Written by skilled playwright Jason Karasev and directed by Michael Peretzian, DEATH HOUSE is a play you don’t want to miss. Gripping, poignant, exciting, enigmatic, intriguing, startling, fascinating. All of these descriptors and more mark the Road Theatre on Lankershim’s latest must-see production.
Set on Death Row in a prison somewhere in the U.S., DEATH HOUSE digs into issues like justice and redemption with gusto – but also with compassion and even love. Six hours before execution, the condemned has time to relax, enjoy a last meal, and chat with a priest if the inmate chooses to – all in the peaceful surroundings of a room especially outfitted for contemplation. Today is the changing of the guard as two chaplains – one a wise but tortured elderly pastor about to retire; and the other, a young, confident, and condescending preacher who knows all the answers and is ready to spout them at the slightest opportunity.
For over 20 years, George (Sam Anderson) has been the last person to interact with inmates who will be dead in hours – and those years have taken a heavy toll on him. Before leaving, he has been charged with the task of preparing his replacement, Allen (Chase Cargill), who will shadow him through this, his last execution. The two will clash almost immediately as the gentle shepherd meets the hardline death penalty advocate who harbors an unprovoked intense anger towards the world.
Enter the condemned inmate – a murderer who also happens to be a provocative, no-nonsense woman with secrets of her own. Liliana (Verity Branco) will set hackles rising as she demands a kind of honesty which the new recruit has never seen before. For she is ready to die – but will not go gently into the night.
Talented director Peretzian helms a superb cast who do a brilliant job of separating the strands of each personality until they weave into a new whole. This is intense, intrinsically painful material which will keep the audience glued to their seats, perhaps hoping for a different ending to an inevitable situation. Playwright Karasev hits the nail on the head with his psychologically savvy script about life, death, and learning to deal with both. David Bauer’s stark scenic design works well, with cold stone walls setting the tone, even as soft sofa cushions show “the system’s” limited efforts at compassion. Derrick McDaniel’s lighting and David B. Marling’s sound punctuate each moment in the powerful, poignant tale. Bjorn Johnson’s fight direction manages to assume a really dangerous look as reality creeps in. AUDIENCE ALERT: There is brief nudity in the play.
DEATH HOUSE runs through March 10, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Road on Lankershim is located at 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA. Tickets are $34 ($15 students and seniors; group rates available). For information and reservations, call 818-761-8838 or go online.