Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Family Flight: An experiment at the Carrie Hamilton
A new organization has appeared in the southland. SAIPRO, or Serving Artists in Process, operates under the Pasadena Arts council EMERGE Project to encourage those making the stretch into new ventures in the artistic world. One of these ventures has landed at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse. Called “Prison is Where I Learned to Fly,” it is the culmination of connecting a fledgling performer’s family story, a dissertation for a PhD in Mythological Studies and a solo performance artist doing a workshop. Though still a work in progress, it has fascinating potential.
The writer of the dissertation, and the fledgling performer, is Rochelle Duffy. She grew up in Duarte in a family with 17 children. The pressures of this alone, mixed with her mother’s consistent depression and her father’s literally in-your-face discipline style would be theatrical enough. This tale, however, focuses on one brother – Ronald Patrick (all 17 have names that begin with R) – and his struggles with abuse, addiction and incarceration. It was through letters with him that Duffy began to reconnect the dots of her family world. It was by asking her other siblings how they remembered things that she helped Ronald to heal.
Director, and Duffy’s guide in many ways, Debra De Liso has helped Duffy turn all of this into a condensed memory piece, flitting from a gathering of siblings to items from their past, to letters back and forth between Duffy and her imprisoned brother. She has also cast Duffy to play herself, and then filled the rest of the cast with 10 or 11 actors who bounce back and forth between the various brothers and sisters (there were 6 boys and 11 girls) to bring the memories to life. John Marzilli plays Robert Patrick, and the minimalist set contains Duffy’s study, Robert’s cell, and a prison visiting room where the siblings have gathered.
It’s an interesting exercise. Certainly, the stories told run from interesting to compelling. What problems arise come partly from Duffy’s difficult stance – certainly for someone new to the art form – of playing herself telling a story as if she is acting. It takes a while, as an actor, to get to the point where you understand that intensity is not often best indicated by raising the pitch of one’s voice higher and higher while speaking. Unfortunately, Marzilli responds to her by doing the same thing, starting at such an intensity that soon everything is played with such power that his most wrenching revelations have nowhere further to go, emotionally.
Still, that doesn’t keep the story from being an interesting one. Every family has ghosts and legendary stories, and this one is no exception. It’s just amplified by its size. The ensemble cast creates a series of memorable characters and De Liso’s choreography allows one to keep the important people separate.
If you are curious, and there is much to be curious about, the show runs for one more weekend. If you are interested in this new organization, and the support of fledgling artistic work, much information about that is available at the theater as well.
What: “Prison is Where I Learned to Fly” When: Through December 18, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday Where: The Carrie Hamilton Theatre, upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $20, with discounts for students, seniors and groups Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org