BWW Review: EMMITT AND AVA is Thought-Provoking Theatre About Family Expectations vs. Artistic Vision
Those of us raised in a home where we knew dating a person of another race would never be accepted will certainly identify with the premise of EMMITT AND AVA, a modern tale of love and loss written and directed by two-time Ovation winner Dominic Hoffman as a Co-Production with Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica. The play's Los Angeles Premiere, presented by Delta Highway Productions, features Tucker Smallwood, Tom Schanley, Stephanie Schulz, and Harry Fowler as members of two families, unacquainted with one another, who suddenly find themselves forced to communicate on most intimate terms after their two children die together in a tragic car accident.
The difference between the families goes deeper than skin color, with it being very apparent from the start that Ava's parents (Wyatt and Emma Cook) would not have been able to accept her falling in love with a black man. Because Ava knew that, she chose to keep her relationship with Emmitt a secret from them. And though Emmitt's father Eban was surprised about his son's relationship with a white girl, she was welcomed in their home and treated with respect. Because of that, the two young lovers were only known by Emmitt's family, and her grieving parents must now turn to strangers to learn more about their own daughter than she ever shared with them. What they find out about her shocks them to their core.
Emmitt's father, as portrayed by Tucker Smallwood, is surprised when he learns the Cooks never knew about his son or the fact their daughter was dating an artistic black man, acting as his muse. As their conversations play out, even though everyone is trying their best not to be too emotional, tears are shed with such believable emotion, you may forget these are actors playing roles and not real people sharing their innermost selves. If I could be so bold, I would just encourage Mr. Smallwood to speak up a bit as he often swallows his words, making it impossible to hear many of his most heartfelt comments.
Ava's parents are portrayed by Tom Schanley and Stephanie Schulz as an educated, well-off white couple living in a high-end Westside L.A. apartment in whose living room the play takes place. Emmitt's family lives close by in Venice, CA, leading Wyatt to ironically quip that Emmitt's father Eban, "Probably makes more than I do." The stab at social class standing reveals one of the many elephants in the room who soon walks glaringly into the light.
Ms. Schulz's Emma does her best to keep her emotions in check as secrets about her daughter are revealed, then rushes off to the kitchen to break something and scream. Playwright Hoffman certainly knew when a touch of unexpected humor was needed to allow us to laugh at ourselves. Mr. Schanley's Wyatt is a man living on a string tightened through his brain, confused and not knowing what to do to appease the situation when dealing with Emmitt's father Eban. Just how much shocking revelations can this grief-stricken couple take?
Enter Evan (Harry Fowler), Emmitt's brother who arrives to check on his father to be sure all is well during his meeting with the Cooks. Imagine this dynamo bursting onto the scene and challenging everyone else in the room's viewpoint on the free-thinking couple known only to half of them. Eventually when ever-present and often-hidden racism rears its ugly head, Evan literally corners Ava's mother into taking an honest look at herself to see why things worked out the way they did. In the end, EMMITT AND AVA is a play as dynamic as it is relevant, reminding us how much we need to simply be there for one another, or face losing what is most important to us all -- our humanity.
Produced by Misty Carlisle, Donna Leavy, and Erinn Anova with scenic design by William Moore Jr. and lighting design by Bosco Flanagan. EMMITT AND AVA continues at the Edgemar Center for the Arts (2437 Main Street #B, Santa Monica, CA 90405) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm through June 18, 2017. Tickets are $20 - $35 and available at Brown Paper Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2907900