BWW Review: KILL LOCAL at La Jolla Playhouse
Running a small business can be tough; the larger and more sophisticated entrepreneurs are crowding out the neighborhood finds. Walmart and Target are pushing out Mom and Pop grocers, Amazon is killing local independent bookstores, and those slick impersonal contract killing companies are pushing out the little guys. That's how it feels for Sheila, Abi, and their mother Gloria in this wickedly funny and unpredictable dark comedy KILL LOCAL. You see, they take pride in doing their jobs well as the third generation of this small, family run business that focuses on quality, customer service, and contract killing.
Sheila, played by Amanda Quaid is professional hired gun who knows she has the skills and the talent for her job, but does she still have the drive? Seeing an old friend from high school at a gas station has her contemplating her life, and whether she is still cut out for this life. The trouble is that this is what her talents and her temperament are perfect for, so can she become someone who is cut out for the minivan life?
The play opens with Sheila waiting for a call to come in so she can kill Todd, the guy that is hanging from a rope in a unit of his unfinished and failing condo building (a beautiful set designed by Wilson Chin). Posing as an investor, she convinced him to give her a tour, and now she's just waiting for the green light so she can do the job and then bury him in concrete.
As life, and this job, becomes more complicated for Sheila, her mother Gloria, played by CAndy Buckley, and her sister Abi, played by Xochitl Romero, appear on the scene as they try to get everything sorted. You see they are a family business and they take pride in the services they provide, and as Abi rants to Sheila at one point, "Customer service matters!"
Quaid's Sheila is both cold killer and deeply emotional. She plays both sides very well and her aggravation and her lack of forward motion in this job are relatable to anyone in a job, professional assassin or not. She shines the most when dealing with the ever increasingly frantic and funny Todd, and later in the show when she lets her character's vulnerability shine through.
As Todd, Matthew Amendt is hilariously neurotic and desperate as he uses every trick in the book to try to appeal to Sheila so she won't kill him; he begs, flirts, tries to bribe, and tells tales of a broken home and the redemption his newly discovered sibling is trying to encourage.
CAndy Buckley is a force of nature as the business minded and practical mother who took over this business from her own mother. She is imminently practical in the way of a seasoned veteran of any job; she does it well, she doesn't let it get personal, and she gets paid. Except for when she's ranting at her millennial daughters about playing with their phones, their lack of stamina for what the job require, and their inability to focus. Seriously, there are moments where this is as much a workplace comedy as it is about relationships and morality.
Abi, the younger sister played by Romero, went to Wharton so unlike her sister and mother she "doesn't do concrete"", but she is the brains behind the business paperwork, setting up security, and hacking into things. She is also hilariously on point as a frustrated customer on the receiving end of bad customer service from "Becky at Best Buy" which she says "turns her into a monster" and who can't relate to that?
Carolyn Braver rounds out this cast as the mysterious Ami, a high school student who hangs out at the building for a smoke after high school. But is there more to her story as well? Of course there is
Written by Mat Smart, a grad from the UCSD MFA program the dialogue is quick, funny, and engaging. Directed by Jackson Gay, this play maintains a suspenseful tension while also balancing the humor and the violence.
The play has some blood and gore, and the plastic sheet as a curtain is the first sign this is not your average show. For those that are squeamish or don't appreciate a Coen brothers mix of comedy and violence this may not be for you.
All of the characters in this dark comedy are richly layered, and deeply broken; it just depends on how those pieces fell to become the people they are at the time of this story. This play is dark, violent, and very funny as it explores family ties, revenge, redemption, the difficulty of change.
So you know what they say, to do good in your community you've got to eat local, shop local, watch local, and KILL LOCAL.
Photo credit: Jim Carmody/La Jolla Playhouse