By Ernest Kearney — Set in an upscale neighborhood of Philadelphia, Melissa Jane Osborne’s Smile begins with Rachel (Isabella Feliciana) seated crouched over in the office of Helen (Andria Kozica), a high school counselor. The first bit of character exposition the audience learns is that young Rachel hates her breasts.

The play concludes with Rachel standing upright as she faces a disciplinary hearing over the hallway altercation which led her to be in Helen’s office in the first place.

In between the two are a dozen or so short scenes. There are scenes showing Rachel’s awkward flirtations with Joey (Ronit Kathuria), a youth who still lives in the older, rougher part of Philly where Rachel’s grandmother also resides.

There are scenes between the school counselor, Helen, and her husband, Matt (John Lavelle), where we quickly learn that Helen quit her position at the high school on the day of the altercation for reasons as yet unknown. We also learn of an unspoken loss that the couple, well, doesn’t speak of.

And then there are the scenes burdened by the complex evolution of the play. Scenes between Rachel and Helen in which develops the relationship that will spur the work’s dramatic narrative to its conclusion.

Contained within those dozen short scenes should be the woven clues expounding on the all-important “what” that is supposedly hurling us to an inevitable finale, as well as the clues supporting the reason behind “why” that termination should be regarded as the drama’s logical and fitting end.

We owe that word to the 14th century English author Geoffrey Chaucer and to the Greek legend of Theseus. As readers of Edith Hamilton may recall, Theseus, intent on slaying the Minotaur lurking within, entered the cavernous labyrinth from whose depths none ever returned. Ariadne, his lover, gave Theseus a ball of yarn and instructed him to tie one end at the cave’s entrance and allow it to unravel as he worked his way through the twisting tunnels within. Then, once he had slain the Minotaur, Theseus would be able to escape the dead monster’s lair, by following the unraveled string back.

When Chaucer related the ancient Greek story in his poem The Legend of Good Women he translated “a ball of yarn” using the Germanic term “Clew.” Hence a “clew of thread” was that which would lead to a solution.

Osborne has provided each of her characters with their own thread, but all these are mere snippets, incapable of guiding the audience to an understandable conclusion, and so thin as to slip out of sight through the floorboards.

While this IAMA production at the Atwater Village Theatre features strong performances by all the actors, Michelle Bossy’s direction, though well-crafted, fails to bring any clarity to the play. Yuri Okahana-Benson’s set is elegant and superbly functional, and though the projection design by Sean Cawelti verges on the overbearing, the overall appearance of this show cannot be faulted.

However, it is the substance, not the staging, which is problematic here.

Osborne shows herself to be not without strengths, but she hasn’t applied those vigorously enough to bequeath this work with suitable ballast. Opening with a pace reminiscent of a game of Pong, as the play progresses, Osborne seems to bloat scenes with more information in which a structuring is never applied, assuring a confused, unsatisfying ending for the audience and a play that is so slight that the breath of a single “huh?” blows it away.


On Stage At

Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8 p.m.
and on
Sundays at 3 p.m. through Dec. 5 (dark Friday, Nov. 25).

• FREE parking in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) lot one block south of the theater.

For Reservations and Information
Call 323-380-8843
or go to

(NOTE: Main Image Features Andria Kozica and Isabella Feliciana / Photo by Jeff Lorch)


Written by

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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