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Lit From Within (A Collection of One Act Plays): Theatre Review

June 5, 2013

Hello everyone!

This past Saturday, I attended a great local theatre production, and it proved a most entertaining, enlivening, and important evening. I thought I would share it with you, for funsies and to generate some promotion for this annual event. All the contact and ticket information you’ll need is at the bottom of this post if you’d liked to skip down.

As referenced in the title of this blog post, the production was Lit From Within (A Collection of One Act Plays) at the Santa Paula Theater Center. It was a really great idea on the theater’s part. They set it up a contest open to all Ventura County playwrights: write us a one act play, and we’ll choose the top six submissions. Aspiring playwrights have it as it as tough as aspiring book writers, so this was an awesome opportunity to showcase local talent and boost some careers.

Happily enough, my friend and Godfather Big Daddy Don Parker’s play The Greek Goddess of Mount Punctus was featured! Don is a singing, songwriting, instrument playing, and playwriting Amgen employee who must have a time machine to do all the things he does as well as be a husband and father and go on End of the World Tours that span all over the globe (Dublin, man. He got to play his music in Dublin). Here’s his Youtube Channel, if you’d like to listen to Don’s music.

Overall the plays were really well written, acted, and blocked. They engaged my interest, both intellectually and emotionally, and made me think. I fell in love and supported characters, mentally screamed obscenities at characters, became utterly terrified of characters, surprised at characters, and laughed with/at characters. The plays could also be viewed in dialogue with the each other and with the event itself–the first play discussed the difficulties and pitfalls of the author’s act of creation and a couple discussed issues of gender, sexuality, and body image that were interesting to put side by side. There was some straining with the limitations of a one act–some of them needed more time to build up tension or mystery. Others circumvented the problem by breaking up their one act into different scenes, which made them feel more like a short play. Just on a spectator level, it was an excellent, entertaining evening, and I hope all the playwrights continue to write.

As a side note, the Santa Paula Theater Center is gorgeous and fun: we weren’t in the main playhouse, as Lit From Within is a “Backstage Production,” and even there the seats were squishy and comfortable with armrests. The intermission room was filled with couches and chairs that I almost fell asleep on, and there were complimentary brownies, cookies, and lemonade (you had to purchase other, alcoholic beverages). If you do go, make sure to visit the bathroom. Right by it is an umbrella stand of sword foils and a hat stand laden to the tipping point with crowns, shawls, and other dress up gear. No one yelled at us to stop playing with them, and we now have some memorable goofy pictures.

For the rest of this post, I’ll do a blurb review for each play. Please note that it might get a little spoilery and potentially triggery issues will be discussed including gender/sexuality/homophobia, body image, & rape. There’s a lot of lesbians. And not only lesbians, but women of color lesbians. Aw yes. Props to Santa Paula and Ventura County.

Incidentally, if you’re trying to get your parents/friends/relatives/significant others/anybody ever more used to lesbians and other queers, this is an AWESOME way to stimulate discussion and bring their own questions into the open. My parents were a little…weirded out, but it was a great chance for me to tell them that the non-cis gendered are trying to/need to be out in the open, to stop having to hide, and to do that they need to be in regular/normal discourse. Like in the media in a non oh-look-a-gay-person-way. In the way heterosexuals are just kind of there, in the background of whatever’s going on. Not necessarily a plot point.

ANYWAY, to begin:

Cafe by John McKinley–This was a brilliant way to start off the whole production and nod to how the whole thing came about: a play about writing! The official summary is “a writer in a coffee shop gets more than he bargained for while trying to ‘pin down’ and ‘flesh out’ his female character.” My main reaction was “oh wowser, someone wrote a coherent play about what happens in my head everyday.” McKinley keeps the audience on their toes with what’s really going on, and, once everything is revealed, the writers in the crowd will chuckle and recognize their own struggles while the non-writers will ask the writers if that’s what writing is really like. Yes. Yes, it is. Bravo, McKinley, for capturing something so chimerical. It reminded me of a quote from Steven Moffat: “when a fictional character starts keeping secrets from the writer, that’s when that character becomes real.”

The List by Andrea Roblez– This was kind of odd. The summary is “a conversation between two women never turns political or religious…just racy sexy.” *Spoilers Ahead* The main premise is that two female friends sit down for lunch, and the one named Maddy (played by Jasmine Doyle) reveals that she has a list of people she sexually fantasizes about. My main quibble was that anyone with advanced level slash goggles like me can predict the ending in first five minutes. For some reason, the journey there wasn’t as interesting as I was expecting either, besides for some impressively clever gardening innuendoes. The two main actresses also seemed to lack a certain chemistry that would make this play more than two people saying lines at each other. There were sparks of it, but overall a dynamic was missing. Then again, to be fair, whenever I’ve experienced conversations of such lists I am either (a) nonplussed/bored/waiting until it is over/listening in so as to be better mercilessly stalk my friend’s lives, (b) confused as to why you would ask me such things, or (c) embarrassed beyond belief. So maybe this sort of premise wasn’t my cup of tea. It may prove fruitful for you. For me, besides the lovely gardening innuendoes, it nicely introduced the theme of queer relationships for the evening and realistically depicted how that sort of positive coming out would be like (and positive comings out do happen). It also nicely displayed how sexuality can be fluid: both Maddy and Karen (Maria Isabella Rojas) have long-term boyfriends and are just now becoming interested in each other. However, this was the play that I thought could have benefited from not being a one act–everything could have been drawn out and dramatized, the tension and stakes raised, the characters’ relationship more heavily established. I would definitely encourage everyone I know to attend to a full length version.

The Greek Goddess of Mount Punctus by Big Daddy Don Parker–The official summary: “A young Greek goddess who spurned Zeus’ advances is banished, and two suitors are sent to compete for her hand.” *Spoilers Ahead* The goddess is Apostrophe (Megan McCorkle), deity of that punctuation point. Her two suitors are Ellipses (Anthony Baldonado) and Parenthesis (Tom McCormick), and everyone acts like and speaks with their punctuation mark. *Spoilers End* Overall, I thought this was the best one act that was actually a one act. It was full of rollicky good humor and wit, a veritable mountain of wordplay and puns. Whenever Zeus (Brad Strickland) voices over, hilarity ensues. McCorkle is spunky and fantastic, Baldonado is just made of adorbz, and McCormick is a long-winded macho man. It’s fun to see who roots for whom to win the goddess’ hand, and I’m looking forward to the sequel, as Don has promised that they’ll be five more parts. This is definitely a show for any grammar Nazis, word lovers, or even Ancient History nerds you know. This show is playing again at the Greek Festival, though the specific time is not yet available.

*intermission happened* Please do try out a couch. So comfortable. I also recommend the brownies.

The Hunger by Gloria De Leon–This one act gets A++++++ on characters. However, the summary describes the plot, and that’s my main critique: “a growing pandemic ultimately finds itself on the nearest doorstep.” Basically, I know the ending before I even begin, though, granted, pandemics have lots of variables like origins and symptoms and cures etc. This literary move can be pulled off: lots of books reference the ending in the beginning. Twilight‘s prologue has Bella running from vampire James, which is the climax of the book; To Kill a Mockingbird mentions Jem’s arm being broken in the first few pages and the rest of the story leads us back to this point. But The Hunger opens with *Spoilers ahead* protagonist Natalie (Jasmine Doyle) working for a snack company with skyrocketing sales–there’s our origin. A news report says it gives people red fingers and cannibalistic tendencies and there’s no cure–there’s our symptom, way to identify the infected, and likelihood of rehabilitation. I thought more mystery could have been built around the pandemic–perhaps this one would be better as a full play too. The details were more handed to the audience, rather than the audience having time to puzzle it out themselves and having that “oh!” moment when something’s finally revealed. That being said, the actresses and characters were rather brilliant, especially Tammy Mora as Sarah. She and Doyle had the chemistry The List lackedyears of care and partnership coming through as well as married life frustrations. Sarah is terminally unemployed, and the numbness, anxiety, loss, desperation, and spirally depression of this state is realistically and impressively depicted. Kim Prendergast as Irene also holds her own, giving little whiffs of a possible course of action (mostly to those with overactive slash goggles–it’s really all subtlety and vague smoke-and-mirror hints), but still letting it be a surprise at the end. Also, Mora does some really realistic vomiting noises. That she does this presumably without permanent throat damage is really impressive.

Faith by Elixeo Flores aka the play I found bloody terrifying–Because REALLY. “Two women defend what they believe, and then must examine the consequences.” OH? That sounds perfectly innocuous! It will be fun right? NO. Here was a one act that wasn’t really a one act, but a very short two act play that served me my own personal worst nightmare in perfect, eloquent, and dramatic language for the express purpose of rubbing lemon juice in an already gaping wound. Ack. So *Spoilers ahead* the belief point in question is what strict Christian wife Sarah (Sindy McKay) should do about her gay son Michael (Alex Cowans). Darcy (Kimberly Peters) catches Michael and her son Kevin doing it in Kevin’s bedroom and comes to talk to Sarah about their relationship, aiming to put up a united, supportive front. Annnnnnndddddd go. Everything traumatic you imagine happening, happens. I was shaking afterwards. *Spoilers end* On a craft level, though, the play was really fantastically done. McKay and Peters are both wonderful, convincing, and expert actresses, and Flores gives credible voice to both woman’s decisions and reasons for their decisions, resisting the temptation to put up a straw man argument on either side. For those looking to talk to people about queer issues, this is a great talking point if you can survive through it.

Skin Deep by Elixeo Flores–This play discussed triggery issues that weren’t so triggery for me, so I was able to view it with some enjoyment and not utter terror. It was still intense and again like a play in miniature instead of a one act. All the actors and actresses were top form, particularly Brad Strickland as Thad and Andrea Robles as Terri. Despite the time limitation, the play let me get to know and care about the characters and then took them on a journey that I cared about happening. Some of Terri’s emotional logic jumps confused me, but then again she and I are different people, and it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the play. It also brought to light important body image issues and how that affects the love life of a person–this act does get trigger warnings for rape and body image issues, by the way. Overall it was a powerhouse of a piece, a splendid, thoughtful ending to a wonderful group of plays, and I would love to see Skin Deep again, just to look for more mind fodder to chew on.

And Lit from Within is still running! The info is below:

Lit From Within (A Collection of One Act Plays) website

Runs May 31st through June 16th

Thurs, Fri, Sat 8PM; Sun 4PM

$12 General Admission; $10 Seniors, Military, & Students; You can reserve tickets by phone (805) 525-4645 or online at

Santa Paula Theater

125 S. 7th Street

Santa Paula, CA


One Comment
  1. Big Daddy Don Parker permalink

    Thanks for the reviews, Natalie. Playwrights, like all writers, welcome such feedback. Just three more acts for “The Greek Goddess of Mount Punctus”. Plus lots of song and dance1

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