EXHIBITED at the Black Box Performing Arts Center

“Christmas in LA is a great and terrifying time,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, half-jokingly about her little-known play “Exposed,” which was staged at the Black Box Performing Arts Center at Englewood. this past month.

The gem was presented to artistic director and Black Box PAC founder Matt Okin for the theater’s “Save the Stages” initiative in the wake of the pandemic that has plagued theaters as they were closed indefinitely. Over the past six months, the theatre, which features high-level entertainment by a very talented group of actors, has performed many notable plays by great screenwriters such as Eric Bogosian’s “1 + 1”, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull writer Paul Schrader. “The Cleopatra Club” and “Ode to Joy” by Craig Lucas.

Henley attended Black Box PAC’s performance of “Exposed” on May 22, which was followed by a Q&A with Lucas, who interviewed her on the intimate stage. Lucas was nominated for a Tony Award for a Lincoln Center production of his book-turned-musical “The Light in the Piazza,” the world premiere he directed at Seattle’s Intiman Theater. Henley received the Pulitzer Prize for his 1979 play “Crimes of the Heart,” which was made into a film in 1986 starring Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek.

“It’s no surprise to me that people in all of your plays — which I guess I’ve always responded to — carry received trauma with them,” Lucas told Henley. “The pieces are deeply edgy.”

“Exposed” is set in late 1990s Los Angeles, just before Christmas, the winter solstice, when sunny days are cut short and dark nights lengthened. The happiest time of the year for the rest of the world is the antithesis for five characters who, despite having different life experiences, are interconnected by their common feeling: loneliness.

The play opens with Jane, played by Danielle MacMath, who is seen knitting, but herself clinging to a thread. Beneath her fake smiles, she dies inside as she is reluctant to admit her marriage to her rather interesting “bear-bear” Mike (Mike Gardiner), a tabloid reporter, quickly unravels, although they appear to be the couple perfect for the outside world.

“It’s like there’s an illusion that somehow, if we have enough food, and a family, a home, a job, and a roof over our heads, d ‘One way or another, we will be at peace,’ Lucas reflected. “But your characters carry the unease of keeping it alive. They wouldn’t know how to get rid of it to keep a rabid dog away from them.”

In reality, Mike is secretly having an affair with fellow journalist, sexpot Pye (Katie North). Meanwhile, while waiting for Mike one night at a bar, Jane meets Reb (Ilana Schimmel), a young woman who dresses and talks like a boy with a stoner drawl from Southern California who grew up in a family of two. welcome with Billy, a black boy whom she considers her brother much to her dismay. Billy (Kentrell Loftin) perceives Reb as a pathological liar and a monster he wants nothing to do with, especially after his car is stolen and eventually towed away. A brief scuffle with a police officer resulted in his arrest and a stint in jail.

While Reb is the only real criminal, the characters are all guilty of their own crimes. When Reb bumps into Jane at the bar, the two mingle over a drink that escalates into more drinks and soon, peri-menopausal Jane finds herself confiding in Reb and exposing her dirty secret of wishing on her child. Stu, who is deformed in a way from a skin condition, was not his. When she finds out her husband is cheating on her, it doesn’t take long before the floodgates open and with them repeated proclamations of “I want to die” from her lips.

“Reading the plays, Beth, I keep thinking about something Arthur Miller used to say, which is that writing a play is like living in a state of controlled hysteria” , Lucas said.

Meanwhile, Mike is convinced that his marriage to Jane is over and tells a drunken Pye, dressed in a bathrobe and bathed in perfume, about his desire to spend his life with her. Pye, on the other hand, is not looking for a committed relationship based on true love, but one focused on monetary gain. Billy, whom she summons late at night, does not want to take on the role of troubled Reb’s brother and is himself entangled in finding someone to love him.

We are not dating,” Pye tells a slightly annoyed Billy, as she returns a bouquet of flowers to Billy which he presents to her on their late night date. At one point, Pye, Billy, and Mike reunite to share a bag of crisps in a feeble attempt to fill their voids with junk food.

“It’s the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year,” Lucas tells Henley. “And these people are facing the darkest night they can face. Every little bit of thread that holds their lives together is breaking.”

When Reb phones Billy to let him know he plans to go to the Watts Towers to take in the view before jumping, Billy’s love for him is tested and he compulsively goes to the top to stop him. . The siblings admired the shimmering view of the City of Angels skyline and how the tiny shimmering pieces, which look like broken glass, came together to fix what seemed broken.

When Henley, born in Jackson, Mississippi, was living in Los Angles, she went to The Watts Towers and recalled being struck by their “beautifully vulgar” character. She incorporated this into her notebooks which she kept scribbled with her observations which eventually became “exhibited”.

“There’s a fragility, but also a heartfelt work of art,” Henley said. “A sincere desire to express and put together to make it more beautiful.”

Henley said she would rework the piece after seeing the performance.

“Exposed” will return June 2, 3, 4 and 5 at 8 p.m. at the Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood. Get tickets here.

Photo credit: Lianna Albrizio