by Leah Nanako Winkler
Directed by – Joe Messina
Scenic Design – Abby Kipp-Roberts
Costume Design – Matthew Hawkins
Lighting Design – Hannah Winkler
Sound Design – Riley Larson
Intimacy & Fight Director – Ashley H. White
Music Director – Scott Taylor
Stage Manager – Emma McElroy
Hiro – Monalisa Amidar
Sophie – Thi Le
James – Russell Harris
Masako – Jojee Alvarez Allgood
Da’Ran – Andrew Denton
Ernest – Jamall Houston
Amy – Patricia E. Hill
Larry – Mark Tam Quach
Nicole – Lizzie Combs
Laura – Sonia Desai
Adam – J.R. Bradford
Grandma – Julie Lapington Pritchett
Bridesmaid 1 – Madi Thoele
Bridesmaid 2 – Bria Huckaby
Sylvie/Bridesmaid 3 – Pallas Lam
Reviewed Performance: 8/4/2019
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Site-specific theatre has become much more prevalent in recent years, and for theatres without a permanent home, like Imprint Theatreworks, this type of immersive production style can definitely work to their advantage for a show like Kentucky. Arts Mission Oak Cliff is a former church building that creates the perfect setting for a play about a wedding. Once in the former sanctuary, the audience is greeted by the bridesmaids and seated at large round tables spread throughout the room, giving the play a comfortable post-wedding reception feel. There is even what appears to be a wedding program at each seat, complete with a Bible verse; when turned over, it is the cast list. (There are also traditional programs containing the usual cast bios and ads for local businesses that are handed out at the ticket counter, but the traditional wedding info at each seat to complete the program is a nice touch.)
Abby Kipp-Roberts’ simple scenic design adds to proceedings, as a church pew and chairs act not only as the area of the pulpit for the wedding ceremony, but also as various other locations, and the simplicity keeps it flexible for all the locations needed. Not that the cast stays in any one place throughout the show. Director Joe Messina deftly utilizes the entire room in his blocking, including the balcony! It is a wonderful use of the former church space, and while Hannah Winkler’s lighting design is not necessarily even (which would require a great many more lights than are available for such a large space), it is extremely effective and sets the mood in each location well. Also adding to the effectiveness of the show are Matthew Hawkins’ costumes, especially Sophie’s wedding dress and those of the bridesmaids. Riley Larson’s sound design is also nicely done, as the sound effects and musical choices are perfect for the show and the space. And while I occasionally had trouble hearing some of the softer-voiced actors, I applaud the fact that the show didn’t resort to wireless microphones.
Hiro is a single woman who made it out of her home town and is living in New York. She has never looked back and is estranged from her dysfunctional family who still lives in Kentucky. Monalisa Amidar brings a huge amount of anger and grit to the role of Hiro, who is a literal rollercoaster of emotion. Ms. Amidar handles all the swift mood changes with ease, providing depth to a mostly unlikeable character, to the extent that we the audience do end up caring about her. Of course, some of that can be attributed to her therapist Larry, played with humor and style by Mark Tam Quach. He seems to bring out the best in her, even just on the phone.
When Hiro’s little sister Sophie, a born-again Christian, decides to marry at twenty-two, Hiro takes it upon herself to do whatever she can to stop the wedding. Thi Le gives the character of Sophie genuine joy, creating a stark contrast to the embittered Hiro. Not only is she in love, she has found Jesus, and everything she does seems to exude happiness and light. Ms. Le is sweet and natural in her performance, and she’s fun to watch in this role.
Sophie is perfectly matched with her husband-to-be Da’Ran, played with great earnestness by Andrew Denton. He is just as full of sweetness and light as Sophie, and we can’t help but understand why these two are together. As Da’Ran’s parents, Jamall Houston and Patricia E. Hill are loving and supportive, and they obviously love their son and his choice of bride.
Then you have Sophie’s parents, James and Masako, who are played by Russell Harris and Jojee Alvarez Allgood. There’s no way to describe James other than a nasty, evil redneck who has no clue how to love someone else. Mr. Harris’ portrayal easily makes us all despise him and causes us to truly feel for his long-suffering wife and daughters. Of course, when we meet his mother, played by Julie Lapington Pritchett, we understand where he got it from, as Grandma is almost as despicable as he is.
Ms. Allgood plays Japanese immigrant Masako somewhat stiffly, as if she’s afraid if she says the wrong thing James will hit her. Her love for her daughters is obvious, but she is trapped in a horribly abusive marriage, and the only thing she feels she gets love from is the family cat, Sylvie. Her sorrow at Sylvie’s untimely death is genuine...and also creates one of the funnier situations in the play (but I won’t spoil it).
As Sylvie (yes, the cat), Pallas Lam does an amazing job of physicalizing not only the doomed feline’s body, but also her voice. She truly makes what could be a throw-away role something amazing to watch.
Ms. Lam also plays one of the bridesmaids, alongside Madi Thoele and Bria Huckaby. These ladies act somewhat as a Greek chorus by singing a few songs here and there and helping set the mood of various scenes. The only thing I didn’t like about this production, however, was the cartoonlike, stereotypical way they portrayed Christianity. It felt like a parody and came across as insincere, which weakens Sophie’s character significantly. While Ms. Le always came across as very real in her Christian beliefs, the bridesmaids seemed more to be mocking and shallow, and it made me wonder why she was friends with them.
Lizzie Combs and Sonia Desai came across well as old friends of Hiro’s. Ms. Combs played the needy, oft left out Nicole sympathetically, and Ms. Desai brought a different kind of neediness to her portrayal of Laura. It was easy to see why these three women were friends. That said, these two characters felt kind of randomly stuck into the play, as they didn’t get a lot of development. This is an issue with the script itself, though, and had nothing to do with their interpretations of the roles or Mr. Messina’s direction of them.
As Adam, Hiro’s one (or two) night stand, J.R. Bradford is easy-going and likeable, and even though we know Hiro’s going to break his heart by going back to New York, we’re still rooting for him.
Even though it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Hiro’s mission to break up Sophie’s marriage is going to fail, the ride is most definitely worth it. As presented by Imprint Theatreworks, Kentucky is a solid, entertaining production, and if you like weddings, even more so! Go check it out.
performing at Arts Mission Oak Cliff
410 S Windomere Ave., Dallas, TX 75208
Dallas, TX 75218
Runs through August 17
Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $22.50 to $25.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.imprinttheatreworks.org.