Sunday, October 5, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit by Robin Bradford

By Joe Straw

Our land is littered with our own homegrown “Green Zones”.  These zones are inhabited with our nation’s forgotten veterans, living homeless, and in squalid conditions.  

I’m not sure what it was.  “It” being this sudden release of feelings, the tears streaming down my cheeks during the dance number at the beginning of the second act.  Maybe, it was the joy of life that people experience, in a place, where moments before, the thought of happiness was impossible to imagine. 

Or maybe it was that wonderful feeling one gets when watching human beings having a magnificent time, knowing that their life will not get any better than this moment.   – Narrator

Low Hanging Fruit by Robin Bradford and directed by Lee Sankowich is a very satisfying night of theatre.   On the surface, this may sound like faint praise but I enjoyed every minute of this show.  The writing, the acting, and the direction worked on many levels.

Aside from a great night of theatre, there’s more work to be done, not a lot, but more. I’ll have some notes later.

Zephyr Theatre presents the World Premiere of Low Hanging Fruit written by Robin Bradford, directed and produced by Lee Sankowich through October 26, 2014.

Canyon (Christina Wren) has a very lovely voice as she plucks the guitar, an amateur busker looking for change.  Don’t ask questions, if you like the music, just toss the money in the case, and leave.  

But Tito (Ben Cain) is not the kind of man that she wants throwing money into her case one bill at a time.  He stares looking at her nubile body extrapolating the earning dollars of her flesh. Good-looking Tito is worldly, a pimp who operates on the sleazy side, a licentious doctrine embossed on his business card if you will, and not someone this 14-year-old can trust.  And, he ain’t leaving. So Canyon throws her guitar into the case and moves on.

Maya (Lola Anthony) has a voice, wants a voice, a loud whispering Latina (Puerto Rican?) voice from Brooklyn that wants the world to know that she is back, tears flowing, that she is struggling, and is fighting to climb out of the mental hole that was the war, struggling hard, fighting the good fight that her father was never able to overcome.

“Daddy killed himself in Vietnam
 - the last shot, in his mouth -
31 years after he came home.” - Maya

Alice (Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel) is contently sitting in her ratty old chair, knitting, and just watching over things. In her chair, she is a queen - something about her – watching over her subjects and being very motherly in this queendom of a homeless encampment called the Taj Mahal in downtown Los Angeles.    She takes pride in handling the money, which is in a roll, hidden away in her bag.  

Maya, through with poetry for now, walks in, dressed in military fatigues, and for the moment looking every bit the strong military woman, the boot steps give it away, the khakis a further explanation of where she has been, and where she is going. Muscles bulging in places she didn’t know she had.   

But in walks Cory (Terasa Sciortino), long stringing hair covered by a cap, with her new found friend Canyon, the 14-year-old transient that Cory has taken a liking to.  Cory leans a certain way and Canyon is way too cute to let her go.  Aware of her age, Cory sees her as someone from the streets to protect. The trouble is that she is fourteen years old, living on the streets, and has a questionable runaway story.  

But Alice doesn’t like Canyon’s story and wants her out especially after she learns her age.  Police don’t mind this camp now for the time being but Canyon brings too many problems into their lives and Alice doesn’t want any part of that mess.  

Yolanda (Chanda Hartman), finally waking from a night of who knows what, crawls out of the tent by the fence wearing a bright red dress as if ready to party.  Straightening out her blond wig just to get herself in some kind of order, she doesn’t give a fig about Canyon, but she is looking for some extra money, selling herself to keep the girls fed around this camp and a little something extra for her drug habit.  

And that’s when Tito comes to get her.  It’s business as usual when he comes for Yolanda, but out of the corner of his eye, he sees Canyon and wants her to come his way. The women run Tito out of the camp because they are all they got.  

The question for the time being is: “Does Canyon stay or go?” Alice sends Cory off to get a burger while the rest vote.  

Robin Bradford, the writer, has written an exquisite play that tells us a lot about what is going on with the women that we send to war.  And these women fight a battle on two fronts, the enemy and with our very own.   Coming home after being discharged, they have very little to show for it, except for those big emotional scars of war, harassment, and rape.  

The characters in this play provide each other with a base of support because they are all stuck.  They are not able to find the answers to their feelings, which are:  I can’t get better and I don’t know where to begin. We get the message, loud and clear.  

The minor issue with this play is that we see the support they provide each other but do not see how they move in a direction to get out. Defining the characters’ objectives, and their dreams in the context of the play would help to iron out those few problems.  And after defining the path of the characters, we need to see if they get there or not. That path needs clarity and strength.

Also, as a practical concern, the social order of the camp is not reminiscent of any military order I’ve witnessed during my lifetime (growing up in military family) and one would hope that would be better defined in future rewrites.

Still this is a wonderful play that I hope that Ms Bradford would continue to work on.

Lee Sankowich, the director and producer, does an excellent job of putting this all together. There is an undeniable truth to his direction, the uncluttered naturalism, all that all are guided in creating multidimensional characters, with all of this managing to convey a convincing truth.   The aesthetic impression of the night rings an important truth that carries one well into the darkened night.  

Christina Wren is fantastic as Canyon. Wren is perfectly suited for the 14-year-old role because of her diminutive size and youthful appearance. There is an underlying strength that could be added to this character. That the character is not fully developed is evident as she changes suddenly, without warning, and without the backstory needed. Little hints would help so that we know where the character is going.

Ben Cain does a respectable job as Tito. But there’s more to this character, another level, possibly three. Is he there to annoy the ladies and be a pimp?  There’s not much there. This works fine for television but a greater sense of self and character development would only add to a performance that was good, but could have been better. Tito operates like the men in the military and I think the women see this.

Lola Anthony plays Maya with an inherent strength in her character. Maya is the one character with dreams enough get out of this place.  Her Latina roots give her a focus and it’s a wonder that she is in this camp because she clearly is the one with a sharp head on her shoulders. But why does she stay? Is she getting material for her writing?  She is obviously looking, trying to find a way, to get out. Anthony does an exceptional job, finding the core of the character, and taking that character home. It is a marvelous performance.

Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel (that’s a long name) fits comfortably with the role of Alice, a wily, feisty; take no prisoner type of character.  She obviously wants to lead but finds it depressing that none of the other girls want to follow.  She is in fact a sergeant with no privates. This is a character that lacks a strong objective and one is not sure where this character is going.   Could self-doubt about leading effectively be one of the reasons she remains in the camp?

Terasa Sciortino as Cory has the look of someone who has been living in the camp for sometime. With her hair, the cap, and the overall look, she has the appearance of someone who has lived in her clothes for the duration of her time there.  This character carries more baggage but can’t find a way to get her being out of this situation. She is the most conflicted character on stage but really needs to search for a way out whether she gets there or not.  There’s more to be had from this character, the necklace she wears, the garden she keeps, and the demons that come to her in the night - that strangles her like the macabre necklace around her throat.   

Chanda Hartman is exceptional as Yolanda.  Hartman has a very nice presence on stage.  The question for me was:  Why is this character there?  Aside from getting money for the group, she doesn’t have a purpose. She is the Yin to the Yang, the opposite extreme to what these ladies are not but part of the collective.   Prostitution, drugs, drink, and any other vice - you name it, she does it.  But she plays an important part in the service of the group and should find physical ways to get the group to move on.  

Heather Taylor also plays Canyon as well but did not perform the night I was there.  

Margie Mintz served as Co-Producer of this lovely production.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Giulio Perrone – Set Designer
Rebecca Raines – Lighting Designer
Wendell C. Carmichael – Costume Designer
Norman Kern – Sound Designer
Katherine S. Hunt – Prop Designer
Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners – Marketing Manager
Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners – Assoc. Marketing Manager
Nora Feldman – Publicist
Lupe Lucero – Stage Manager

As a side note, the Veterans Administration is able to help women who were honorably discharged from the service.  But women, like the ones in the play, are afraid to go because of the services are not specific to their needs.  The VA is slowly making inroads with outreach programs to contact women, and to provide housing and support services through social workers and peer support.

Run!  Run!  And take a military woman who has served this country with honor and dignity.  

Buy Tickets/Info:  Please visit  or 323-960-7788
Where:  The Zephyr Theatre is located at 7456 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood 90046

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