BWW Reviews: WHAT OF THE NIGHT? Offers a Disjointed Look at a Family Living in Poverty

The Vagrancy is a daring and award-winning Los Angeles-based theatre company. The Vagrancy creates socially relevant and visceral work that seeks to touch the human spirit and boldly rock the boat. The group presents the West Coast Premiere of Pulitzer-Prize finalist WHAT OF THE NIGHT? by Maria Irene Fornes, from October 10 to November 2, 2014 on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm at Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90004.

Featured in the cast are Linn Bjorland, Laura Caudill, Joseph Culliton, Elitia Daniels, Kathleen Hagerty, Lisa Jai, Steve Madar, Gina Manziello, Alex Marshall-Brown, Marc Pelina, and Thaddeus Shafer.

"I fear for our future. I feel that we are becoming greedy and heartless. . . . In these plays I ask that we give thought to what would happen to our civilization if we don't reverse the course we have taken."
~ María Irene Fornes on WHAT OF THE NIGHT?

WHAT OF THE NIGHT? is a very ambitious production with strong performances lost in a maze of disjointed stories of a family living in poverty. The play starts begins from the moment you walk into the theater, seeing Nadine (Gina Manziello), the family matriarch, standing center stage washing clothes using a metal tub and washboard, all the while singing songs evocative of the hard times she must endure. This is a poor woman stuck in poverty who we learn has given birth to four children but has never been married. Admitting that she makes her living as a whore, graphically portrayed onstage, Nadine does what she has to in order for her family to eat and have clothing on their backs.

Directed by Caitlin Hart, the play is meant to be a poignant saga chronicling the life of Nadine's children, Birdie (Lisa Jai), Charlie (Marc Pelina), Rainbow (Alex Marshall-Brown) and Ray (Thaddeus Shafer), the son she gave away. As they traverse the moral and financial bankruptcy that is poverty, we witness the choices they make to survive and how their paths cross during the 60-year journey where estranged family and friends entwine and collide in poetic stories of love, impoverishment, and dreams.

The staging involves many set changes, handled with such loud and boisterous behavior by the cast and crew doing the set changes that the transitions became more enjoyable than several of the scenes, which were often slow paced and funny when they should not have been. The plot was often difficult to follow, with many scenes making no sense whatsoever. There are many sexual scenes between several different characters but none of them are in any way loving or tender. Are we supposed to think the poor are not entitled to have loving relationships?

Certainly Birdie and her young husband Charlie are doomed from the start, a decision pushing 14-year old Birdie to hit the road for a better life on the street. Rainbow follows both men and women, but we catch up with her living with Greta (Elitia Daniels who German accent never falters) while making her living from men. Alex Marshall-Brown is a force to be reckoned with as Rainbow, taking us from her tender femininity to her brutal resolve to survive no matter what the cost.

We meet Ray as an adult as he is meeting with his employer Joseph (Joseph Culliton) who unceremoniously throws him over a chair and has his way with him before loaning Ray any money. Immediately thereafter, Joseph proposes that Ray marry his lovely but frail daughter Helena (Linn Bjornland), which he agrees to as long as a fee is coming his way along with a promotion. After the marriage, neither Helena nor Ray are happy and eventually they both take up with other people.

The production team of Matthew G. Hill, scenic/projection design; Nick Kunin, projection design assistant; Matt Richter, lighting design; and Martin Carrillo, sound design chose to seat the audience on two sides of the playing area with one wall opening up to allow the re-setting of scenes involving an office, bedroom, and several street scenes. There are several projections used throughout the play, most effectively during Ray's dream sequence, which unfortunately was impossible to understand or follow. But it was one of the more interesting scenes to watch.

The play runs slightly over two hours with no intermission, an incredibly long time to ask an audience to sit and try to stay motivated watching such as disjointed play. The talented cast and hard-working crew deserve a more refined and cohesive production in which to showcase their brilliance.

Additional production staff: Traci LaDue, costume design, Delaney Poe, costume design assistant; Jen Albert, fight/stunt choreographer; Ariana Harris, makeup design; Jenna Clarke, stage manager; Madison-Margaret Huckaby, ASM/propsmaster; Pete Sauber, technical director; Sabina Ptasznik, producer; Danielle Gonzales, associate producer.

WHAT OF THE NIGHT? by Maria Irene Fornes, from October 10 to November 2, 2014 on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm at Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90004.

Tickets are $25 general admission and may be purchased online at A limited number of half price tickets are available on LA Stage Alliance. For more information visit:

Nadine and her family live in poverty. Photo credit: Kate Hagerty

Birdie and Charlie (Lisa Jai, Marc Pelina) Photo credit: Kate Hagerty

Greta and Rainbow (Elitia Daniels, Alex Marshall-Brown) Photo credit: Kate Hagerty

Gina Manziello as Nadine. Photo credit: Wendy Figueroa

Marc Pelina as Charlie. Photo credit: Wendy Figueroa

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From This Author Shari Barrett

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