Loft Ensemble’s ‘Growing Gills’ One of L.A.’s Best Pieces of Theater All Year

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Reviewed by Matt Ritchey

Growing Gills To Drown in the Desert, playing at Loft Ensemble, is an unusual title. It’s also fitting. But as it’s a bit difficult to get the gist of the plot from the title, here’s a summation: The show is about the absolute futility, and therefore the dire importance, of life.

And it’s fantastic.

Deuce (Kristian Maxwell-McGeever) sets up his “basement apartment” to house his special friend Adam (Marc Leclerc)… who decides he’d rather be called “Ira.” Deuce is simply over-the-moon about Ira and the feeling is mutual, although Ira also likes Libby (Celine Rosalie Zoppe) who just happens to show up unannounced, much to the chagrin of Deuce, who gets instantly jealous, covetous, and vengeful. But Deuce has some things to attend to, so he leaves the two of them alone with one proviso: don’t watch the TV. That’s all. Everything else is fair game. No TV. And of course, after a while, they watch TV. Specifically, Libby sets things in motion. Because: women.

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Celine Rosalie Zoppe and Marc Leclerc

It’s a story old as time, an allegory, a metaphor, tackling the “why are we here/what is our purpose” theme which can all too easily become a painful evening of preaching and screaming, but Zeb Elliott’s script, directed by Max Marsh, is so beautifully written and smartly crafted that the time flies by and we’re left wanting to watch it all over again. Things quickly shift from the basement to larger places, bigger questions, and funnier scenarios, and no matter how broad and intellectual things get in the script, the characters and story are crystal clear.

I’ve seen more theater in 2019 than I have in any recent year – from 50-seat black boxes to LORT productions – and Growing Gills is one of the best. McGeever gives a brilliantly subtle and specific performance as Deuce (think about the name for a moment… now think about Greek drama.. you’ll get it), Leclerc is charmingly clueless and Zoppe plays a Libby who is both innocent and sharp as a knife. It’s a perfect combination of performance, movement, direction, and great writing, all so well-executed (and surprising!), that it’s simply a joy to see unfold.

Hopefully, this production will enjoy a longer run in the future, but if you have the opportunity, run to the final performances at Loft Ensemble’s Sawyer’s Playhouse.

Very Highly Recommended

Photo (above): Kristian Maxwell-McGeever

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