by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Wait. What? That was? He’s huh? What about? Didn’t she just…?

Head-spinning unanswerables at the finale of Red Cup Theatre Company’s West Coast Premiere of Turtles, getting ready for its final weekend at Atwater Village Theatre.

It began pretty fantastic. Actress Claire Larsen, who plays fierce mama Bella, throws down one of the most edgy and clear performances of the show. Actress Alexa Yeams as daughter, Foos, also takes the lead as an outspoken, eternal optimist, always ready to solve a problem.

Then there’s…Jesus. Who else? And thanks to actor Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, incredibly likeable, immediately trustworthy, and utterly compelling, emerges straight out of a side-of-the-road, free-standing billboard, on cue, in the flesh, to rescue the day by embracing our runaway family and fixing the getaway car.

Genius.

A mother on the lamb from her former husband and an old lover is living as quietly as possible, in a makeshift tent home by the highway, when she is caught unaware by a local police officer supposedly investigating a report from an overhead plane sighting. The officer (Katie McCuen) tells the vagrant to pack up and move on before the authorities take her away in cuffs. Bella agrees to leave in order to cover up the fact that she also has two children, Foos and Finn (Victoria Ortiz) tagging along, which will most definitely result in a whole lot of drama for all of them should they be seen hiding in the bushes. Only trouble is, Bella’s broken down car doesn’t work and she’s got no gas. She does however, have three days.

They are hungry, they are stuck, they’ve got no where to go, the children are out of school and Finn has a terminal case of anxiety which he deals with by becoming a different animal everyday. Today, he’s a turtle.

When Jesus arrives, Foos’ prayers seem to have been instantaneously answered ‘thank the Lord’ (in person), and despite Bella’s distrust, the situation begins to get better. Bella packs up, puts Foos in charge of their destination, and Jesus and Finn suddenly speak fluent animal with each other. It’s all gonna be ok.

Until…the police figure out who Bella is, that the kids are with her and a few other damning things, they all head for the local precinct, Bella makes a drastic move to keep her family intact, Jesus reluctantly involves his brother, then disappears and God (Arie Thompson) steps in.

Yes.

It’s difficult not to try and thread some sort of biblical theme throughout the story and occasional barely perceptible symbolic references. Bella’s character is always in question. Jesus is always a mystery. Foos and Finn seem doomed to be dragged around by some person or another, having no control over their own lives and the stress is always the primary topic. Why? Why? Why? And why can’t I have something more?

And just when we think we’ve reached a conclusion, in the immediate future of this family, playwright John Greiner-Ferris takes this drama in an entirely other direction, muddling what we thought was although a lousy ending for everyone, a sort of clarity.

The befuddling epilogue and final line from Jesus, “How do you like me now,” almost takes away the purpose of this delightfully strange and hilarious narrative, dwindling it to, “Was this real at any time” mode and distracting quite a bit from the playwright’s intention which is to empower women in his piece – a fact that was not realizable in the drama itself, nor necessarily by the mostly female cast and only found in the director’s note.

Most of the play works through the direction of Laura Steinroeder and the efforts of the cast, and all the technical pieces – lighting, set design, sound, projections, fight choreography – really add more intensity than this work would have accomplished on its own.

Turtles hits the mark most of the time and is quite entertaining. For deeper meaning, you’ll have to ponder a while.
Written by John Greiner ­Ferris
Directed by Laura Steinroeder

The cast (in alphabetical order): Eduardo Fernandez­Baumann, Gayla Johnson, Katie McCuen, Victoria Ortiz, Arie Thompson, and Alexa Yeames.

Lighting Design by Matthew Gorka
Set Design Todd Hulet
Costume Design Jamie Brown
Sound Design Gregory Keslake
Projection Design Travis Kelley
Fight Choreography Edgar Landa
Letitia Chang is Production Stage Manager
Jean­Paul Rosenveldt is Technical Director

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