Putting the Fun in Dysfunctional – a review of “Kentucky”

by Michael Buzzelli

Hiro (Esther Lee) is on a plane descending into Kentucky, falling into familiar patterns and, simply, falling apart as she returns home for her sister’s wedding in Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Kentucky.”

Kentucky is a metaphor for Middle America. It’s a state and a state of mind. In New York and Los Angeles, it’s considered a “Flyover,” but for the people who live there it’s home, and there’s no place they’d rather be. In “Kentucky,” it’s both.

For Hiro, Kentucky is a battle zone. She tells her therapist, Larry (Clark Eileen Atkinson) that she plans on rescuing her sister Sophie (Zoe Gonzalez) from her impending nuptials and whisk her off to NYC, freeing her from their abusive father, James (Marc Palombo) and her Christianity.

Hiro has a hero complex.  Unfortunately, the moment she arrives the trouble starts. Her white father picks her up at the airport and the fuse is immediately lit. Her Japanese mother, Masako (Maddy Cox), expects her to keep peace, but he’s on her like white on rice (a nod to the sometimes thinly-veiled/sometimes blatant racism in a show about a half-Japanese, half Caucasian family).

There’s a Hallmark Christmas movie moment when she runs into the hotshot high school heartthrob, Adam (Cam Webb), but quickly veers off from the predictable paths.

The thing that makes Nanako Winkler’s play is the various Points of View. No POV is right or wrong…it just is. It’s also a weird, wonderful work of art.

“Kentucky” is expertly directed by Adil Mansoor, who finds the weird and wonderful in everything he touches.

Lee is fantastic as Hiro, playing her as both hero and villain in the story. It is a layered character, and Lee performs it deftly.

James seems like a one-note character in the first act, but we slowly see more depth to the character. Polombo gracefully handles the nuances.

Webb delivers a charismatic performance as Adam, the lone voice of reason and maturity.

This play is packed with characters and everyone gets a moment to shine, cute-but-attention-starved Amy(Maggie M. Clark), man-hungry Nicole (Isabella Duran-Shedd), even the bridespeople and groomspeople get a piece of the pie (or, in this case, cheesecake – as in Cheesecake Factory, which gets a nod in this tale).

Grandma (Sadie Pillion-Gardner) and Sylvie the Cat (Hattie Baier) are scene stealers. Baier plays a cat. She, literally and figuratively, chews the scenery.

Side note: usually, when people play cats it’s annoying. Example: “Cats.” But Baier’s performance is hilarious.

The set is a masterpiece. Scenic Designer Sasha Schwartz does an incredible job with the stage. There is a hydraulic lift, a rusty garage door and a pop-up chapel.  There are moments of awe when each new set piece is unveiled.

“Kentucky” is a dichotomy. It reminds us that every human being is both wonderful and terrible.  And, as Du’Ran (Colin Villacorte) reminds us that we love the whole person, not in spite of their past but because of it.

“Kentucky” is wonderfully made.


“Kentucky” runs through November 20 at the Highmark Theater, inside Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  15222. For more information click here

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