Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

A Small Joy: Little Candle Productions world premiere of “Cold Tangerines” at Fremont CT

Lynn Downey Braswell as Shauna, surrounded by one version of her alter-egos (Betsy Roth, Kira Shea and Susannah Hicks) in the double-cast production of "Cold Tangerines: The Play" [photo: Karissa McKinney]

Lynn Downey Braswell as Shauna, surrounded by one version of her alter-egos (Betsy Roth, Kira Shea and Susannah Hicks) in the double-cast production of “Cold Tangerines: The Play” [photo: Karissa McKinney]

NOTICE: The run of this play has now been extended, by popular demand, to July 13

Author Shauna Niequist has developed a reputation for writing about the ordinary stuff of life. She does so from a religious perspective, but if “Cold Tangerines: The Play,” an adaptation of Niequist’s book by Lynn Downey Braswell, is any indication, the human commonalities are central, with faith more of an undercurrent. And because of that, this play has a universality made truly entertaining by the way in which it is staged.

Now at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena, Little Candle Productions’ world premiere of this adaptation proves funny, charming, touching and heartwarming in a comparatively un-saccharine way. For this one can thank the adaptor, a strong cast, and Karissa McKinney’s tight and engaging direction.

The central character and narrator is Shauna, played here by Braswell. Essentially, this becomes the story of her journey into actual adulthood, framed by the three continual voices in her head: the frustrated perfectionist (Kira Shea, alternating with Aliza Pearl), the anxious wife and potential mother (Emily Greco, alternating with Betsy Roth) and the harsh evaluator of self-image (Abby Lynn, alternating with Susannah Hicks). As Shauna speaks, her “voices” act out the situations or provide Greek chorus. It works on a number of levels.

First, Braswell’s narration creates quick connection, as does her delivery. The added voices offer physical comedy, punctuation and an evocative illustration for the issues discussed. The words have a genuine feel, and the adaptation moves smoothly from episode to episode without overplaying any one theme or leaving one wishing for too much more.

Kira Shea must be the chameleon, and does so without missing a beat, shifting from the voice in Shauna’s head to the various males with whom the central storyteller interacts. Emily Greco’s impressive gifts of comic timing and facial expression lead both to the greatest empathy in the piece and some of its most laugh-out-loud moments. The contrast between Abby Lynn’s portrait of a calm exterior and inner wranglings also adds connection to the narrator and to the audience.

The set is basic, and Carol Doehring’s lighting design moves the audience focus from voice to voice in a deceptively effortless way. Andrew Villaverde’s use of sound enhances the storytelling. There is a great sense of ensemble in the piece, and of a singular vision reached by many people at once.

This is not an earthshaking play, any more than Niequiest’s book is an earth shattering book, but it has a gentle, recognizable something to say about the human spirit. Intimate in concept and theme, it works well in the FTC’s small, close-in space. “Cold Tangerines: The Play” can be summed up as the “warm fuzzy” of plays. And sometimes, that can be just what the doctor ordered.

What: “Cold Tangerines: The Play” When: Through June 29, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $25 general, $20 students and seniors Info: (866) 811-4111 or http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com

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