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In the Valley of the Shadow

rogue machine theatre · Ages 12+ · world premiere · United States of America

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Review by TERRY ANNE HOLZMAN

June 09, 2017 certified reviewer

What I liked

I like that the writer tackles something that is still fresh in our minds: This world premier ensemble drama was inspired by the 2016 shootings at the LGBTQ Pulse nightclub in Orlando on “Latin Night” in which 49 (mostly Latino) people were murdered by a single gunman.

The play opens in chaos—projections of people dancing are quickly replaced by screams and panic. Something horrific has happened and I was on the edge of my seat as the layers of what happened slowly unfold. The focus is on Rafi (short for Raphael), a handsome, young man in a blood-spattered t-shirt who grimly stares into the distance. He’s in shock, trying to understand and piece together the events of the evening. Carmen, another survivor, shuffles in, missing a shoe. A gentle detective arrives to comfort them, along with a uniformed cop (who is more judgmental than comforting). Eventually Rafi’s fundamentalist Christian mother comes to take Rafi home and though she’s ecstatic her son is alive, she cannot contain the multitudes of bias she holds within.

I liked how Rafi also takes us into his recent past. Questioning his sexuality and how he came to be at the Pulse nightclub that night and meeting a man there who is not who he seems. In Rafi’s memory, we meet his eclectic club friends; foremost is Enrique (a hot, Latin charmer Rafi encounters at an AA meeting). All good drama contains a mystery and this play has many. The obvious question is: “Where’s Enrique?” Rafi will not leave until he finds his lover and I was holding my breath, waiting…

The title comes from Psalm 23:4 “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” and refers to a Higher Power’s presence during death; but Katherine Cortez gives it another meaning—finding strength in love, all love. “Love is Love is Love” one of the characters says.

I liked that Cortez’s writing is entertaining, humourous in parts, as well as thought-provoking. A good thing as I was afraid a play based on such a tragedy could be depressing. And yes, it stirs up “the feels”, posits many questions, and calls out for more understanding—from the characters and the audience. And while the story made me sad, angry, and challenged, I was never depressed. I felt the “thin edge of the wedge” of hope, hope that things can change with love.

Five of the actors play dual roles and each is wildly different. I thought that Ethan Rains (Enrique/Uriel) was terrific (so sexy and watchable!) as well as Larry Poindexter who plays the detective as well as a laugh-through-her-tears trans woman; Tania Verafield is Carmen, then flips her hair to reveal a shaved temple, feathered earring and becomes fiery, butch bartender Hawk.

I especially love the theme the play was illustrating: “Love is love is love”.

What I didn't like

Liked it all…my only tiny comment is that while I know Rafi and Carmen are in shock, I felt that there was a few times when the “staring into space” could have been shorter as the pace felt draggy in places.

My overall impression

Not all of Fringe can be fun-and-games. Audiences (like me!) adore fun but we also want theater that helps us to understand what’s going on IRL (in real life). This excellent, thought-provoking world premier ensemble drama was inspired by the 2016 shootings at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando on “Latin Night” in which 49 (mostly Latino) people were murdered by a single gunman. The play explores how “fundamental belief systems can give a perverse inspiration to the execution of hate in the name of ‘love’.” Great acting and writing.

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