With playwright/actress Rochelle Duffy’s debut effort, “Prison Is Where I Learned to Fly” at the Pasadena Playhouse, the audience inadvertently gets two plays for the price of one. The “main play” seems to be the letter writing/readings of prisoner Patrick to Rochelle, the only one of his 16 siblings who will have any communication with him. The “other play” seems to be a therapy session in which Patrick’s siblings individually vent their feelings to the audience, but rarely to each other. The “two plays” never seem to jell as the setup of the “therapy sessions” was never clearly explained. Is this a reunion of sorts? A Christmas gathering? A welcome-home party for just-released-from-prison Patrick? As staged with rows of folding chairs, this group looks like some kind of meeting.
Aside from Rochelle and Rhonda (nicely limned by Liz Heathcoat), the other female (and some of the male) characters are not named or identified—most play multiple siblings who are indistinguishable from each other. Even Heathcoat plays two of the sisters.
John Marzilli dominates the action with his focused intensity as the possibly repentant, imprisoned Patrick. When Marzilli/Patrick finally gets the courage to voice/write his traumatic story of childhood abuse by his priest, director Debra De Liso cannot elicit any appropriate responses from novice actress Duffy. Is this the first time Rochelle has heard Patrick actually tell what happened the night of the abuse? Is Rochelle horrified at what happened, or is she relieved that Patrick can finally remember the details of that horrendous night?
Brendan Shanahan has his solo moment to shine as the youngest sibling Sean who early on learned the consequences of tattling and of just standing by without taking action.
Inconsistencies in Duffy’s script, aside from the non-differentiation of the multiple roles of the actors, impair the plausibility and flow of this intermission-less 95-minute piece.
–Gil Kaan, Culture Spot LA
Performances continue through Dec. 18. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Carrie Hamilton Theatre @ The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101. For reservations, call (626) 356-7529, or visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.