Women’s Stories of Family Love and Pain Enthrall

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Los Angeles theater has not been kind to women recently. Since the pandemic, male playwrights and directors have overwhelmingly dominated the local scene. Of 21 shows produced in January and February 2024, only four were written and directed by women, compared to 13 written and directed by men. Only four more had a female writer or director, while 17 had a male writer or director. To put it another way, 38% of the shows had a female playwright or director, while 81% had a male playwright or director.

But the tide might be turning. Four compelling current and recent shows are written and directed by women; two actually have all-female Black casts. And all are worth seeing.


One of the Good Ones at Pasadena Playhouse through April 7

One of the Good Ones playwright Gloria Calderón Kellett worked with Norman Lear as co-creator and showrunner on the Netflix remake of his ‘70s-80s sitcom One Day at a Time, and, like him, she is a master of the form (as well as an all-around powerhouse). To say that One of the Good Ones feels like a high-budget, 90-minute sitcom is to praise this enjoyable, engaging show.

The world premiere of One of the Good Ones is now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse. It’s a surefire hit, with just enough pathos to keep things interesting but not enough to preclude a happy ending. Top-notch direction by Kimberly Senior and acting by a polished group from stage, screen and television wrap up a theatrical gift.

The comedy carries along a story that asks important questions about identity. Mother Ilana (Lana Parilla) is both Puerto Rican and a descendant of the Tongva people of Southern California dating back to its time as part of Mexico. Father Enrique (Carlos Gomez) is Cuban-American. Their daughter Yoli (Isabella Gomez, a star of the remade One Day at a Time) brings home boyfriend Marcos (Nico Greetham), who was born in Mexico and has dual US-Mexican citizenship, yet he is the son of two white, American parents: “colonizers,” according to Enrique.

The questions raised by One of the Good Ones have open-ended answers, since the play acknowledges that identities can morph as life becomes more complicated. This diverse group comes together by the end, as decreed by the sitcom gods. And as (sort of) decreed by Chekhov, if you’re going to introduce a piñata to the stage, it had better be put to good use. It is.

One of the Good Ones runs through April 7 at Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave. Tickets start at $40 and are available here.

 A Froggy Becomes at Open Fist Theatre through April 13

Playwright Becky Wahlstrom is clearly in touch with her inner middle schooler, and has translated tween life into a brand new memory-sparking show set in the 1980s, A Froggy Becomes. No matter how far back age 12 was for you, you’re sure to go there in your mind, from a seat in Open Fist Theatre Company’s cozy theater, to a soundtrack of Madonna, with a lump in your throat.

Pigtailed Bumpy Diggs (Sandra Kate Burck) barrels through her very different worlds of school and home, a cyclone of energy and raw emotion. Navigating a looming science fair project, frenemies, boys and a bitter, widowed dad almost derails Bumpy, but her strength and wits pull her along.

Burck is surrounded by a large cast of talented actors, including Deandra Bernardo as Tiffanny, Kyle Tomlin as Pat with the mossy teeth, Johanna McKay as Bumpy’s mother and Michael Lanahan as a priest Mom turns to for a little too much comfort. Director Pat Towne keeps the energy level high through clever choices that make the most of a sparse stage.

Bumpy is sure to prevail, with her zest for life and a winning spirit that can win any battle against demons. Her triumphant cry should be universal: “Not today, defeat!”

Stew at Ebony Rep through March 24

Zora Howard’s Stew, at Ebony Rep, cuts to the quick because it is heartbreakingly specific and soaringly universal. Whether or not the scene we find ourselves embedded in is familiar, its emotions tie us to our own life experiences and we relate.

The Ebony Rep team, including pitch-perfect director Jade King Carroll and a superb cast, take Stew to the highest level. The four women—a matriarch, her two daughters, and a granddaughter—are fully formed. Their dramas are tempered by their dreams and strengths.

The play opens and closes with Mama the awe-inspiring Greta Oglesby) in the kitchen making her famous stew for a church event. She’s joined by daughters Lillian (a convincingly conflicted Roslyn Ruff) and Nelly (an intense Nedra Snipes), whose every action Mama criticizes, as well as granddaughter Lil Mama (the charming and energetic iesha m. daniels).

Despite the drama with the younger generations, this is Mama’s show. She harangues, gives order and holds court, filling the kitchen and the stage with her presence and wrath when things don’t go as she wishes. She is eternally in charge, not giving her offspring breathing room to think for themselves.

Black Cypress Bayou at the Geffen Playhouse (Closed)

The past two productions in the Geffen’s larger Gil Cates Theater have disappointed, but in the smaller Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, magic is happening.

In a clearing in a tall grove of cypress trees lit by moonlight, a radio plays, setting a very specific geographical location and time. We are in far-east Texas, 20 miles from the Louisiana border, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, August 2020. This is bayou country, with a touch of the supernatural and a certain level of racial mistrust. The edgy environment made edgier by the rampant virus that has killed “half the town” and a basket containing a white man’s head.

The wild and hilarious mother (Kimberly Scott as Vernita Manifold) has summoned her two daughters to the clearing to deal with the head-in-a-basket, on the pretext of a fishing expedition. Her COVID-fearful daughter (Brandee Evans as LadyBird Manifold) is a vegan who works in a slaughterhouse, a job that keeps her on the verge of poverty, living off care packages from the church.

LadyBird’s sister RaeMeka Manifold-Baker (Angela Lewis) shows up late and raises an already-high energy level. Secrets are spooled out in a most satisfying way, creating suspense through unique mysteries, then solving them right at the moment that the audience is most stumped.

That includes a key and surprising revelation in the ethereal form of Taysha Hunter (Texas native Amber Chardae Robinson). By the end, the familial bonds that seemed to be endangered may just end up stronger than ever, through healing born on the bayou.

Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has been reviewing theatre prolifically for five years at the Larchmont Buzz, a local Hancock Park-area website and email newsletter. She’s a playwright herself; her plays have been produced by NEO Ensemble Theatre. She's a new member of Theatre West.

Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has been reviewing theatre prolifically for five years at the Larchmont Buzz, a local Hancock Park-area website and email newsletter. She’s a playwright herself; her plays have been produced by NEO Ensemble Theatre. She's a new member of Theatre West.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.