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Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre

intimate queer drama of faith and friendship with exquisite performances through July 7th

By: Jun. 13, 2024
Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre  Image
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Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre  Image
Jordan Hull and Maha Chehlaoui
star in The Sandwich Ministry
 

The Sandwich Ministry is a new play at the award-winning Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz through July 7th.  It is an intimate, candid, small-scale story that is beautifully told, and the gorgeous, exquisite performances linger with you for a long time. There is a transfixing realism crafted from the unadorned, thoughtful writing by playwright Miranda Rose Hall.  And the stagecraft by scenic designer Carolyn Mraz is so real that when I first wandered into Skylight Theatre, I was convinced I had gone into the wrong door — it truly looked in every single detail like a community room.

Beautifully, Skylight Theatre’s executive director Armando Huipe announces that they are partnering with local organizations to deliver thousands of sandwiches to hungry people across Los Angeles.

Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre  Image
Jordan Hull and Maha Chehlaoui

Like the iconic widow's coins parable from the Gospels of Mark and Luke that is invoked throughout the play, The Sandwich Ministry is a simple tale.  What happens when you have almost nothing, and you give whatever you have anyway?

Three friends (Jayne Taini, Jordan Hull and Maha Chehlaoui) meet in the community center of a leaky church to make sandwiches and feed people after a terrible storm.  There is awkwardness, hostility, longing, regret, and deep, profound love between these women, and over the course of The Sandwich Ministry, we get an intimate glimpse into their personal history together.  Each woman is at a different stage of her life, from around college age to mid life to retirement age.  All three struggle with species of heartbreak, loneliness, financial anxiety, and an under-the-skin thirst for unshakeable faith, meaning, and community.  They may or may not find that in their queer, progressive Christian church, an old building which is literally falling apart and whose congregation is slowly disappearing.

The Sandwich Ministry showcases truly exquisite performances, with imaginative, richly textured casting from Victoria Hoffman.

Actress Maha Chehlaoui is a gem, heartbreaking in her raw vulnerability, as a lesbian pastor’s wife who finds herself, at fifty something, with a life that is the furthest thing from what she wanted.  It is a beautiful, organic performance, and Chehlaoui crafts many compelling, natural layers for the character.  Chehlaoui’s work is immaculate and deeply felt.

Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre  Image
Jordan Hull

As a firebrand, conflicted young, queer church volunteer, Jordan Hull is electrifying, charismatic even in silence, with just a pixie eyebrow raised or a lip pursed.  Hull crackles with energy and life and intelligence on stage, hilarious, angry, grounded, warm, provocative and lovable.  There is a non-cliched, pure resonance in her love-hate relationship with small town life and Christianity on stage.  Hull herself grew up in a conservative, churchy small town in Iowa, and you can feel the lived truthfulness in every syllable of what she does. Audiences who loved her work as fan-favorite Angelica in Showtime’s reboot of the L Word or her role as Adam Sandler’s and Queen Latifah’s daughter in the basketball drama Hustle will be delighted to see her vibrant, gorgeous work here at the Skylight theatre.

Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre  Image
Maha Chehlaoui and Jayne Taini

As the retirement age parishioner who wants to get the old gang back together in their weekly volunteering, character actress legend Jayne Taini is a revelation.  It does not surprise me that she has been teaching acting for decades, because watching her is a class in itself.   I could have happily watched her all day long, just making those sandwiches, wearing that crazy cat apron, and talking about her life.  What Taini in The Sandwich Ministry is nothing less than a quiet, illuminating miracle.

The Sandwich Ministry is an intimate, small town story. It is about faith, smelly church centers, natural disasters, loss, sandwich fixings, and the struggle to find meaning and community.  Playwright Miranda Rose Hall celebrates the unassuming, rich beauty of female friendship and the things that keep us going when everything else falls apart.  There are many moments of delightful, awkward, deeply truthful humor that I absolutely loved.

Review: THE SANDWICH MINISTRY at Skylight Theatre  Image
Jayne Taini and Maha Chehlaoui

The Sandwich Ministry is not big, flashy, dramatic or buzzy.  Personally I am a bit conflicted about the writing, if I want more fireworks from this story, or if I appreciate how modest and unassuming it is.  With the consummate creative team at Skylight Theatre, I love how richly it is embroidered on a fine scale.   It reminds me a bit of a Flannery O’Connor story. There is delicate, insightful, profound direction from Katie Lindsay, who works wonders.

I greatly admire Producing Artistic Director Gary Grossman’s commitment to producing original, vibrant new works by female playwrights at Skylight Theatre, and uniquely honoring and celebrating the female voice. Hungry Ghost by Lisa Sanaye Dring and No Place Like Gandersheim by Elizabeth Dement were both absolutely incredible, and it is always a delight to see another fresh new work, incomparably produced, on stage here at Skylight Theatre.

Skylight Theatre is located in the historic heart of Los Feliz, a charming several blocks that are worth exploring on foot before or after the show.  I can always happily get lost in the book stacks at Skylight Books, dive into an improbably gigantic slice of pie at the cheerful 60s diner House of Pies, share a cup of vegan carrot ginger bisque with hipsters at Fred 62, or escape into the 1930s Paris Hemingway atmosphere of Figaro Bistrot’s back room with an oval plate of steaming ratatouille.  The great news is that, unusually for Los Angeles, most of these spots are open quite late, perfect for nocturnal escapades.

The Sandwich Ministry runs through July 7, 2024 at Skylight Theatre in the hillside neighborhood of Los Feliz.  Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, LA, 90027.  You can get tickets by calling (213) 761-7061 or clicking on the button below:




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