That’s what Jason Karasev’s demanding play under Michael Peretzian’s succinct direction brings to light.

 

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. To transition the young man, George is tasked with modeling the procedure for the next inmate slated for execution.The next inmate turns out to be Liliana, a young woman (played by Verity Branco).

 

From the moment Allen and George meet, playwright Karasev sets them at odds.  Allen is over-confident while George shows compassion that has been softened by the years. In fact, George seems haunted as he acknowledges that he carries the memories of each inmate he has counseled before their deaths.

But Allen’s arrogance is shaken when Liliana rejects his glib efforts to comfort her. Instead, she reveals her own humanity – her willingness to take the consequences of her actions -- her admission 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.

Beginning with Sam Anderson’s well-conceived pastor, the characters in Karasov’s flawless play build tension personally as well as philosophically. Even as Allen’s cocky demeanor attempts to cover up his own pain, Liliana’s matter-of-fact acceptance of her fate hides a lifetime of ill treatment. That we can sympathize with each person makes Death House a perfect proving ground for a dispassionate assessment of our current laws.

The Road has collected a phalanx of artists that bring Death House to life. They include David Mauer and Christine Joelle’s spare death house waiting room set, Mary Jane Miller’s serviceable costumes, ambient sounds by David B. Marling, lights by Derrick McDaniel, and most of all, the fight choreography by Bjorn Johnson.

The Road Theatre Company on Lankershim performs Death House on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm through March 10th, 2019. All seats, $34.00 with discounts for students and seniors. Phone (818) 761-8838 or online at www.roadtheatre.org.