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Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Miss Witherspoon


I didnít like being alive! I didnít trust it! — Miss Witherspoon
Like many writers late in the day, our Comic Laureate Christopher Durantís obsessions turn to the afterlife. In Miss Witherspoon, given a sly and subtle production by director Joel Swetow for West Coast Ensemble Theatre, he skims many religions and concepts.

Durang was raised a Catholic and vestiges of that faith inhabit Bondo, the Tibetan Buddhistsí vestibule to the Great Beyond in which Veronica (Kelly Lloyd) finds herself. Her only visitor is a maddeningly irritating Indian beauty named Maryamma (Pia Ambardar), who compounds her eternally condescending smile by christening Veronica "Miss Witherspoon" because "They" feel it fits her personality. And it does. Nothing describes this woman better than the floppy bow blouse, pleated skirt and cardigan which bespeak the ultimate conservatism of women of a certain age and era.

Miss Witherspoon is very smug about defeating life and quite convinced she can also control immortality. The playwright, channeled through the svelte Maryamma, has other ideas. With sly humor, he introduces Miss Witherspoon to reincarnation which she wants desperately to avoid in favor of what Maryamma describes as the Jewish "prolonged anesthesia" concept.

In her first reincarnation Miss Witherspoon thinks sheís beat the system by enticing the family dog into dispatching her infant self. That decision comes back to haunt her in a later incarnation when the spoiled brother of the infant sheís eluded becomes a drunken teen-ager driver who dispatches Miss Witherspoon in her favorite incarnation: a dog.

There are other reincarnations: the daughter of a drug-addicted couple who is abused in one life and a successful class valedictorian in a subsequent version. Even Jesus Christ is reincarnated here as a well-dressed black woman with a big hat. Although the final resolution is sardonically positive, the play's real story is in the many options Miss Witherspoon experiences along the way as her aura clears, in the words of the cooing Maryamma.

Kelly Lloyd is superb as Miss Witherspoon, creating a hilarious well-rounded character with austerity, humor and vulnerability. Though the sing-song Indian rhythm used by Pia Ambardar's Maryamma makes some of her dialogue a little hard to understand, she is consistently in character as the annoying ever-smiling Karmic guide.

LeShay Tomlinson is outstanding as the Teacher and just as irritating as Ambardar in her spiritual role of Jesus Christ. The versatile Sara L.Stuckey and Andrew Morris juggle many other roles, including a surprise appearance from Gandalf of"The Lord of the Rings".

Is the intent to equate fictional characters with religious ones? Whatever, it works. Swetow has come up with wonderful inventive touches such as making Lloyd a baby in a box and whirling the characters around into new incarnations with solid assistance from sound designer Rebecca Kessin. Itís a tribute to a sure directorial hand that these concepts seem perfectly natural, not overpowering the play but an organic part of it.

Coming hot on the heels of Bill Mahrerís Religulous, Miss Witherspoon gives this year a new spin on the Season of What Comes Next.

For a review of the New York premiere of this play in 2005, go here

Miss Witherspoon
Playwright: Christopher Durang
Director: Joel Swetow
Cast: Kelly Lloyd (Veronica/Miss Witherspoon), Pia Ambardar (Maryamma), Sara J. Stuckey (Mother 1,Mother 2), Andrew Morris (Father 1,Father 2, Sleazy Man, Dog Owner, Wise Man), LeShay Tomlinson (Teacher, Woman in a Hat)
Set Design: Stephen Gifford
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Costume Design: EB Brooks
Sound Design: Rebecca Kessin
Prop Designer: Suzy Starling
Stage Manager: Erin Bedinger
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: November 1-December 14, 2008
Where: West Coast Ensemble Theatre at The El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Avenue, Hollywood. Reservations: (323) 460-4443.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 1, 2008.


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