MOVING FAMILY DRAMA AT LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE

by Barry Jagoda

For a delightful evening in the theater do not miss “Freaky Friday,” a wonderful family musical drama masquerading as a comedy, playing at La Jolla Playhouse through March 12.

The production centers around a Mother-Daughter conflict with an anguished younger son in the mix, amounting to a funny tear-jerker brought on by the demands of surviving in the absence of Father, now long gone.  Picking up the slack is Mom’s sensitive boyfriend and plans for a second marriage.

The role of the extremely neurotic Mother is played to perfection by Heidi Blickenstaff.  Her passionate singing, acting and dancing is matched only by her daughter, played here by Emma Hunton.

Mother (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter (Emma Hunton) fight constantly, as seen here over control of a hourglass.

Mother (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter (Emma Hunton) fight constantly, as seen here over control of a hourglass.

The vocals and dance numbers produced by these actresses would be worth seeing and enjoying even alone but a brilliant supporting cast–each member of whom can hold their own—adds to a rare theatrical treat.

As assembled by Director Christopher Ashley, this production infuses the Playhouse with a spirit not seen in this venue for a while.  With a complete orchestra back stage and a dancing singing cast choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, a brilliant book by Bridget Carpenter and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey, this is a theater of passion and joy, underscoring “normal” mental illness problems often hidden.

“Freaky Friday” zooms by with a terrific first act setting up the family conflicts which are more or less pleasingly resolved in a shorter second act.

Soothed by Mike, left, nicely portrayed as her groom-to-be by David  Jennings, Mom is seen by her two children from an earlier marriage, charming little Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller) and Ellie.

Soothed by Mike, left, nicely portrayed as her groom-to-be by David Jennings, Mom is seen by her two children from an earlier marriage, charming little Fletcher (Jake Heston Miller) and Ellie.

But “Freaky Friday” is so much more than a routine production from La Jolla Playhouse:  Not merely an attempt to stage something that might be a future candidate for Broadway, or a presentation that will appeal to the “La Jolla swells,” the affluent who might make large ongoing contributions.  Mr. Ashley, who is also permanent Artistic Director of the Playhouse, shows here great facility in presenting break-through contemporary drama, with his characteristic ability to also find ways of charming his audience.

This deeply moving story about a Mom, crazed over a pending re-marriage, and about her relationship with her not so “perfect” daughter, takes a wonderful twist when the two “stars” of the story change roles.

The Mom begins to see how repressive and controlling she has been.  The daughter is so free now that–with buddies on a scavenger hunt—she is able to strip down to bra and panties while looking for clues.  No matter that imperfect young bodies are revealed to a shocked Playhouse audience.

In this role reversal we are exposed to hypocrisy lurking in so many American families.  This lesson is why this is not to be missed theater:  Finally La Jolla Playhouse has offered a vital story useful for our times.

 

 

 

 

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