Review: LA EGOISTA At Skylight Theatre

A California Premiere of a Thoughtful New Play

By: Mar. 06, 2023
Review: LA EGOISTA At Skylight Theatre
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I don't know if you've been to Skylight Theatre, but it's a cozy little black box behind a bookstore. You walk down an alleyway to get to it, and they offer a diverse fare of intimate plays for audiences seated in some of the comfiest chairs on the scene. It's exactly the sort of space where a review shouldn't even mention a scenic designer-- even if a production employs one, surely they just paint a few rehearsal cubes and call it a day. Yet, every time I enter Skylight Theatre, I am completely blown away by the radical transformations designers are able to handle in the space. Stephen Gifford's scenic design for La Egoista goes beyond the cleverness of representing three distinct locales in a tight space. He has crafted worlds which elevate the text of the play, the performances of the two actors, and the perception of the evening as a whole. A comedy club parts to reveal a sterile hospital that (aided by Christian Amigo's nuanced sound design) somehow evokes the smell of hand sanitizer and bed pans. Then, a stuffy home of a recently deceased woman (aided by Karyn Lawrence's hazy lighting) feels palpably haunted by the lingering traumas held by the characters.

The play itself deserves its accolades. At no point does it feel as though playwright Erlina Ortiz set out to relay a moral or illustrate a point. Rather, she paints two very real characters facing very real dilemmas and allows them to navigate their relationship messily and in fits and starts, arriving at an eventual conclusion that seems too relatable and too multi-faceted to be entirely fictitious. Chanel Castañeda plays a masterful balancing act. Though playing a woman thrown into debilitating circumstances, she never becomes pitiful and refuses to rest on our presumed sympathies. As the titular egoista, Lys Perez is warm and charming. Maybe it's my own biases at play, but I see her side of the story in a way that is exceedingly sympathetic even if not as dire as that of her sister.

The show is at its best when focused on the familial relationships at hand. It radiates heart and provides a reflecting pool into which we can cast our own successes and failures in regards to our own relationships. At times, the narrative wanders, taking broad swipes at the cost of healthcare in America, ableism in the form of limited PTO, and the foreboding realities of health insurance as a whole. The swath of topics covered by the play, although certainly in conversation with the narrative at hand, felt like a lot to cover in 90 minutes, and as a result, certain lines of thought feel incomplete in this staging. Ideas like audience participation and puppetry (despite the beautifully crafted puppets by Christine Papalexis) also feel like stylistic afterthoughts, not yet fully incorporated into the energy of the overall piece. Additionally, though comedian Taquita Love performs an amazing set as the audience enters, her expertise as a standup comedian highlights the ways the comedy in the rest of the evening is scripted and performed by an actor. Without an immediate point of reference, perhaps monologues performed at a microphone would read as standup, but after introducing a comedian into the space, the whole thing tastes a little fishy.

There is a lot of truth being shared in La Egoista, so even despite its shortcomings, it's a play I hope has a fruitful life after it's California premiere.


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