Sunday, March 2, 2014

'Closely Related Keys' Looks At Culture Clash

by darlene donloe

Closely Related Keys is described as a hard-hitting drama about family conflict and clashing cultures and that’s exactly what it is.  The title is taken from a musical expression meaning ‘to share many common tones.’

Julia (LA Weekly and NAACP Award-winner Diarra Kilpatrick) is an upwardly mobile single professional living her life as a corporate lawyer on the rise in New York.  She has a boyfriend (Ted Mattison), a small, but stylish apartment and life is good – for the moment.

Suddenly her world is turned upside down when Charlie, her father (Brent Jennings) announces that she has a half-sister (Yvonne Huff) named Neyla who happens to be Iraqi.  For good measure he adds that she’s coming to America to study music and, with nowhere else to go, needs to stay with Julia until other arrangements can be made.

None too happy with any of her father’s familial pronouncements, Julia, who already has a salty relationship with him, has her doubts about her half-sister’s intentions and wants nothing to do with her. When the half-sister arrives, unexpectedly, at Julia’s apartment, the plot thickens.

What’s especially appetizing about the show is how award-winning playwright Wendy Graf has written it as a post 9-11 drama that addresses America’s continuing suspicions about everything Iraqi.  It looks at old familial and racial wounds, the ones that are open and the ones that have developed scabs.  

With her newest play Graf has created and developed some rich, complicated characters with real issues.  This show, which is having its world premiere at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood through March 30, rings authentic emotionally with all of the actors delivering valid performances.

Kudos to Yvonne Huff, who stepped into the role of Neyla only six days prior to opening after Simone Missick, who was originally tapped to play the role had to bow out due to personal reasons.  Huff didn't disappoint turning in an impressive performance coupled with an Iraqi accent. 

Kilpatrick displays a variety of emotions that range from joy, disdain, hurt, skepticism, vulnerability, anger, disgust, confusion and sadness. She and Brent Jennings have a chemistry on stage that helps to move the story forward.

All families have secrets, some have lies, but all, for the most part, have love at its core.  While Graf writes about this family’s issues, she never loses sight of what makes a family a family. She has crafted an uncomfortable, yet thought-provoking play.

“It’s about love and loyalty, secrets and lies, and how the past, never being dead, just hovers around waitin to smack us upside the head,” says Graf in describing her work. “It’s about picking up the broken pieces to imperfectly assemble a new family and future.”

Award-winning Director Shirley Jo Finney (Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards) effectively uses every bit of the limited space. Her vision for depicting a busy, New York life is strong and whimsical. Her veteran judgment for stage movement is on target. She helms a gritty, occasionally humorous piece that features a seamless cast.

“What I love about this piece is that it puts a fresh spin on racial relations that’s  very different from what we usually see in plays about the African American experience,” says Finney.  “Each of the five characters has a unique voice with a very distinctive point of view. These people, like all of us, are trying to navigate a world that has become interconnected and multicultural on every level.”

Hana Kim’s set design is unique and efficient. The use of New York images splashed against the wall to depict the city that never sleeps, works well, as do the twin towers that obviously pays homage to 9-11 and doubles as an entrance, an exit and occasionally a source of light.

Closely Related Keys, written by Wendy Graf and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, stars Yvonne Huff, Brent Jennings, Diarra Kilpatrick, Ted Mattison and Adam Meir.

The show, presented by Hatikva Productions, is produced by Racquel Lehrman and Theatre Planners.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (Oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Closely Related Keys gets an O (OK).

Closely Related Keys, Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 4 p.m. Sun. (dark March 2 and March 20), through March 30; $25-$30; 323 960-7774 or

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