Review: SCINTILLA at Road Theatre

Climate change drama ignites at Road Theatre through June 4.

By: May. 06, 2023
Review: SCINTILLA at Road Theatre

In the face of a quickly-spreading wildfire, a man and his girlfriend drive up to the wine country home of his mother with the intent of persuading her to evacuate. Mother and son have a thorny relationship, so his visit is not entirely welcome on a couple of fronts. MArianne will be sociable and share some expensive wine, but she's not going anywhere. She would rather go up in flames than leave her home, but - artist that she is - she is hoping to paint the oncoming blaze before it engulfs her.

What seems like a deceptively simple premise develops several intriguing layers in Alessandro Camon's SCINTILLA, enjoying its world premiere at the Road Theatre. Equal parts domestic drama and a harrowing investigation into the results of climate change, SCINTILLA is as impactful as it is unrelenting. Ann Hearn Tobolowsky's production continues the Road's 30-year track record of presenting exciting and often difficult new work. With lighting designer Derrick McDaniel and set designer Stephen Gifford establishing a bucolic setting on the brink of apocalypse, Tobolowsky's five-person cast takes the torch and sets the whole thing ablaze - symbolically, of course. And Angeleno live stage audiences should never miss the opportunity to watch company artistic director - and frequent performer - Taylor Gilbert whenever she is presented a role with this kind of substance.

The play begins with a car ride as Michael (played by Kris Frost) and his girlfriend Nora (Krishna Smitha) are headed quite literally into the woods as a series of Ben Rock's projections decorate the backdrop. A stressed-out Michael is testy and easy to pick a fight. Reports of the fire's progress are concerning; it's not yet at his mom's doorstep, but moving fast. So this is part welfare check, part social visit. He's a bit of a head case and she's an appeaser who has heard the stories but never actually met Michael's mother.

Marianne (Gilbert) greets them with a mix of warmth and caution; she knows why they've really come. Nora's request to see some of Marianne's work is met with a snippy "I don't show works in progress." Something is a little off here beyond the mother-son friction and we will soon find out what it is. Completing the party is a visit from Marianne's former boyfriend, Stanley (David Gianopoulos), a Vietnam vet whose house contains a bunker in which he would happily board Marianne until the danger is over, and Roberto (Carlos Lacamara), a homeless man who has done some handywork in the area and is happy to be of assistance whether by helping to hose down the roof or just offer a bit of perspective.

It's a curious mixture of personalities bouncing off each other in this woodsy house (created with a nice eye for detail by Gifford). You've got vegans and hippies, artists, Vietnam vets, homeless people and oenophiles. Michael works for a tech start-up in the Bay Area. He's a bit of a twerp, but he's got some scars and the play never villainizes him. The property used to house a winery and Gilbert's Marianne holds her filled glass as though it were an extra appendage. At base, the play breaks down to an argument between Michael and Marianne, a kind of reverse 'NIGHT MOTHER scenario with an environmental overlay. It's not so much that Marianne is looking to end her life; as she sees it, the custodians of the environment have already secured her fate. And that fast-approaching conflagration is the proof.

On the flip side, there is also a case to be made here (by different characters) for savoring beauty, for rebuilding and for defaulting to human kindness in the face of destruction. Gianopoulos's Stanley may be rough around the edges and not particularly woke, but he's all about protecting people. He's got good arguments; everybody does. Lacamara's quietly observant Roberto who has an interesting backstory of his own.

Smitha achieves a nice balance of free spirit and restless soul. She clearly loves Michael, but she also really "gets" Marianne and would probably be right at home up in the wine country hideaway (if it survives). The interplay between Frost, Gianopoulos and later Lacamara supplies the play with some extra bite.

The marvelous Gilbert ties it all together. In her hands, Marianne is stubborn, caring, resolved and entirely her own person; every bit a woman who you hope will live on or die on her own terms. Watching Marianne in action, I flashed back to the Road's 2015 production of Sharr White's THE OTHER PLACE, one of the most powerful experiences of in my career in large part due to Gilbert's performance. Her work in SCINTILLA is right up there.

She's right at home here in Camon's terrific play, a sobering look at the fires we set, those we flee and those that engulf us.

SCINTILLA runs through June 4 at 10747 W. Magonlia Blvd., North Hollywood.

Photo of David Gianopoulos, Krishna Smitha and Taylor Gilbert by Peggy McCartha.



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