North Coast Repertory Theatre's Season Opener Shows We All Have an -Annabella- In Us

Currently Playing at Solana Beach Until October 2  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

(L-R) Louis Lotorto, Leilani Smith, Jacquelyn Ritz, Catalina Zelles & Bruce Turk - photo by Aaron Rumley

North Coast Repertory Theatre started off its 41st season sweet but mighty with Annabella in July by Richard Strand who authored last year's amazing Ben Butler.

This production was also directed by artistic chief David Ellenstein with the story set in a California ski resort during the month of July. Brian (Louis Lotorto) and Vanessa (Jacquelyn Ritz) a couple from Nebraska are trying to reignite the sparkle in their marriage. In the middle of their 20th-anniversary road trip, they get lost and stumble upon a ski resort's dining area. It is open but there aren't any guests. As Vanessa wanders in, Camelia (Leilani Smith) the restaurant host, chef, and owner comes out to greet her while thinking she recognized her friend (and former lover) Annabella. Vanessa a bit startled clarifies the confusion. Brian, an avid photographer with all the gear, is trying to catch the perfect shot of a monarch butterfly he saw flying by. The door to the restaurant is only friendly to some, starting off the fun parts of the play. Vanessa does cataloging for her local library and her busiest month is January. The audience then joins Vanessa in her confusion as the restaurant waitress Piper (Catalina Zelles) also rejoices when seeing Vanessa assuming it is Annabella who always dazzles with her presence IN January. Young Piper considers Annabella her mentor and wants to be adopted by her. Vanessa is perplexed and feels she is in an alternate universe. Is she? 

 Jacquelyn Ritz - photo by Aaron Rumley

Brian finally gets into the restaurant after fighting with the door and sees the confusion but he kind of does not pay that much mind until a tall blonde man (Bruce Turk) with a thick french accent comes in to complete the Annabella triad. He asks Vanessa why she is wearing those clothes, having that grayish attitude, and where she left that sensual marvel that can do it all, even ski upward. It is then that Brian sort of wakes up in a stint of jealousy and starts questioning Vanessa while antagonizing the French man who has not mentioned his name. He then reassures the woman she knows him well and certainly his name to which Vanessa yells out ALEXANDER! followed by a passionate long kiss. At this point, my jaw was on the floor along with the rest of my fellow audience members asking what was happening and who the hell was Annabella. 

The breath of intermission allows you to gather what happened in the first act and get all your senses on for what is to come in the second. And speaking of senses, Marty Burnett's gorgeous yet simple set design of a restaurant in the mountains illustrates the piece beautifully with its light wood colors including mountain views thanks to Aaron Rumley's projections (where we also see the butterfly). The second act begins and Vanessa who had a frumpy dress, glasses, and her hair in a braid comes back with waves for days in a white fitted ski/bunny suit with a different voice and a different attitude. Brian does not recognize her and Alexander questions if he is worried about losing Vanessa or worried about impressing Anabella. We then see Anabella take over -in July- and prove all the stories right. Skiing upwards, paragliding and even going on a hot air balloon ride. (all activities, again thanks to Rumpley's creative projections). Is Vanessa really Annabella? are we all in a fantasy with them? or is it just one person with all her layers. Tasks that would not have been well rounded without Renetta Lloyd's spot on costume design.

Catalina Zelles & Jacquelyn Ritz photo by Aaron Rumley
Annabella in July is a fun-filled comedy with interesting and surprising twists that will leave you thinking. With the restaurant door having a mind of its own, the piece gives a bit of vaudeville too.

Bruce Turk as Alexander absolutely takes the show with his comedic ability and amazing accents, or as they say here 'dialects'. He has great game with Louis Lotorto as Brian who in the middle of his cluelessness realizes the neglect he has put his marriage and wife under. I loved seeing young and upcoming talent like Catalina Zelles as Piper in the play. She delivers and adds to the confusion of the plot in a fresh way. The only peeve I would have is that in the first act she is passionately chewing gum and it becomes distracting. Probably a direction note that needs tweaking. Of course, Jacquelyn Ritz as the Jekyll/Hyde Vanessa/Annabella pulls all the stops and makes the audience crack in laughter while scratching their heads. It is always good to see Leilani Smith and her beautiful toned, paced voice on a stage. The part did not call for it, but it would have been amazing to see more of Smith's histrionic talent.

Grab your friends and make it an outing. Annabella in July will guarantee a good time and will also leave you thinking.

For performance dates, times and ticket prices, please click here

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