Reviews Theatre

A Los Angeles Theatre Review: ‘Gifted’

Co-written with Edward Hong

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What do you do when you’re born with a superpower but it’s really not that super? Especially if it’s a power that can accurately pinpoint the success or failure of any romantic relationship? Gifted, which is currently playing at the Sacred Fools till February 29, explores this question in a world not at all too different from our own. Written by Bob DeRosa and directed by Rebecca Larsen, the play takes a somewhat absurd premise into a truly in-depth and touching story that is a feast for the eyes, ears, and the heart.

Ashlyn has a special power — she can tell the romantic fate of any couple she sees, but cannot tell the same for herself. Enter a world of love and longing, humor and heartbreak, with a touch of magical realism. There is no fear we can’t face in this world, because we are all gifted.

Utilizing a theatre-in-the-round stage in an extremely intimate setting, the audience is right in the game with the actors. As the play progressed, I felt a strong need to watch it again from across the room just so I could fully put together the other half of what I saw.

The set pieces were minimalist and pantomiming was used throughout the play, but it worked perfectly for the entirety of the show. It never felt like anything was missing. The creative uses of the sound effects helped fill in where a prop could have been easily used and instead felt like watching magic unfold.

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(L to R) Kacie Rogers, Ross Phillips, Carrie Keranen

Let’s not forget about the music choices that flowed effortlessly throughout the performance. So wildly unexpected yet so perfectly orchestrated, from the moment you first stepped into the theatre to the dynamic and surprising dance numbers that suddenly exploded in front of us. The director was able to choreograph and visualize what would have otherwise been a boring scene in a way that took me completely by surprise. I’m still in amazement over some of the numbers I saw and what the actors were able to bring to the stage.

Kacie Rogers absolutely shines as the cursed-with-a-gift heroine, Ashlyn. Ups and downs, emotions unbridled, bringing the audience with her as she goes through the turmoil of having the weight of the world upon her shoulders but unable to share the experience with anyone else. She carries the play without once leaving the air stale and anchors us with grace and beauty.

But a play with this concept could not have been carried out without an equally stellar cast and everyone played their parts beautifully, transitioning from one character to another in the blink of an eye.

Ross Phillips plays Randy and serves as the kind of love interest that you can’t help but root so strongly for with his effortless charm, goofiness, and an all around true good guy demeanor that truly loves and respects Ashlyn. The actor imbues the role with so many memorable quirks and mannerisms that are never forced but executed with a whimsical delight.

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(L to R) Ross Phillips as Randy, Kacie Rogers as Ashlyn

In every romantic story, there is always the best friend character and that part is hilariously delivered by a whirlwind of man-child energy and sincere heart by John Ellsworth Phillips as Matt. I appreciated that this best friend serves not only as a typical foil to the main lead in his zaniness but has a secret strength and resolve of his own that will have the audience instantly understand why these two characters have been best friends for all their lives and will continue to be so.

Throughout the play, Ashlyn will make another wonderful friend in addition to her childhood best friend and that part is played with such joy and adorable energy by Madeleine Heil as Lisa. With a combo team of John Ellsworth Phillips and Madeleine, they provide a much needed support system for the main lead.

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(L to R) John Ellsworth Phillips as Matt, Madeleine Heil as Lisa

A nod to Carrie Keranen as the illustriously romantic & raging alcoholic Charlotte, one of the gifted people, who starts off as a questionably curious character but then blows up into a whirlwind of anger and tears everyone around her into shreds in a truly mesmerizing monologue. You know you did a great job breaking hearts when audience members are wiping their eyes and dropping water bottles after your performance.

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Carrie Keranen as Charlotte

This play is also Jason Jin’s first ever theatre performance in Los Angeles but he makes a great debut as multi-faceted characters, one of my favorites being one with no lines. The reaction he gave was all I needed. While he first comes on as Sean, he makes the strongest emotional impression as Thomas, one of the gifted people who delivers a story about his power that had surprising resonance.

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Kacie Rogers as Ashlyn, Jason Jin as Sean

The rest of the ensemble with Marc Forget as Bartender/Gary, Alessandra Mañon as Beth, and Libby Baker all provided fantastic turns with their characters and as such, Gifted has one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve seen in Los Angeles theatre.  Along with a beautifully realized dance concept that showcases the relationships aspect choreographed by Tavi Stutz, this play is an experience that highlights the strength of intimate theatre and the value in telling original stories.

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(From Top to Bottom)  Libby Baker as Marla, Alessandra Mañon as Beth

Most of all, it is a piece that just happens to have a person of color as the main lead without the piece having to be a minority-specific oppression based or period piece story but simply a story about love, a little bit of superpowers, and a whole lot of confused and hurt people. It is here that I commend Sacred Fools for taking the chance on having Kacie Rogers be their main lead and I wish more white-based theatre companies could do the same thing without resorting to having the “minority play of the year” and say they fulfilled the diversity quota.

Because of this, the play is a must-see not only for that regard but because it is just a fantastic original piece of heartfelt work.

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Gifted is a story about finding family when you least expect it. And those are the ones that are harder and so much more worth it in the end because there’s no obligation to keep them. Forming kinships not through blood, but through shared experiences, mutual love, and respect.  As a wise man once said:

“I don’t have friends. I got family.”
— Dominic Toretto

Kacie Rogers as Ash
Marc Forget as Bartender/Gary
Jason Jin as Sean/Thomas
Ross Philips as Randy
John Ellsworth Phillips as Matt
Madeleine Heil as Lisa
Alessandra Mañon as Beth
Libby Baker as Marla
Carrie Keranen as Charlotte

WHEN: Friday, January 24 – February 29, 2020.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm,
Sundays January 26, February 2 & 16 at 4pm and
Monday, February 17 at 8pm.
WHERE: The Broadwater Black Box, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., LA CA 90038
TICKETS: $15
Public RSVP: Reservations can be made by contacting sfreservations@sacredfools.org or buy tickets online at http://www.sacredfools.org

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