Winner of the 2016 National New Play Network (NNPN) Smith Prize for Political Theatre, RIPE FRENZY debuts at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles. Written by Chicago actor-turned-playwright Jennifer Barclay and directed by Ovation Award nominee Alana Dietze with projection designs by Obie Award Winner Jared Mezzocchi, RIPE FRENZY proves to be a timely and powerful study of the effects of a mass shooting in a small town seen through the eyes of community mothers Zoe (Elizabeth Ann Bennett), Miriam (Melody Butiu), and Felicia (Renee-Marie Brewster).
For it is Zoe’s 17-year-old son who shoots over 20 people at the town’s high school theater during opening night of “Our Town.” An anguished mother who simply doesn’t understand how this could have happened, Zoe painfully explores possible reasons for her son’s unexpected and fatal acts, reasons which must include nature vs. nurture and the strong need for a few seconds of fame/infamy. Zoe’s pain becomes the audience’s pain as she tries to answer questions which may have no pat answers. Why her son (Liam Springthorpe) became a mass killer may forever remain a mystery.
Consistent with the play’s downward spiral, characters primarily speak in two voices, the shrieking agony of unresolved heartache and whispered secrets waiting to be revealed. Combined with the echoes of the theater space, the message proves disconcerting and even dissonant. Occasional bits of comedic levity cannot leaven the approaching doom inherent in the piece. The acting team is effective in stitching together life’s normal flow coupled with signs of impending crisis.
Jared Mezzocchi’s projection design punctuates much of the action and seems to evolve into another actor in the play. Amanda Knehans’ scenic design is fluid and allows for quick changes of pace. Azra King-Abadi’s lighting, John Zalewski’s sound, and Elena Flores’s costumes complete the production package. The entire team focuses on the internal life of its characters and succeeds admirably in projecting the ideas behind the drama. For this is a piece which attempts to combine the intellectual with the emotional. RIPE FRENZY is often successful in doing just that, but – at the same time – may be trying a bit too hard. At times, the play feels like a dose of castor oil: it has a bitter taste, but it’s good for you.
RIPE FRENZY runs through June 17, 2018, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays. On June 17, there will be a Sunday matinee performances at 4 p.m. The Greenway Court Theatre is located at 544 North Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Tickets are $34 (seniors $20 and students $15). For information and reservations, call 323-673-0544 or go online.