Friday, June 10, 2016

Life is Complicated

Seated are Erin Quinn Valcho, Christopher Valcho, Sharry O'Hare, and David Cuffeld. Randall Graham and Jenni Flemming are standing. Photo by Steve Saxton.

Local playwright Kendra Malm brings her first play to the stage at Olympia Little Theatre, and it’s a hit. The play is Life is Complicated, a contemporary comic drama that delves unflinchingly into one of the more contentious social and political issues of the day.
In program notes Malm says the script was inspired by thinking about the perfect part for herself. She said, “I got a book about playwriting to give me advice about getting it down on paper . . . and worked on it off and on for six years.”
It’s the story of Chelsea Walsh (Jenni Fleming), a single professional woman in her forties. Egged on by her free-spirited best friend, Zoe (Erin Quinn Valcho), Chelsea starts a relationship with a younger man. And then Chelsea’s mother shows up and reveals something about Chelsea's past in front of Zoe that she would rather have kept hidden. This leads to a surprising confession that shocks her new boyfriend, fascinates her best friend, causes conflict in her family, and has Chelsea re-evaluating her life.
I took this description from a press release, which made it clear that the playwright doesn’t want the “shocking revelation” to be given away. That means there is little else I can say about the story.
Readings of plays can be anything from actors sitting around a table with scripts in hand to a fully staged reading with lights, set and costumes—scripts in hand being the only difference from a full production. That second option is what this production of Life is Complicated is. It is skillfully directed by Martin P. Larson and performed by a professional quality troupe including David Cuffeld as Jordan, the boyfriend; Randall Graham as Chelsea’s wisecracking little brother, Dave; Sharry O’Hare as Chelsea’s mother, Midge; Christopher Valcho as her father, Chuck; and Fleming and Erin Quinn Valcho as Chelsea and Zoe. The cast and crew had three weeks to prepare, and judging from the opening night performance, I suspect they could soon easily drop the scripts.
Christopher Valcho, who plays the dad, is also credited with building the set, which is as lovely as any I’ve seen at OLT, thanks to a classy back wall and beautiful props (modernistic furniture with gorgeous coloring—subtle tones of gray with colorful accents softly lighted in tones of blue). No one is credited with costuming. I gather the actors chose their own, resulting in contemporary clothing that, in each instant, fits the character’s personality.
Fleming plays Chelsea as a sophisticated and worldly woman who is nevertheless sensitive to others, can let her hair down when appropriate, and feel deeply. She plays the part with subtlety and strength. Erin Quinn Valcho and Graham are delightful as the playful Zoe and Dave. Cuffeld plays a likeable and also playful but sensitive Jordan. O’Hare as the spiteful mother makes you want to scratch her eyes out, and Christopher Valcho is a strong father figure. Excellent acting and directing all around.
Malm’s script could use a few minor tweaks. I thought there could have been more foreshadowing to build up to the big reveal at the end of the first act, and the discussions in the second act became a bit too didactic in spots. But when criticizing the script, I have to keep this in mind: hit plays on Broadway are usually re-written many times after they are first performed on the road. A playwright needs to see her play performed by actors before finalizing it. This play has never before been performed. I would love to see it fully developed and produced again at OLT or some other theater.
Life is Complicated is being performed this weekend only, tonight and Saturday at 7:55 p.m. and Sunday at 1:55 p.m. Tickets are $7 and are available online at, or at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr. SW, Suite 201.
Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Avenue NE in Olympia, (360)786-9484,


Jean Kivi-Thomas said...

Note: As this is a staged reading, tickets are actually only $7 each. It is a really good show, and I recommend it.

Alec Clayton said...

Thanks for the correction. I changed it to $7.