Wednesday, March 8, 2017

“The Blameless” Nick Gandiello's first step in dealing with the loss of a loved one due to gun violence.

If one of your children were the victim of a random act of violence, would you invite that perpetrator’s family member to dinner to…? Loaded question?  Perhaps. 

That’s what the Garcia Family did in Nick Gandiello’s brand new, and I might add on going discussion of gun control play, “The Blameless”. It is currently being given a decent but less than satisfying airing at the Old Globe Theatre under Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s sturdy direction through March 19th. 

Let me backup a bit here. While gun control might be on the minds of folks like myself sitting through Gandiello’s play, grief and how we deal with it is at the center. Gun control is the topic that needs full vetting and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

That said the gun issue is the lubrication that fuels real life situations thousands of families deal with yearly. The Garcia’s son Jessie was gunned down by another student that went on a shooting spree at his college and he along with the shooter was killed.

Clockwise: Nataysha Rey, Liza Colon-Zayas, Frank Pando, Stephen Barker Turner, AmaraJames Aja and Antoinette LaVecchia
The family has a lot on its plate including preparing a dinner for a guest that most, in their hearts will not like. There is also the Elephant in the room, their grief. It will dictate how the dinner conversation goes. It will dictate, in fact, how the play plays out.

We are one year after the shooting as the play opens. Andrew Boyce’s busy but fully contained kitchen and dining room area is where most of the actors assemble. Aside from all the kitchen accouterments, papers are scattered al over the tops of tables. Bradley King designed the effective lighting as well.

We first meet up with Mom Diana (Antoinette LaVecchia) in hot pursuit of her daughter Theresa (Nataysha Rey) through the kitchen door and into the kitchen area where she is chiding her for being suspended from school for two weeks for…well, getting caught in the props closet with her boyfriend Howard (Amara James Aja) and another fellow student doing sex, not having sex, doing well, other stuff.

Antoinette LaVecchia and Frank Pando
When Dad Alex (Frank Pando) finally comes into the house he gets the wrath from Diana as well for tracking muddy shoes (David Israel Reynoso designed the every say costumes) into the home from his job site. The anger of covering up Theresa’s suspension along with high expectations of how dinner will go is now transferred on to him.

Frank Pando and cast 
He seems mildly disengaged and clueless yet goes about his own business of ‘getting dinner ready’ but don’t be fooled by the calm before the storm.  Pando’s demeanor is about as authentic as we see in this play. Grief, as we will see, takes on many faces.

Do you think they’re really ready for a dinner guest? Me thinks not.

Stephen Barker Turner, Antoinette LaVecchia and Liza Colon-Zayas
By the time Drew Davis (Stephen Barker Turner) the shooter’s Dad shows up, everyone is just about at the brink of loosing it. Davis is at a loss of what to say. At some point in these awkward moments one has to ask if there is anything he can say or do to change one Garcia mind. That’s a good question, one we will never know from this airing.

In the meantime, Amanda, (Liza Colón-Zays) sister/sister-in-law/aunt shoots off her mouth with her set of prejudices and the band plays on. “Thank you, uh, you and your family, for agreeing to meet me, I/ deeply appreciate… “I didn’t agree to anything.” She has lots to say to shake up what might have been a civil conversation. I guess there is one in every family.

Turner’s role is a thankless one and for the most part never convinced. (He seemed intelligent and articulate on T.V.” Diana hopes he would even agree to march with Diana’s group ‘Campus Carry or Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’.) “I’m gonna open that conversation with this guy because it’s pretty damn relevant.”

Gandiello’s play which is making it’s world premiere was presented for the first time last year when The Globe gave it its public airing in The Powers New Voices Readings Festival.

The topics are real, the situations are real and no, no one can put themselves into their shoes, no one God Forbid should have to be put through that kind of agony and loss but they are. 

Antoinette LaVecchia and Nataysha Rey
And while the family tries to cope, in their own way, and some manage to break through every now and then with humor, insight and conflict, the playwright leaves us hanging with no solid resolution and no real understanding or meeting of the minds.

Antoinette LaVecchia gives a star performance as the grieving mother who hopes against hope that she can hold her family together by trying to understand her teenaged daughter and bring her back into the fold, support her husband who eats in time of stress and grief and get a commttment from Drew Davis, the grieving father on the other side of the gun control issue. It' a mighty task.

Nataysha Rey’s Theresa probably has the biggest load to carry emotionally. No one can deny that at her age hormones rage, bad behavior is a sign of negative attention and as a teenager just trying to find herself (I know I’m being a bit soft on her. I have three daughters.), having to cope with the los of her brother and feeling like she is the object of all her school friend’s attention, she need the most help. 

She manages the sulking and anger quite well. On some level she even manages to soften her mother up. As for the boyfriend?  Aja’s Howard levels a little distraction much to the relief of many in the audience and takes the pressure off Theresa for the time being. 

In one moment of true heartache, Theresa and Howard play a piece of music they both wrote in memory of her brother. (Ryan Rumery is credited original music and sound design). It was a heartbreaking moment that still reverberates in my mind.

One can never put themselves in another’s footsteps on how to grieve. Gandiello starts the conversation and for what it’s worth, it’s not a bad start. Because the playwright doesn’t delve deep enough he leaves us hanging with two completely different endings. Exiting the theatre left me frustrated and wondering if they were ready to move on, or stay stuck in their everyday routines and grieve.

No easy answer, that.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through March 26th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619.234.5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00
Web: theoldglobe.org
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre

Photo: Jim Cox

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