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Actually @ Wayward Artist in Santa Ana – Review

( Photo credit: Francis Gacad )

Written by Patrick Chavis

I had the pleasure of seeing the world premiere of this play at the Geffen Playhouse about five years ago in 2017. At the time, I was impressed with the frank language and impressively drawn characters. What I didn’t know at the time was how well this story would age. It has aged like a fine wine, and it’s a warning about judging cases like this too rashly.

This is a two-hander drama about two freshman college students, Joy Bennett (Amber) and Julian Smith (Tom). What started out as a night of drunken fun turns into something both Amber and Tom regret and can never take back. We hear from both sides of a murky but very possible rape case.

A lot has changed in five years: the pandemic, BLM, and the repeal of Roe vs. Wade. What stands out even more brightly now is Anna Ziegler’s writing that traverses between the variations of Jewish and African American culture, gender dynamics, and collegial politics. The discussion around race and gender has, in comparison to 2017, exploded. The issues this play covers remain very relevant. It gets very specific about the issues and does a good job of not painting something with a broad brush.

Ziegler takes you on a ride that’s part love story, part tragedy.

Ziegler’s script does an excellent job of highlighting ignorant, stereotypical thoughts that even well-intentioned people think, but she never really confronts these ideas. For plenty of people, those stereotypes are as good as fact.

Watching this show in an intimate venue, such as The Wayward Artist, brings another layer to this narrative. A closeness. A closeness to these people and characters. Closeness is one of those things that can be clearly achieved with a story based around “he said, she said” accounts.


Lit with bluish-purple light, two stools are set intimately close to the audience. The closeness factor is a big difference from Geffen’s production. Avery Tang’s scenic design consists of a wooden paneled lit background with cracks over a two-step lifted stage. This show is about the performances, and the set doesn’t add too many bells and whistles to distract from it. The set and lighting impressively add much to this production. Camille Robert’s timing of the light and colors to set the mood was breathtaking at moments. Roberts made the room sing! The lighting created some compelling moments in concert with the classical music and the lighting flowing from the panel-lighted set.


When listening to the dialogue in this play, along with very detailed descriptions of these characters, it was hard not to notice how much Bennett resembled her character Amber in type and performance. The only accurate word would be available. She was so available in the scenes and moments.

Julian Smith’s tears live on stage, and his calm emotive demeanor complemented Bennett’s nervous, awkward energy quite nicely.

It’s an understatement to say that this script has aged so well, and The Wayward Artist gives it the intimate setting this script calls for.

Exceptional Show! OCR Recommended!
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November 11 – 20,2022



My review of the World Premiere of Actually @ Geffen Playhouse

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