Social Anxiety...oh, and Climate Change, too! Fuel Two World Premieres

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Two recent openings from promising writers attempt to express our current zeitgeist as it affects inhabitants of two distinctly different environments.

Elijah by Judith Leora at The Victory Theatre Center

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.  Ultimately, her personal relationship with him becomes the focal point of the play; and therein, lies the rub

Throughout, the characters serve Leora’s message, which results in a series of uneven characterizations. She has assigned sexual preferences to some of her characters without any apparent reason. What’s more. the debate over the efficacy of American penal justice subsumes the very real dangers that the hurricane may wreckon the area. A last phone call to her tormentor as he is ready to be executed may satisfy the need to call him, but I wonder: will that really heal a lifetime of hurt?  For that matter, does a death solve the problem?  It seems that despite the debate, we’re still left with the same questions.

Elijah  continues  at the Big Victory Theatre, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 4:00 PM through December 15th. The Victory Theatre Center is located at 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank 91505. Tickets: $28.00 – 40.00. Phone (818) 841-5421,  or online: www.victorytheatrecenter.org.

Fruition by Alexis DeLaRosa at Theatre of Note

Fruition, on the other hand,  pictures a world hopefully, far into the future. Theatre of Note has responded to their member-playwright’s vision with black-box walls covered with artistic renderings of graffiti of the sort that once took over the New York City subway system.  In themselves, these walls should be viewed as public art!

Playwright DeLaRosa (who also plays the upstanding resister, Rainer) has assembled a representative group of survivors to tell his story. Into the deserted-looking environment, rag-tag bands of survivors stumble in from the collapse of law and order. What should we call them now? --- the militia --- appear in hot pursuit, eradicating resisters through force and violence. As he allows “questionable” fuigitives into his keeping, Rainer’s altruism overtakes him time and again.  Forest (Trevor H. Olsen) seems to be playing both sides against the middle, while Laila (Kathleen O’Grady) exhibits questionable loyalty in protecting pregnant Helga (Faith Imafidon). Periodically they must work together to push back the assalts of the militia (Nick Smerkanich and Thomas Firtzgerald).  But with the arrival of Rollo, (Travis York) , the father or Helga’s child, the right/left, resister/Militia divide comes into focus in a surprising way.

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 recognizable current commentaries pop out, wrenching me momentarily out of the future he has created, DeLaRosa’s characters ring true in the same way that episodes of Star Trek, say, tell truth about our lives today.

Theatre of Note’s production values are exceptional; Alexander Le Vaillant Freer’s lighting scupts subtle distinctions and Michael Mullen’s costumes are simple, while Mark McClain Wilson’s sound design and Hank Heimdallsman’s compositions stand significantly below middle C. Of course, the play wouldn’t work at all without Sondra Mayer’s excellent fight choreography.

Fruition runs through Saturday, December 7th Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 7 pm. No shows during the Thanksgiving holiday; two shows added on Thursday, November 21st, and Monday, November 25th.  at Theatre of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood 90028. Tickets are $25.00, Students/seniors: $20.00, available by phone: 323-856-8622 or online at www.theatreofnote.com;