On Theater: ‘Fireflies’ is a searing emotional drama at South Coast Repertory

Christiana Clark and Lester Purry in South Coast Repertory’s ​2020 ​production of ​Donja R. Love’s “Fireflies,” which is playing in Costa Mesa through Jan. 26.
(Jordan Kubat)

“Fireflies,” Donja R. Love‘s compelling — if at times overwrought — drama at South Coast Repertory, is set in the Jim Crow South of 1963, following the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala., which killed four little girls.

The story focuses on a charismatic black preacher, Charles (Lester Purry), and his wife, Olivia (Christiana Clark), who is the one who actually writes and directs his sermons but is tired of being in his shadow.

Olivia also holds some conflicted feelings about an illicit, yet unconsummated affair she’s been having and an unwelcome pregnancy.

Director Lou Bellamy wrings every last drop of emotion from Love’s script, aided immeasurably by the technical effects which punctuate the story’s flashbacks.


Christiana Clark (Olivia) and Lester Purry (Charles) play wife and husband in “Fireflies,” written by Donja R. Love and directed by Lou Bellamy.
(Jordan Kubat)

In a searing, dynamic performance, Clark rains fire and brimstone down on her preacher husband, brilliantly exposing her character’s innermost thoughts and fears in contrast to her previously accommodating existence.

Purry‘s fiercely dominant Charles is nearly as strong, encountering difficulty only when attempting to separate his true nature from his public persona. He’s at his most effective in the play’s earlier, joyful moments as he playfully pursues Olivia.

Impressive scenic design by Vicki Smith illustrates the sky outside and the frequent explosion sounds that allude to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.


The atmosphere is heightened by Don Darnutzer‘s superb lighting, Scott W. Edwards’ booming sound effects and the Cinemascope-like projections of Jeffrey Elias Teeter.

“Fireflies” may not be a perfect play, but its emotional content is riveting. It’s a broad swipe at social injustice on several levels at South Coast Repertory.

* * *

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I won’t be reviewing nearly as many shows in 2020 as I have in previous years. However, I’ll be spotlighting the opening of other local productions in each column.

More Theater in O.C.:

Harvey,” that Pulitzer Prize-winning, 6-foot-tall invisible rabbit, hopped onto the stage of the Attic Community Theater, 2834 S. Fairview St., Santa Ana (enter from Segerstrom Avenue), Jan. 10 and will be there through Feb. 1. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Reservations (714) 662-2525;

An Inspector Calls,” a vintage British mystery concerning a young girl’s apparent suicide, also opened Jan. 10 at the Westminster Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St., Westminster. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Jan. 26. Reservations (714) 893-8626;

Lost in Yonkers,” a Neil Simon seriocomedy, opens Jan. 24 at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St. Costa Mesa. Curtain times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 16 (one Thursday performance at 8 p.m. Feb. 6). Reservations (949) 650-5269;



What: “Fireflies”

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Theater, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. until Jan. 26

Cost: Tickets start at $24

Information: (714) 708-5555;

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