Unraveled: A Tight Production at the Sherry Theater

By Ernest Kearney  —  The Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s staging of Unraveled by Jennifer Blackmer brings to its audiences a serious, solid piece of theatre that displays the highest of good intentions while exhibiting the restrictions inherent in most small companies.

In Unraveled, Blackmer writes of what is unquestionably one of the most agonizing experiences a person is ever faced with enduring: the loss of a loved one to disease and dementia.

Joy (Meg Wallace) is a physicist who is researching the phenomenon of time.  This conceit provides the playwright with an intriguing device for her protagonist to explore the engine that drives this work.   Writer William Faulkner observed that all literature of importance deals with “the human heart in conflict with itself.”  

Blackmer has adhered to that dictum, but has assembled, onto her narrative, an additional level. For Joy is faced with watching her mother dissolve and disappear into the mental disorientation brought on by her terminal cancer and the chemotherapy she is undergoing to retard its progress.

Now the person who was her mother is lost to her, able to recognize her hospice caregiver (Heidi Shon), but not her own daughter.  Dealing with the rantings of a deranged soul who has usurped the persona of the mother whom she loved does indeed place Joy’s heart “in conflict with itself.” 

But not only does Joy find the tight bond she shared with her mother under assault, but also her memories of whom her mother was, giving us, as it were, “the human mind in conflict with itself.”

Now the issue of time enfolds the drama, and we are treated to a pentimento effect allowing us to see beneath Joy’s relationship with her ill mother, Old George (Kathy Bell Denton), back to Joy’s childhood and teenage years and the vibrant, dynamic woman her mother, Young George (Carolyn Crotty), once was.

Blackmer stretches a tightrope over the perilous chasm that her protagonist must navigate, with one end firmly moored in her memories of the past, and the other end anchored in the hope of the future embodied by the young graduate student (Drew Lee Davis-Wheeler) with whom Joy is having an affair.   

Blackmer’s play is a solid piece of writing, both involving and emotionally honest.  The same can be said for this production and its director Steve Jarrard.

The weaknesses of this staging arise from the intrinsic restrictions imposed on it by the venue itself and limited resources of casting within any company.

The Sherry Theater is a lovely stage, but its slenderness is not the best match for accommodating the protagonist’s lifetime worth of memories.   Jarrard maneuvers his actors well but cannot escape the sense of tightness that hinders the flow of past and present that the piece calls for. 

There are some fine performances as well, especially on the part of Denton and ShonWallace’s performance, however, seems encased in a separateness of its own shaping. 

There are certain shows, certain roles where this would be acceptable, but not here, when her character is at the central core of the drama.  Davis-Wheeler does good work as the love interest, but here too, Wallace’s isolation undercuts the impact of the relationship’s fracturing.

The critical threats of the play for the character of Joy are that of loss and abandonment, but the intensity of these threats are sapped when there is no sense of fervent attachment or deep commitment. 

If an audience isn’t convinced of a connection, why should they sweat over a disconnection?

The worst that can be said of this production is that it offers the audience a pleasant night at the theater when the play intends to provide them with a pathway paved with a great more pain.  


In Featured Image – Meg Wallace, Kathy Bell Denton


Plays Through Dec. 8. 2019
The Sherry Theater
11052 W Magnolia Blvd,
North Hollywood, CA 91601
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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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