San Diego Playwright Tori Rice's Play "Devil in a Box" Shows the Domino Effect of a Family Broken by Addiction

Playing Until this Sunday, June 9th at Onstage Playhouse

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

Brey Laqou and Jenna Pekny. Photo by Daren Scott

In this consumerism era where everything is fast and if it lasts more than a minute, attention is lost... In a world where the competition for share and reach is aggressive and even subconscious, it is good to have a grounding root that lands and brings you back to your breakeven point. The grounding for me this week was Onstage Playhouse with their world premiere play Devil in a Box by local playwright Tori Rice. Grounding because seeing something by a local playwright and feeling where the inspiration and reasoning came from to put this story on paper and then have it come to life on the stage, is refreshing. It resembles seeing a play-by-play through the play if that makes sense. Sometimes, or even most times, it only makes sense in my head but sharing it, is refreshing too.

Devil in a Box was born as a short 10-minute play in 2019, and scaled to a full 60-ish minute story with no intermission that takes place in a church daycare illustrated to great detail by set designer Duane McGregor, from the playing pads to the little tables, the stuffed animals, painted walls and a colorful ladder where actors could hang from. -McGregor can design any nursery if you ask me-. There is also a screen to the right (stage left) where Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland is playing before the show starts. That screen folds up and turns into a booth for the first scene, greatly lit by Jason Chody, which has a hotline volunteer played by Kimberly Weinberger; she is kind of bored and going about her business when she receives a call from Jay (Brey Laqou), who broke into the daycare and is about to shoot and consume a substantial amount of drugs. The volunteer tries to steer him in the opposite direction but Jay multitasks and as he gets high, we start seeing episodes of his timeline. Bren (Jenna Pekny), Jay's little sister appears and they play. Bren wants to be like Amelia Earhart and fly planes. Charlie (Jaden Guerrero) then breaks into the daycare bringing the goods and they start plotting to get more drugs. Scene shifting takes place with Jay as an adult and, it was confusing at first but then it all started to make painful sense. A car accident with an alcoholic parent is the epicenter and everything trickles down from there. McGregor's lighting benefits the shifts clearing and pacing the changes while sectioning the set design that uses practically all the space from right to left.

Brey Laqou, Jaden Guerrero, and Jenna Pekny. Photo by Daren Scott

Onstage regular Jaden Guerrero is growing up! We have seen him mature and claim the stage space gradually throughout his performances in the different plays. Guerrero as Charlie gives ecstatic and lost soul/cause vibes rhythmically. Weinberger in her Onstage debut, also plays a waitress and the longtime family friend Val. It is exciting to see actors work in different stages across town. I last saw Kimberly in New Fortune Theatre Company's production of  Public Enemy. She has a mighty stage presence mixed with a layered tenderness that deepens her work. Brey Laqou and Jenna Pekny also in their Onstage debuts, have great stage chemistry. I just came back from a theatre convention for infancy and youth and their performances made me see the interpretation of kids, in a different light as I heard for over 10 days, the popular conversation of having adults play kids versus kids play kids... both actors did a wonderful job as it did not look fake, forced, or even creepy. The interpretations were natural and they flowed between their adult personas. Jenna is adorable as Bren and Brad Dubois's costume design added to the vision with a cute summer dress, yellow stockings, and a matching black vest with black booties. My favorite was the hair choice with bowed braided, half pigtails completing the frame nicely. Brey carries the weight of the story and is strong as Jay with an earnest performance that involves many feelings and actions that were taken care of well, for example, shooting up heroin. Not an easy task with an unblemished execution that reflected James P. Darvas's direction that was precise and consistent having all four cast members flow throughout the story.

Tori Rice's writing of this play reflects its birth as a short to have added scenes to the story. It is not fully baked yet and needs a little more time in the creative oven as the message is powerful and is accentuated at the end using the screen to show a compilation of celebrities who have overcome addiction including our very own, James P. Darvas. Even though  Kimberly's character Val sums it up, I would have liked to see more of Jay's story and his time with Bren along with their friendship with Charlie and his sister. They deserve it. 

Currently playing at the Chula Vista venue until this Sunday, June 9th. For ticket prices and showtimes, please click here.

Tori is the co-host of the podcast Hey Playwright which you can listen to here

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