The Last Best Town, playing at Topanga Canyon's Theatricum Botanicum

What seemed to be a typical story turned out to be an originally crafted piece.

A Blog-View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

When I read the blurb about The Last Best Town, honestly... as a Mexican woman living in the States, I jumped to the conclusion that I was not going to like it. I thought "oh, another one of these sequestered narratives about Mexicans immigrating usually illegally to the U.S"... was I pleasantly surprised. 
Katia Gomez and Kelvin Morales. Photo by Ian Flanders
First, I did not know the existence of the Ventura County town named Filmore. Second, John Guerra´s piece is very well written, creative with high and low twists. It is also very relatable. The story of two families living next to each other for years, creating a home, having kids and raising them while dealing with their personal issues.

Then theres the venue, oh that beautiful outdoor space. Theatricum Botanicum is this outdoor theatre located in Topanga Canyon. You go up, up, up, and it is there amongst nothing else. There is a little coffee shop with snacks, and you can bring your picnic and enjoy there with friends and family before the performance on the outside tables.

The show program (available in print and digital) includes a section acknowledging the land the space is on. A practice that we are seeing now more and more. Better late than never right? I will share it here because it deserves its own mention:
Theatricum Botanicum Box Office and Picnickers. Photo by Melissa Curtiin 

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum acknowledges that
we gather on the ancestral lands, past and present, of the
Chumash [CHOO-mash], the Fernandeño Tataviam
[fer-nan-DAY-nyo ta-ta-VEE-am], and Gabrielino
Tongva [TONE-gva] (also called the Kizh [keech] Nation,
kizh being the word for home in the Gabrielino/Tongva
language). We honor with gratitude the land itself and the
people who have stewarded it throughout the generations.
For those of us who are not Indigenous to this land, we
must acknowledge the lasting impact of the California
genocide on its native peoples. This calls us to commit to
continuing to learn how to be better stewards of the land
we are honored to inhabit as well.

Christopher Wallinger and Christine Breihan. Photo by Ian Flanders.
Now back to the play...Christopher Wallinger and Christine Breihan, as the "all American" white couple living next door Willow and Hank Miller, parents to a son that enlisted in the army and a daughter, Maya (Jordan Tyler Kessler) who is still living at home. At first, we see white picket fence and superficiality. Willow is a stay-at-home mom and Benny is the town's newspaper editor. As the play goes on, the layers start coming off surprisingly yet organically. 

Katia Gomez and Richard Azurdia. Photo by Ian Flanders
The Latin American couple next door Benny and Della Gonzalez, (Richard Azurdia, and Katia Gomez) show a much simpler setting. Both on the clock practically all day, to put their son Elliot (Kelvin Morales) through school without him worrying or having to work. And dealing from time to time with Benny's alcoholic dad's shenanigans (Miguel Pérez). 

Throughout the piece, pleasantly narrated by the “Playwright” Leandro Cano, you can see the Director Ellen Geer's hand as well as the playwright's notes. Kelvin Morales and Jordan Tyler Kessler's deliveries go from cute, to strong, to movingly powerful. Morales reminds me of a younger Bruno Mars. 

Leandro Cano and Jordan Tyler Kessler. Photo by Ian Flanders
What seems to start as I mentioned in the beginning, as the typical story...turns out to be an originally crafted piece. (Minus the Latin American parents working in the service industry), I appreciated the mindset of the families, the importance of family, how life always laughs at your plans and the exposure of American capitalism. How the American dream, many of times, or most of the time, comes with great sacrifices and debt for practically everybody regardless of background and race.

The Last Best Town is a great story that will leave you thinking. It is a must for this season of going back to the thatre and just an earthing experience to enjoy out in that venue. The creative team includes lighting designer Zach Moore; sound designer Grant Escandón; costume designer Beth Eslick; and prop master Emily Hucal. Kim Cameron is the production stage manager. 

Running in repertory every weekend with Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Last, Best Small Town will be available until November 6Unlike most theaters in the L.A. area that stage continuous runs of a single play, Theatricum, using a company of actors, will perform each of the plays in repertory, making it possible to see all three plays in a single summer weekend.

For more information, please visit their website.

Jordan Tyler Kessler and Kelvin Morales. Photo by Ian Flanders.




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