Recent Reviews of the Play
'Cages' at the Stella Adler Theatre - Prison life is never a walk in the park.
Knowing that your freedom of movement or choice is truncated can have a
deleterious effect on a lot of people. Some have the ability to
rationalize it but for those less fortunate it can go to extreme
lengths, even committing suicide in some cases. Attending a performance
of ‘Cages’, currently being offered at the Stella Adler in Hollywood,
certainly brings to the fore this feeling. It’s a grating experience
when you view a number of prisoners brought out to a room and inserted
into a cage while they are being examined by a psychologist. This
particular psychologist has a checkered past and knows this is his last
chance to redeem himself. He also knows he is butting heads against a
system that has little tolerance for those he is
examining, especially a sadistic guard who stands in his way at every
turn and a woman in charge of the unit who also gives him very little
leeway, being very much part and parcel of this same system. One
cannot help but think also of another dramatic piece, ‘Short Eyes’
which also provided the same harrowing experience for those in the
audience who were subject to a similar inside look at prison life that
few of those on the outside know exists.
All those involved on stage in ‘Cages’ do their turn quite adequately. John Nielsen as the psychologist, Matt Kirkwood doing his interpretation as the guard and Arlene Santana filling the role as the woman supervisor all bring to life this biting and non compromising experience. In addition, all the prisoners involved, especially William Stanford Davis and Jemal McNeil bring to life the tortured and frustrated aspects of someone who finds himself caught in this situation. One possible complaint is the acoustics of the room leave much to be desired. When you have a production of this sort, it becomes irritating to have the raw sound drilling a hole into your system. But Leonard Manzella, with his experience in dealing with the justice system, hits the right notes in writing this drama. In addition, Jon Lawrence Rivera brings the right elements together to where it all makes sense. This weekend will be your last chance to take in this thoughtful production. Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM.
Wiley B. Oscar (left) as inmate Brandon and Jemal McNeil as inmate inmate Henderson; photo by Lorely Trinidad
playwright Leonard Manzella based this affecting drama on his
experience as a psychotherapist working in the California prison
system. Tom (John Nielson) is a recovering alcoholic assigned to run
therapy sessions for the mentally ill. The group, an assortment of
schizophrenics and psychotic killers, is caged in "therapeutic modules"
the size of phone booths. Suspended two years prior for his role in an
inmate's suicide, Tom carries his own baggage, a point maliciously
driven home to him by the ward's mean-tempered security guard, Officer Caine (an excellent Matt Kirkwood). Writing about appalling conditions in California prisons, including the
abuse of power, Manzella nonetheless is less concerned with political
statements than he is with the commonality of human passions, within
prison walls and without. A solid supporting ensemble invests the gritty
dialogue and the inmates' heinous narratives with persuasive life;
especially notable is Jemal McNeil as the split-personality convict
whose higher self reaches out for help, with tragic results. As Tom,
however, Neilson plays too much of his character's disaffection and not
enough of his torment. Even less probing is Arlene Santana's performance
as a young therapist who betrays her own ideals. Jon Lawrence Rivera
Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 1. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/218558.