Turning Off the Morning News Proves to be More So Brave and Fed Up Than Uncomfortable

A Bold Move in Programming by Onstage Playhouse 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Salomón Maya and CarlaNavarro in Turning Off the Morning News. Photo Daren Scott
More and more often there a people stating that they do not watch the news or have social media profiles. This is to really "block" or "tune out" the negative or overwhelming but then the question is, how good is it really to try and escape from reality?

Onstage Playhouse under James P. Darvas's direction is known for making bold moves and shaking audiences with their play selections. I believe this is the boldest move yet with the staging of Turning Off the Morning News by American playwright Christopher Durang. Referred by Philadelphia Magazine as “This is one ballsy little play.” Well, it is more so brave and fed up than anything. The piece debuted just four years ago at McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey where Durang is from. The story involves a family of three, Jimmy (Salomón Maya), his wife Polly (Carla Navarro), and their son Timmy (Jaden Guerrero). Jimmy is psychotic and is constantly raving about going to a mall or a theatre and killing everybody and then turning the gun to himself. His family is also included in the plan, but Polly is "turning off this news" because even though she has not spoken to her erratic husband in three weeks, she does not believe he is being honest about his plans and really investing herself in whether it is true or not is overwhelming because life is overwhelming for Polly so, she rather pays attention to her potted plant. Timmy is a 13-year-old, sensitive kid and very aware of his parents' behavior. He is also being bullied a school. Across the street, new neighbors have moved in, Clifford and Salena are friends and have decided to buy a house together to cope with recent losses. Clifford (Eddy Lukovic) lost his wife and son in a car accident and Salena (Ray-Anna Young) her husband to a Facebook high school blast from the past. Salena to find new friends in the neighborhood goes to the school bus stop and talks to the moms that are waiting for their kids. She meets Rosalind (Heather Warren) a single mom who wears a pillowcase over her head due to skin cancer. Salena decides to invite her and the family across the street for drinks and it turns out to be chaos. Between Jimmy's combo of lunacy and racism where he constantly is stating that Salena is Black and Polly wanting to start over literally, things get sour quickly. The following day Clifford sees Jimmy through the window and notices he's dressed as Rosalind and is armed. They decide to wait for the news and then act. By this point, everyone in the audience is uber uncomfortable, not only is the content relevant and upsetting, and you do not know what is worse, whether it is upsetting on its own, or it is upsetting because it is so relevant.

Eddy Lukovic, Salomón Maya, Carla Navarro, Ray Anna Ranae, Jaden Guerrero in Turning Off the Morning News. Photo by Darren Scott

The week of opening at Onstage Playhouse was the same week as the Texas school shooting that happened after two other ones and in a course of a week, three more shootings have happened. Christopher Durang ends the piece with a change of heart or reaction of one of the characters which shines a light of hope. Still, it is very disturbing. It is supposed to be a comedy but there are no funny aspects at all and that also makes Onstage "ballsy". The fact that we live in a country that focuses on a number of matters before and lives in denial of mass murder is more appalling. Durang's style reminds me of George Orwell's. The creative process is something to applaud too as Salomón Maya also designed projections that we see throughout the performance with different news editions and recent happenings like Will Smith smacking Chris Rock at the Oscars and Childish Gambino's video of This is America . As my fellow critics have mentioned in their reviews, Darvas shared that Maya had to change the projection design three times gearing up for opening because more shootings kept happening, a deciding factor for the artistic director to stage this piece and use his voice.

Brad Dubois's costume design is well thought out, and it shows as with Carla Navarro's pieces particularly, they are with polka dots and beaded accessories which to me symbolized insanity but also an abyss. The one Polly is immersed in to avoid reality. Kristen Flores who is a master of stage design did a minimal setting for this play that had a great impact as, towards the end, two tables turn into a running car. The actor's performance under Adam Parker's direction is in your face, antagonizing galore and that makes it heavier and even more uncomfortable. If no one else takes a stand and really addresses this face forward then, what are we left to do? Another praise-worthy aspect is that Deputy Director Claire Kaplan reads a statement on gun violence in the US after the show and if the audience does not have it by then, the statement makes it crystal clear.

Salomón Maya in Turning Off the Morning News. Photo Daren Scott

I have been mentioning in other blog views that for now, we need another type of content and plays as we ease back to in-person theatre, but gun violence in the United States is a pressing matter and there is no better time than now.

Do not tune out and check out Turning Off the Morning News' San Diego Premiere at Onstage Playhouse playing until June 19. For more information on ticket prices and performance times, click here.

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