Written by 6:04 pm Costa Mesa, Review, South Coast Repertory, Theater

Fireflies @ South Coast Repertory – Review

(Photo by Jordan KubatSCR)

Written by Daniella Litvak 

Racism, sexism, homosexuality, adultery, reproductive rights — many dramatists could compose a play lasting for hours around just one of those subjects. Fireflies tackles all of those topics and more in only 90 minutes. It’s an intense theatrical experience.

South Coast Repertory presents “Fireflies” by Donja R. Love, directed by Lou Bellamy. Cast: Christiana Clark (Olivia) and Lester Purry (Charles). Julianne Argyos Stage, January 5-26, 2020

Olivia (Christiana Clark) and Charles Grace (Lester Purry) are African American, married, and living in the South during the 1960s.  They’re active in the Civil Rights Movement.  Olivia writes speeches, which Charles delivers to crowds throughout the country.  Yet, every day brings fresh news of brutality against African Americans.  The constant fear and disillusionment have taken their toll on Olivia and Charles, and the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other are not just simmering — they’re about to boil over.

All of the action takes place at Olivia and Charles’ house.  Most of the stage is dedicated to depicting their kitchen.  There’s some space for the yard.  The most notable scenic feature is the digital backdrop displaying the sky.  In addition to changing colors to indicate the passage of time, the backdrop is also used to visually show bombs going off periodically.  The visual plus the accompanying sound effects convey to the audience that the play’s setting is as much on Olivia’s mind, while she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, as its the physical house.  It can get overwhelming, but it’s the right atmosphere for the play.

Speaking of overwhelming, as previously mentioned, Fireflies covers many topics in a short amount of time.  When it comes to the bigger picture and broader themes, the play’s message is clear.  In contrast, the play loses sight of what the events will mean for the main character in particular.  Ambiguity works when the audience is given enough material to make educated guesses about how someone feels or what happens after story ends.  Here, the main character will move on, but to what the character will move on to and how the character feels about recent events and the near future about remains more of a mystery than it should be.

As nice as it would be to further explore the character, it’s better to keep the play at its 90-minute runtime.  It’s (comparatively) short length avoids the need for an intermission.  This better preserves the tension that continues to rise more and more as the play proceeds.

As the play’s only actors, Fireflies’ success is dependent upon the ability of Clark and Purry in their roles as Olivia and Charles respectively.  Fortunately, they’re strong actors.  Even more importantly, they have chemistry.  The play’s best moments are when the two of them are interacting and playing off one another.  Clark and Purry are also really good at hinting at the underlying resentments between the characters long before the characters have to reckon with them.  The story couldn’t be appreciated without their performances.

Fireflies is not escapist, popcorn fare.  The past it depicts is not so different from the present.  If you’re looking for something provocative, something more challenging, something that can open your eyes to new perspectives, go see Fireflies.

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January ​5-26, 2020

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