Species Native to California

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 30, 2017

Eileen Galindo and Melissa Stephens
Eileen Galindo and Melissa Stephens  

This world premiere of "Species Native To California" by playwright Dorothy Fortenberry has been given a lovely production with the astute direction of Eli Gonda and a great look to it by producer Laura Mann.

Inspired by Anton Chekhov's 1904 drama, "The Cherry Orchard," Fortenberry has placed her contemporary dramedy on a grape farm in Northern California. Skip (Tom Amandes) is dying and his survivors, sisters Mo (Melissa Stephens), a lesbian, and Mara (Margaux Susi), along with Mara's fiancť, Jeff (Tim Rock) are all torn between supporting Skip's desire to let the property die with him or letting it go to the undocumented Latino family, Gloria (Eileen Galindo) and her son, Victor (Tonatiuh Elizarraraz), who are more rooted into the earth of this ranch, having worked it for the past seventeen years.

And compounding that tension is the dweeb accountant, Bernie (Carlos Campos), with his nuts-and-bolts realities, which adds to the strong sense of ennui of the families' plight, and the hovering ghost figure, La Llarona (Murielle Zuker), who Medea-like had drowned her two children in century's past, haunting the two families with their difficult dilemmas.

Fortenberry's play is amusing, with light touches on the dramatic actions. She has a facility with language that allows for character depth and strong character touches. Gonda and his cast explore the complexities and contradictions beautifully, giving the evening a glowing patina of humanity and professionalism. The playwright's sentiments are well-honed in the monologue given to Galindo, who sensitively pours out her Mexican-in-America desires and needs.

This has all been helped enormously by the set design of David Mauer, all greenery, house front, and a fine bridge, with an audience in two sides of the action, and Melissa Trn's subdued costume design.

Chekhovian is, indeed, what the evening is like: laisse-faire on the part of the patriarch, frustrated need from the others. She covers the unconscious racism of the Anglo family and the desperation of the undocumented duo subtly, making sure there are no villains, only folk in need of mutual understandings.

It's a clever evening, well directed by Gonda, and exceedingly well-acted by the ensemble. I was impressed by the specific work of Zuker and Elizarraraz, melding into the quality work of everyone else.

"Species Native to California" plays through June 10 at the Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, 90039. For tickets or information, call 323-380-8843 or visit www.iamatheatre.com.