Site-specific theatre has been on the rise in San Diego, thanks to companies including the La Jolla Playhouse and Circle Circle dot dot. Fans of immersive theatrical events should check out the latest collaboration from Los Angeles arts groups The Flagship Ensemble and The West.
The organizations joined together to present the winner of the 2015 Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and the 2015 Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award, Second Skin. Originally presented at the 2015 Wagner New Play Festival from UCSD, Kristin Idaszak’s script is staged around a beach fire pit at the La Jolla Shores.
Told in separate monologues from three characters, audiences are first introduced to Quinn (Susannah Rea-Dowling), a sharp-witted lesbian who has a poor relationship with her divorced mom (Claire Kaplan). Despite not feeling close to her mother, Quinn decides to care for her after discovering she is suffering from ALS.
Quinn tries to be supportive of her mom, but is confused as to why she refuses to discuss her past. It turns out that Quinn’s mom is hiding a secret that continues to haunt her on a daily basis.
Idaszak has concocted a jigsaw puzzle plot that gradually reveals information about the main characters. She has the ability to catch theatregoers off guard with making the major revelations enhance the women featured in the narrative.
Second Skin can best be described as a mysterious drama, however Idaszak’s writing contains tonal twists at the beach. Each extended speech feels like a different genre. Quinn’s segment has the atmosphere of a wrenching tragedy while her mom’s sequence plays out similar to a psychological thriller.
Critiquing the final scene performed by Sarah Halford cannot give away too much information. Just know that the last third takes a shocking turn that adds to the exciting unpredictability of the evening.
Each star gives their portrayal a bit of an edge. Though the actresses are relatable, they are also bizarre, prone to bursts of rage and are somewhat scary.
Visually, Jopson picked a perfect location at the Shores. Many moments take place at the seaside and the sound of waves magnifies the mood of the dramatic tale.
There is unusual imagery involving flames and smoke that is dazzling to watch. Getting to experience the sights will remind some theatregoers of hearing an entertaining campfire story.
Handled awkwardly, certain site-specific shows can come across as gimmicks that do not present a compelling arc. Idaszak’s focused direction makes sure that this never is an issue.
If anything needs to be improved it is the technical issues with the cast members’ mics. On opening night, they would randomly cut out, which made several sentences hard to understand. Fortunately, the audio worked well for the majority of the one-act play.
Though Jopson’s version is closing in San Diego on Sunday night, there will be performances in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica Beach through mid-May. It is worth the trip for an adventurous and unpredictable nighttime tale from a creative writer.