Ladies in Waiting’ takes too many wrong turns along the way

Bad choices: There’s plenty of conflict in Onyx Theatre’s Ladies in Waiting—maybe too much.
Lana Agrippa
Jacob Coakley

Two stars

Ladies in Waiting November 21-23, 8 p.m., $20. Onyx Theatre, 732-7225.

Conflict lies at the center of any good drama, but a production shouldn’t fight itself. Ladies in Waiting, by Peter DeAnda and produced at the Onyx Theatre by Twocan Productions and Off-Strip Productions, battles itself on too many fronts, never becoming anything more than a muddle.

The play takes place in the “late ’60s” in a women’s prison near New York City, where Lana (played by Amanda Kraft), a college student, is spending 30 days for protesting. During her time she has to get along with her three black cellmates, Agrippa (Kim Russell), Carmen (Rachale Marie) and Lolly (Martha Watson), while dealing with the oppressive matron (Lisa Illia). At one moment, Lana goes to her locker to retrieve a book, which turns out to be Prey by Michael Crichton …which wasn’t released until 2002. It’s a small thing, admittedly, but there are such easy ways to remedy the problem that it’s ridiculous—unless it was a choice, to mark the character as someone upon whom others are preying. Which is also ridiculous, because it means the director chose to break the reality of the world where the play takes place in order to make a minor symbolic point.

These small conflicts are replicated in larger choices, as well. The set, by David Sankuer, is an impressive cell, with bars cut away to reveal the action. But as the play wore on, it created choke points that turned stage action unintentionally comedic more than once. The staging wasn’t helped by director Audrei-Kairen’s blocking, which didn’t use the set to show character dynamics and relationships through their positioning onstage. Instead, as each character’s turn for a dramatic monologue comes up, she predictably has to walk to center stage. Characters are often said to be angry, crazy or upset, without any action actually showing this; the stage violence, ostensibly meant to be oppressive and barbaric, is clownish.

The cast is uneven, and there are too many dropped lines, awkward moments and confused choices (perhaps caused by the director’s compression of the play) for any relationships truly to be realized. Ultimately, it’s a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be and so isn’t much of anything.

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