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BWW Review: World Premiere THE WHOLEHEARTED Proves to be a Tour-de-Force Solo Show for Suli Holum

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I knew I was in for an incredible show when I walked into the transformed Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City to see the world premiere of THE WHOLEHEARTED, written and co-directed by Deborah Stein and performed and co-directed by the masterful Suli Holum, Thanks to scenic designer Amy Rubin, the entire space was now just three rows of chairs on risers on all four sides of a boxing ring, without surrounding ropes to block any sight lines, soon to be filled with the most intensive and honest character presentation I have seen in a long time.

During the 65-minute show, Holum not only boxes repeatedly as she tells her tale of love and woe, but she manages to strip down and change costumes designed by Angela Harner which often represent the person she is speaking about, mainly her lost love Carmen who was her partner in Bakersfield when they were 17, at which time Dee let herself be convinced by the 43-year old Charlie that he would make her a star boxer and create a world of wealth for her she could never imagine for herself.

She took off with him, ever calling or telling Carmen why she left or where she was going. Now, 20 years later, she has decided to tape a message to Carmen telling her (and the audience) what has happened to her since she left and how she fears for her life now that Charlie is being released as he was jailed for stabbing and shooting her 10 years ago, and no doubt wants revenge, as does she for his mistreatment.

Sharing with Carmen, which we watch on the overhead screen as she dictates it, thanks to the roving videographer Stivo Arnoczy who circles the ring to capture Holum at incredible angles as she flirts around and sings several heartfelt songs, taking us even deeper into Dee's inner turmoil whether to take her gun and kill Charlie before escaping in her red sports car back to Bakersfield to find and reunite with Carmen - who of course may not even be there any longer.

Technical credits are top notch with lighting design by Stephen Arnold, sound design by Matt Hubbs and James Sugg, video design by Katherine Freer and Dave Tennent, and original music by Sugg and Heather Christian. Holum perfected her downhome redneck accent through her dramaturg P. Carl, so much so that I was entirely surprised at the after show talkback that it was not her normal way of speaking.

THE WHOLEHEARTED was conceived and created by Stein | Holum Projects (SHP), the creative partnership of playwright/director Deborah Stein and performer/director Suli Holum. These two brilliant women obviously work together symbiotically, drawing on over a decade of experience in both experimental and regional theatre, working with a core group of accomplished designers to create a unique hybrid of the highly visual and dexterously verbal; interdisciplinary physical theatre with complex and nuanced characters. Their first play, "Chimera," premiered at HERE as part of Under the Radar and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance. And I am sure THE WHOLEHEARTED is on its way to win even more awards given the incredible talent of these two most creative people.

Stein | Holum Projects' engrossing one-woman show THE WHOLEHEARTED ends its short two-week run on Sunday, December 11 at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of DouglasPlus. Written and co-directed by Deborah Stein and performed and co-directed by Suli Holum, the world premiere production is produced in association with La Jolla Playhouse, where the show will be performed next. This production is definitely worth the drive and I hope it returns to Los Angeles again soon to entice even more people into Dee Crosby's tale told with skill and heart by Suli Holum.

Tickets for the final performances are available by calling (213) 628-2772, online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Ahmanson Theatre or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to performance. Tickets are $45 for regular performances (subject to change). The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Ample free parking and restaurants are adjacent.

Photos by Craig Schwartz


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