The world premiere of Judith Leora’s trenchant comedy “Showpony” last year was a big hit for the Victory Theatre in Burbank. If that production identified Leora as a talented playwright on the rise, then “Elijah” — now having its West Coast premiere at the Victory — is proof positive that she has matured as an artist in full command of her craft.
The play transpires in a TGI Fridays restaurant in Texas where people have taken refuge from Hurricane Elijah, a real howler beautifully evoked in Christopher “CB” Brown’s sound design. Among those sheltering in place are several individuals who had planned to assemble at a nearby prison to demonstrate — for and against — the execution of a serial killer.
In this claustrophobic setting, abrasive New Yorker Tim (Jesse Merrill), a gay anti-death penalty activist, quickly locks horns with Patience (Elle Vernee), an evangelical Christian who thinks the condemned man is getting exactly what he deserves. The TGIF manager (Kathleen Bailey) enlists her niece (MacKenzie Rickaby) as a server — an overwhelming task for the teen, who is burdened by a sad story of her own.
Apparently peripheral to the death-penalty controversy, young lovers Dawn (Molly Gray) and Greg (Jordan Wall) just want to order a few Cokes and appetizers, then retire to their motel — that is, if they can get past the police barricades on the flooded highways. But, as we learn, Dawn isn’t in this Texas backwater to see the sights. She has a devastating purpose that will bond or break those gathered here in unexpected ways.
The dialogue at first seems blatantly polemical. Patience proves a virtue. Leora’s writing deepens into a beautifully realized, classically structured drama that subtly illustrates what can occur when individuals are forced out of their ideologically ossified tribes to seek a common humanity.
Director Maria Gobetti takes us on a journey that accelerates to a shattering emotional whirlwind. Gray stands out in a strong cast. She delivers a raw portrayal of Dawn, a woman coping with a legacy that will forever define her — both in her painful memories of the past and her halting progression into an uncertain future.
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When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, plus other dates, through Dec. 22
Info: (818) 841-5421, thevictorytheatrecenter.org
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
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