BWW Review: AMERICA ADJACENT and MAMMA MIA at Skylight Theatre Company and Agoura High School
I had the pleasure of attending two performances from two opposite ends of the professionalism spectrum. One being a student directed, high school musical (well produced and performed, by the way) and the other a dramady produced by a well-respected theatre company chock-full of industry professionals both onstage and on the artistic side. But what they both had in common was that both of them experienced technical issues and the differences in how each handled said technical issues.
"America Adjacent" is the world premiere, pro-production. Written by the well respected voice of Boni B. Alvarez whose work has been showcased with Center Theatre Group, Chalk Rep, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival (to name a few) and directed by 5-time Ovation Award nominee and founding artistic director of Playwrights' Arena, Jon Lawrence Rivera. This is a story of six pregnant women who spend a great deal of money to come to the U.S. (via the Philippines) to have their baby in order to give their child, not only citizenship to the U.S., but also a better life and a better education.
The show opens as we see the women during a moment of their early morning routine. At one point in time, there was an enormous pause. Most of us were thinking it was part of the show, but as the pause got larger and larger and we heard rustling backstage, a few of us were questioning the validity and reason for such a long pause. Mind you, none of the actresses on stage broke character, those that were asleep stayed asleep. After a few minutes, a voice announced that there was a technical issue and the play would be starting over. The company's co-artistic director then came on stage and did a quick check in with us and made sure everyone was ok and knew what was going on. With one fell swoop, the lights dimmed as they had prior, the actresses cleared the stage, and the life resumed within this world without missing a beat. The show went on without another (noticeable) glitch.
The performances were powerful and this true ensemble of gracious and gifted actors: the dynamic Evie Abat, the commanding Angela T. Baesa, the entertaining Toni Katano, the glamorous Hazel Lozano, the giving Samantha Valdellon, the effervescent Sandy Velasco, and the solid Arianne Villareal (who gives an emotional and surprising turn at the end) all deserve major kudos for their professionalism (not only with the technical issue) but also with the knowledge that the script was being edited up through the night previous.
This reviewer hopes that the author has the opportunity to flush out these fascinating character further and design a full two act play as these voices need to be heard...and with these actors embodying them.
The other production that had technical difficulties was the student-directed production of "Mamma Mia" presented but the Drama Club at Agoura High School. This situation was handled very different. The performance was delayed two hours and (to the credit of the performers and the production) when the show finally began, there was not one empty seat...everyone returned.
Our long journey to the start of this show began when I received a text by a former student (who was also seeing this production) that the power was out at the performing arts center and they were planning on moving the curtain time from 1pm to 2pm. I arrived at the PAC to find a smattering of parents, family members, and friends standing around discussing what was happening and what to do next. No one had any definitive answers. I then decided to go to the box office to see if I could get some answers, but alas, the box office was vacant. There was, however, a security guard, but upon asking her for any details I was told that she had no idea as to what was happening with the school musical. Mind you, there was also a motivational speaker presenting in the larger theatre. So, at this point in time, hundreds of people have been displaced and no one knows what's going on. There were signs on the doors but the message gave no specific detail, other than the show had been cancelled. My adventure then led me to sending an email to the general manager of the facility who responded that I should ask the school's theatre teacher. To this day, said theatre teacher has not responded. I finally received a text from the former student informing me that the start time had now been moved up to 3pm. I left the area and upon returning, went to the box office, again, to see if I could get some answers. The person told me that all of Old Agoura had a power outtage and that is why the shows were postponed. Great, now I have my answer. But of course, as I went back down to enter the blackbox theatre, I was rushed into the theatre as the theatre teacher was giving the final moments of his curtain speech...15 minutes prior to the 3pm curtain time I was given.
There is, however, something about a situation such as this that bonds an audience and creates one big cheering section for cast and crew and all involved. This could have been the worst show ever, and the audience most likely would have been on their feet at curtain call. But I am happy to say this was not the worst show, in fact it was extremely high energy and (vocally) executed well!
There is much talent in this production, bravi to Sheffield Hocker (Harry), Zanna Hocker (Rosie), Dani Lorin (Tanya) and Derek Rabin (Bill) for raising the stakes and providing some wonderful acting and singing moments when onstage. But it was the chemistry and acting chops of the two leads Leela Ladnier (Donna) and Jackson Lewis (Sam) who truly added the cherry on top of this proverbial sundae of talent! This reviewer can see these two (one day) in a national tour in the age-appropriate roles of Sophie and Sky.
Take note, educational institution...the way to handle any situation (but especially one that involves the postponement of a show) is communication, communication, COMMUNICATION.
"America Adjacent" plays through March 24 at the Skylight Theatre Company, 1816 ½ N. Vermont, Los Angeles 90027. For those of us in the Ventura County area, it is worth the drive!!!!! Tickets: (213) 761-7061 or skylighttheatre.org
Unfortunately, "Mamma Mia" was one weekend only.