Inland Empress

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 26, 2016

Inland Empress

Southern California's oddest counties are its most rural: Riverside and San Bernardino, labeled "The Inland Empire." Plenty of open agricultural land and horse farms, with conservative-leanings. Playwright Tom Cavanaugh knows something of the folk who populate this land of food and dope, which he has put to great use in his first produced play, "Inland Empress."

Louise (the ever-astonishing Lily Knight) has just been released from a woman's prison after seven years, taking the dive for the corrupt man she believed in. Her younger sister, June (Monica Martin), and her three daughters: young and idealistic Kaylah (Alexa Yeames), believer-in-Christ Jolie Beth (Di Koob), and embittered eldest, Sierra (McCready Baker), await Louise's arrival, which she does by foot -- forty miles overnight from the bus station -- so that she could take in the beautiful surroundings once again.

Louise was the matriarch of the family, and the family business: distributing methamphetamine for shady Butchy (Jeffrey Wylie). This is a lucrative business with several major downsides, including death. There was another daughter in this family who, we learn, had committed suicide -- the quicker kind over the slow death from addiction.

To be polite, these are not folk you would want to meet in any alley, light or dark. Except for Kaylah and, sometimes, June, the major reasons for the family's existence is not one most of us would care to hang with. But that's what Cavanaugh's play deals with. For one thing, Louise has changed her outlook on life. She converted to Islam while in prison and now wears the male head-gear and a desire to praise her god by not continuing the past wretched things she now is trying to atone for. But Sierra, who now calls herself the matriarch, doesn't want her around, atoned or not.

There's a major surprise Louise has in store for the surviving daughters, but it won't be revealed here. Instead, one of the few horses left on this ranch -- one they're paid to take care of -- is injured by accident and the debate is sharply yelled over to 1) put her down, out of her agony, or 2) to mend her and care for her for the many years to come. A spirited debate it is, too.

Director Jessica Hanna has taken Cavanaugh's solemn play and given it excellent pacing and a lively look at dysfunction-junction, especially in her actors' character behavior, well supplied. We may not like this family and their evil business, but you have to admire the artistry that went into portraying it.

A world premiere by Mutant Collective, in association with Theatre Planers, all the actors acquit themselves terrifically, on the rustic set-design of David Offner and inhabiting Jackie Gudgel's costumes.

"Inland Empress" plays through Feb. 28 at the Lounge 2 Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, 90038. For tickets and information, call 323-960-7787 or visit