November 20, 2018 Radomir Vojtech Luza

Review of Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s Production of Kat Ramsburg’s ANATOMY OF A HUG

If you are interested in a drama about a relationship between a mother and her daughter, look no further than Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s production of Kat Ramsburg’s award-winning
“Anatomy Of A Hug”
running at The Sherry Theatre in The North Hollywood Arts District through December 2nd.
This is the story of Amelia, the heartbroken but idealistic daughter, and Sonia, the dying mother who murdered her husband, Amelia’s father, when Amelia was a child.
With the aide of a social worker, Amelia agrees to take in her mother as Sonia is suffering from Ovarian Cancer and has been given Compassionate Release from prison because of her terminal

The beautiful writing by Ramsburg makes every moment fresh and new and marks a tense standoff between mother and daughter.
The language flows like a crystal stream and forces us, the audience, into the fragmented life of Amelia who has a job selling memberships to a charity that rescues children in overseas countries
and watches television
to soothe the scars she perceives as caused by her mother and the rest of humanity.
These are the words of a master playwright: specific, detailed, wrapped in imagery and covered in lush reality.
Let us be honest.  There are raw and naked scars here.  But they are presented with such nobility and grace that we genuinely understand their beginnings and sincerely hope for their ends.
The O’Neill Theatre Conference Semi-Finalist is a masterwork moving and crisscrossing the four characters into and out of each other’s prism and purpose like good soldiers.
The hug in the title refers to the human warmth and love that Amelia has been desperately yearning for since her childhood when she attended foster home after foster home, and is contemplating
sharing with Ben, a
co-worker who has shown great interest in her.
Her journey to that acceptance, self-love and understanding is brilliantly chronicled by Ramsburg, who is an avid book reader and by day works on the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why,”
making this oft-produced
play perhaps the most successful production this 11-year-old ensemble has ever staged.
Director Steve Jarrard, who is also the Managing Director of the company, helps this talented group of actors tell a story that proves profound and admirable in its account of pain and suffering
and the bruises they leave
Jarrard gets out of the way and allows the actors to use their wit, guile and imagination to transport us, the audience, to a different reality than we may be used to.
The result is a winning production with the Southern California native at the helm steering proudly but firmly.
The director of many of the ensemble’s plays over the years assembles a gifted company of actors who comprehend the great sensitivity and insight the Los Angeles based playwright has brought to
this quartet of lives.
Stand outs include:
Meg Wallace (Amelia) The New York trained actress (Marymount Manhattan College), Hollywood Second City Conservatory Program graduate and founding member of Collaborative Artists
almost runs away with the show by giving maybe her best Ensemble portrayal ever.
The veteran stage and screen actress has acted in a string of brilliant and beautifully crafted turns for the Ensemble, but saves maybe her best for last.
Wallace shows more of her sensitive and giving nature here than we, the audience, have ever witnessed before.
She is typically gripping and electric here, but unusually analytical and guarded.
The actress, who has appeared in every Ensemble production that this critic has seen over an eight year period, must be highly commended for taking on a role many actresses would not attempt
because of its degree
of difficulty.
Wallace is a gem of an actress who makes those around her better.  A larger compliment cannot be paid to a performer.
But stealing the show is Leslie Thurston (Iris) who anchors the play with a warm, relaxed and almost sacred performance.
This is a characterization only a wise and inspired veteran could pull off.
Thurston’s social worker is the glue that holds this play together.
Her calm and positive nature is all Sonia and Amelia have to keep them going.
The New York City native can currently be seen in “Dismissed” (Netflix), “Fallen Stars” (Amazon Prime) and the upcoming fourth season of “Fuller House” (Netflix).
This freight train of a performer was seen in “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” the commercially and artistically successful film of the early 1990’s, which featured Oscar-nominated performances
from Angela Basset (Tina
Turner) and Laurence Fishburne (Ike Turner), and was named Best Supporting Actress at The 168 Film Festival for “Stroke of Faith.”
Thurston brings a tranquility and harmony to the proceedings, and in so doing, announces her arrival with a bang not a whimper.
Her first production with Collaborative Artists Ensemble proves that a steady hand is sometimes more than an actress needs to make a name for herself.
This critic hopes to see the award-winning actress on the stages of North Hollywood and Los Angeles again soon.
Furthering the message of the play are Jarrard’s unique set design and Jason Ryan Lovett’s innovative lighting design.
All in all, “Anatomy Of A Hug” succeeds because of the rift between mother and daughter, not despite it.
Amelia’s self-consciousness and Sonia’s past clash in the living room of Amelia’s apartment where both show deeply felt anger, disgust and frustration with each other regardless of Sonia’s
inevitable death.
That bitterness is rarely as realistic and sobering in stage productions of other plays as it was on the second Saturday evening when this critic saw this show.
The biting and telling back and forth only go on to solidify this play as a true original.
In theatrical space and time it does what most plays only attempt to do: make us feel and think at the same time.
Sonia’s very real battle with Ovarian Cancer is handled with aplomb, grace and honesty throughout.
If the last ten minutes of the play do not bring a geyser of tears to your eyes then you are not human.
The playwright, director, actors and crew have come together to give us a rare glimpse into two very different lives, and in so doing, changed the landscape of American theatre forever.
That window, and this choice of play, also show that Collaborative Artists Ensemble remains one of the boldest, most talented and open theatre companies, not only in Los Angeles, but anywhere.
Kudos and more to all involved.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre, Film and Book Critic
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM
Information/Reservations: (323) 860-6569
WHERE: The Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601

Get in touch Radomir!