Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's recent review of In the Heights
After seven years in prison and an unexpectedly early release, the titular Lettie is desperate to see her two teenage children and get her life back on track. Thwarted by her half-sister Carla, stifled by the rules of her transitional housing, and exhausted by the dangerous and demanding welding training that is her best shot at landing a job, Lettie seems unfairly doomed to failure before she even starts. But as we learn more about her and her life, the audience is forced to question how many of the obstacles Lettie faces are truly of her own making.
Perpetually frustrated, headstrong, and persistently stuck in self-defeating patterns, Danielle Skraastad gives an impressively realistic performance as Lettie. Melanye Finister is joyfully intransigent as Lettie's friend and co-worker Minny. Teri Lamm plays Carla with a nervous desperation that is initially annoying but ultimately heartbreaking. The actors who play Lettie's children are both excellent. Precocious and stubbornly optimistic, Bryanna Martinez-Jimenez is captivating as 14-year-old Layla. Jacob Orr plays her older brother River, whose tense moments of quiet are punctuated by striking bursts of vitriol.
The shifting perspective of Daniel Zimmerman's scenic design is clever and the starkness onstage creates an appropriately bleak mood. The precision lighting design by Dennis Parichy contributes to that mood and adds drama at all the right moments. I am also impressed with Marla J. Jurglanis's costume designs, each of which contributes to the drama's true-to-life aesthetic.
There are no real villains in this story, only a group of people trying their best to survive and protect their loved ones against impossible odds. And that is exactly what makes Killebrew's play so powerful and painful. Even with the best of intentions and greatest of efforts, everyone is just a little bad luck away from ending up in an impossible situation. Lettie is a vividly realistic reminder of just how delicate and unstable our lives really are. It is an authentic story and an evocative experience.
Lettie runs through July 13, 2023, at the People's Light's Steinbright Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets and information, please visit peopleslight.org or call 610-644-3500.