Force of Nature takes on the IEP

My daughter, Natalia struggled when her mother and I split up. She didn’t talk about it but her grades suffered badly. When I offered both my kids a chance to attend a therapy group for children of divorcing parents, she joined it for a while.

Her 2nd grade teacher was concerned about her. Eventually, Natalia was held back and put in remedial classes.  Then, on top of feeling ‘stupid for flunking the second grade,’ the powers that be wanted to test her for learning disabilities.

I always described her as a ‘force of nature’ which Natalia was none too sure was a good thing. But she really didn’t feel like one when it came to her academics.

Her remedial teacher Ms. Reed, became her mentor. Ms. Reed told me she could not detect a disability in Natalia. The problem was a mystery. Natalia would skip over words when reading aloud, but her comprehension was better than most. Natalia would help other students with their work. Anxiety from the divorce was never considered as a factor.

And yet they wanted to test her. I feared Natalia was being considered for this designation, less for any actual disability than for the additional funds she would bring to the school, bolstering the ranks of LD (learning disabled) students. Labels are powerful things and this one would follow Natalia through her education and life.

I wasn’t yet familiar with the concept of ‘learned helplessness’ but it stands to reason that a decade of being told by experts that you are incapable of doing something would take its toll. That “soft bigotry of lowered expectations” generates anger that will be expressed. Research reveals that authorities treat individuals and groups in a manner consistent with their predetermined expectations. Groups and individuals respond in kind.

Natalia’s mother and I were informed when her IEP committee would meet to discuss the results of her assessment tests. They were the experts and so we parents were only there to observe. No input was desired from us. The committee members patiently responded to our questions.

Near the end of the meeting, Natalia’s case manager was analyzing the test results for us. She sympathetically described how she “helped” Natalia to navigate the difficult test by telling her that if she “got stuck, she could just guess.”

All eyes were on me as I burst into laughter. Incredulous, I asked for confirmation that Natalia was actually told to guess her way through the test. The case manager said she told Natalia “only to guess if she got stuck.” I laughed again and an explanation was demanded for my rude behavior.

I told them when Natalia was about four years old, and hadn’t yet had any instructions in reading, I had installed a program on my computer for her older brother to ‘jump start’ his reading skills. One day Natalia proudly presented me with a certificate of completion from that program, featuring her name and a score of 100%.

I congratulated her, but questioned how she could get this since I hadn’t helped her and she couldn’t read. She said she did it without her brother’s help either. Natalia then explained she went through the program, guessing her way through each test question until she got them all right. She then, all by herself, figured out how to print the certificate.

I looked at the committee members, each armed with multiple degrees in education and psychology.  I asked them if they seriously expected me to believe Natalia had learning disabilities after hearing this story, and with the results of the test being skewed by permitting her to guess?

At that point there was some uncomfortable fidgeting and shuffling of papers. The test results came out to be 50/50 right and wrong, exactly the statistically predicted results if one were to randomly answer without reading the questions at all.

The topic of Natalia’s projected learning disabilities never arose again.

Natalia’s home life stabilized. She thrived throughout her schooling and easily made tons of friends. She was elected Student Council President in high school, and ran the debate club. She also has an impressive resume for someone so young. As her graduation from college approaches, she is selecting a grad school to attend.

Another Brick in the Wall?

Years ago, I attempted to become a teacher. I thought “How hard could it be?”

It proved to be the most stressful year of my life.

After a year of preparation in the LAUSD teaching internship program, I was hired to teach algebra to students with learning disabilities at a middle school in the San Fernando Valley. One of the Intern Supervisors warned me not to work at this particular school. I needed the job and this was a viable offer. “The principal has a reputation for… Well, you’ll find out,” she said.

Algebra. Learning Disabilities. Middle School. What could go wrong?

The greatest barrier was not the learning disabilities, but the students’ ‘learned helplessness’. They learned from infancy that any effort was rewarded with failure. Mastering a video game might take a few minutes, but learning multiplication tables was impossible. They just would not try. They didn’t need yet another confirmation that they were ‘stupid’. The phrase ‘I can’t’ relieved them from countless disappointments.

Of course, forcing these kids to sit still, to be lectured to on a subject useless to them was a completely wrong-headed approach to teaching. They were bursting with energy, passion and desire. They wanted to move and express themselves. Or watch TV.

The old scenario of putting a hundred chimpanzees into a room with 100 typewriters with the expectation of randomly getting a Hamlet out of them presumes those chimpanzees will sit at those typewriters. But my students were not chimpanzees nor machines. They were feeling people, infinitely more resourceful in devising ways to express their pain and frustration.

The educational system could not serve them but also could not release them. They were squeezed into an ill-fitting box which satisfied the mandates of Washington bureaucrats and local administrators. I was the sole representative of this broken system to whom they had access. Their actions were eloquent.

Some students passively did their time. Many students though, were creative in wasting time and disrupting the class. Their favorite was taking turns filing formal complaints accusing me of striking them. I never laid a hand on any of them but the accusations occurred weekly. Investigations always absolved me of any wrong doing. No one answered the question, “How did they learn to do this?”

One kid bragged that he “made more money” than I did. I believed him. I think he was someone’s drug business apprentice. The incentives of money and peer acceptance far outweighed school for overcoming his learning disability. And he was a natural salesman. I told him I once had his opportunities but didn’t like the retirement plan. His puzzlement at that confirmed he had a lot to learn.

My internship instructors assured me that providing elements of ‘enrichment,’ props, colorful décor, candy rewards and toys for demonstration purposes would provide positive returns far beyond my monetary investment. I learned they were a futile waste of time and money. Items brought to the classroom were inevitably stolen or destroyed to no good purpose. Did I mention the threats? Or breaking up the spitting contest?

Observations of my teaching methods were conducted regularly by administration and internship staff. I received good marks and was applauded for improvement in my educational strategies and student engagement. Though a struggle, I felt I found a calling.

Then I learned the secret behind the principal’s mysterious reputation. Each year, for her own amusement, she would select one new teacher from the staff and systematically ruin their career. It made no sense, but her destructive behavior was confirmed to have gone on for years. She was legendary and untouchable. This is what I was warned about. Why willfully destroy eager young talent?

I then found out I was that year’s recipient of her malignant whimsy. Despite my hard work and the good reports on my progress, she arbitrarily decided that I should not be a teacher at her school nor at any school. By not renewing my contract, my position in the internship program would also be terminated, with no credit accrued. To teach, I’d have to start completely over.

The teacher’s union informed me that even if I won, I would still be out of a job. My teaching career was over. However, I needed to stand against such injustice. I filed a grievance.

The union allowed me to work as a substitute teacher. I could earn a living part time but without benefits or a future.

On assignment, I told another substitute who knew this principal about my experience. A teacher walked by and interjected, “I know who you’re talking about. She ruined my career too!” He had to start from scratch and lost years of his life recouping his investment and career. He named her and described her in terms both vivid and profane.

I left teaching to pursue more lucrative prospects. I received notice from the teacher’s union that the principal settled and accepted early retirement.

A year later, while enjoying lunch with my wife in a restaurant, a man walked by who looked vaguely familiar. He saw me and stopped. Excusing himself for interrupting, he asked if I was John Adams, the former math intern at ________ school. I cautiously admitted he had identified me correctly. He offered his hand and thanked me profusely for himself and the staff of the school for standing up to that horrible principal.

He said no one would call her out. “She was a petty tyrant, ruining people’s careers for her own amusement because everyone was afraid of her.”

I thanked him and said I had only filed a complaint. I needed to call out her abuse. He insisted my grievance forced her out. Because no one would jeopardize their career, including himself, they effectively supported her heinous behavior for years.

I told him it was nice to be appreciated and was sorry we couldn’t have worked together longer. We shook hands again and he left us to our meal.

Did I learn more from my students than they learned from me?

 

 

Liberals are Suffering the Seven Stages of Grief

Even if you are not aware of the “7 Stages of Grief” originally conceptualized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, you may have experienced them at some level in your own life. Recovery from grief is possible. The Kubler-Ross model is not the best model for grief recovery but it suits my purposes here.

Let me illustrate the seven steps by examining the behavior of many liberals since the 2016 Presidential Election. Please note that individuals and groups can exhibit more than one of these steps simultaneously and they do not necessarily follow in specific order.

SHOCK:                 Lots of people were shocked when ‘sure thing’ Hillary Clinton failed to win the 2016 election for U. S. president. It just didn’t seem possible. For shock, look no further than the election night coverage. As the returns dribbled in confirming state after state going for Trump, the glib self-assurance of the mainly liberal commentators visibly drained from grinning to chagrin, betraying a sinking awareness that their prognostications were horribly off mark. As the tone sank from smug to glum one could almost hear their thoughts sifting frantically through mental rolodexes for whom they could call should they find themselves jobless on Wednesday morning.

DENIAL:                It didn’t take long for denial to set in. The shrill wailing and gnashing of teeth began before the voting machines had cooled. Calls for vote recounts began almost immediately and Green Party candidate Jill Stein spent millions of dollars attempting to ‘fix’ a faulty outcome and ‘restore the integrity of our voting system’. Hillary Clinton and others cheered this effort after ridiculing winner Donald Trump for expressing before the vote, his concern that Democrats might once again try to steal an election.

The irony that Democrats instinctively resist attempts to establish election integrity safe-guards such as voter ID requirements was lost only on Democrats.

Another example of denial would be that Hillary Clinton insists that “she won” the election because she gained more popular votes. The fact that popular votes have never been decisive in choosing our president shows the lengths people will go to support their denial. Or would that be called ‘delusion’?

ANGER:            There are too many examples of anger to cite here; violent campus riots, faked hate crimes, fake news, and everyone’s favorite, calls for impeachment. Democrats started calling for Trump’s impeachment prior to the inauguration and continue to this day.

According to our Constitution, in order to impeach, an actual crime must have been committed by a sitting president. That pesky requirement won’t go away. Additionally, the Democrats lacking control of either house of Congress is another stumbling block that these wannabe demagogues can’t effectively ignore.

Name calling is a favorite tactic of people devoid of ideas. Those who routinely condemn “hate speech” think nothing of calling Trump and his supporters a fascist, racist, blank-o-phobe (fill in the blank), hater, anti-semite and worse. This tactic, and voter’s weariness of it may be one factor in Trump winning. The fact that many of the protesters embrace and practice those very behaviors they claim to abhor and project onto Trump is disturbing.

Of course, the whole Russia-gate scandal started within 24 hours after the election and despite the lack of evidence (that would be zero evidence) Trump colluded with Russians to steal the election, multiple investigations continue six months into Trump’s presidency. How is it that the best intelligence agencies in the world cannot find evidence of criminal activity by such “a foolish, ignorant troll”?

If collusion existed, would it look something like former President Obama telling Russian President Medvedev that he “would be more flexible after he is re-elected”? Or would it look more like then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signing off on the sale of 20% of U.S. uranium reserves to a Russian owned mining company?

BARGAINING:   This stage is just now coming to the fore. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered to cooperate with President Trump on healthcare “if he ditches the Freedom Caucus” and does it Schumer’s way.

Other Democratic leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi are trying to quell the silly demands for impeachment from Rep. Maxine Waters, Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Al Green and others.  Once Democrats regain both houses of Congress you can expect that chorus to rise once again.

After months of former FBI Director James Comey being condemned by the left for his betrayal of Hillary, Trump thought firing the director would be seen as a peace offering, a chance to meet in the middle. Of course, it is not about Comey or anything else, but only about stopping Trump no matter what he does.

Trust that all bargaining overtures are merely a ploy to co-opt Trump and separate him from his constituency, the better to sacrifice him.

DEPRESSION:     Can you say ‘snowflake’? This stage set in early and continues like a low-grade fever throughout the leftward end of the political spectrum. Universities set up ‘safe spaces’ with ponies and soft blankets for students who just couldn’t cope with the fact that Trump won. Reality can be so inconvenient. It’s not fair! I’m going to hold my breath until Hillary is President.

I know of one graduate student who retreated to her bed for over a week after the election. In doing this, she literally abandoned her mental health clinic internship until she found the strength to cope. The clinical responsibilities she abandoned included providing therapy to several chronically mentally ill clients.

TESTING:             The typical Democratic playbook needs some rewrites. Hysterically calling anyone you disagree with a racist doesn’t send people scurrying to the shadows like it once did. Playing the Russia-gate card is also reaping diminishing returns. One former Democratic Congresswoman, Nina Turner says people at town hall meetings aren’t asking about Russia, they’re asking about jobs. Go figure.

ACCEPTANCE:    Sooner or later the individual suffering from debilitating loss eventually comes to a place of peace and acceptance from where they can re-enter society and contribute in a positive manner. Of course, acceptance does not necessarily mean agreement or approval.

Grief can be a debilitating condition that inhibits one’s ability to manage simple tasks and maneuver through the day and through life. It affects one’s ability to maintain healthy relationships. Grief can sap one’s ability to successfully defend those people and ideals one holds dear. Grief is a necessary emotional process, but if one gets stuck, grief can keep one from living a full life.

The population I have used to illustrate the concepts of the Seven Stages of Grief may yet reach the point of acceptance in their recovery. I certainly hope so.

But I haven’t seen it yet.

….

John K. Adams is a writer, video-memoirist and a certified Grief Recovery Specialist who works in Los Angeles, CA.

But Some are More Equal than Others

We are constantly told through the media, the world will be better when women are in control.

Aggressive, predatory behavior towards members of the opposite sex, the groping of strangers in a bar, intimidation tactics like stalking and unsolicited taking pictures of individuals and their license plates… This stereotype du jour fits what most would presume was a description of the bad behavior of that most despised demographic, ‘white men.’

Yet all of this behavior was imposed on me recently, by women. Why would a so-called ‘oppressed minority’ adopt such ugly behavior? ‘Because they can’? Getting their ‘evens’? Are women literally becoming the men they hate?

My wife and I recently visited family in another city. Out for the evening, we stopped at a club. Dueling piano players played to a standing room only crowd. Scattered in the crowd were three women wearing sexually explicit pink head gear recently become fashionable.

After receiving several hard pinches and harder slaps on my back-side, I was an unwilling target. My peripheral vision confirmed that at least one of the ‘liberated’ wearers of the pink hats was responsible for this physical abuse.

How did I respond? I didn’t faint. I didn’t melt. I just left with my family. Other men in our party confirmed getting the same unwanted attention.

‘That’s what you get for going to that kind of bar’. Really? That’s an eerie echo of the old ‘blame the victim’ excuse decried by feminists when some fool claims ‘she asked for it.’

Any woman treated like that should call the police. Discretion being the better part, I chose against confrontation and the resulting silliness.

How clever of her to hide in plain sight. How mature. How progressive.

A few weeks ago I went to Balboa Park while waiting to pick up my wife. I parked in the shade and walked around the lake. The drought had taken many of the cherry trees. Young trees had replaced those that had died. The swans still swam elegantly. The coots moved like a massive black carpet in search of food.

When I returned to my car, another car was parked next to it occupied by a young woman. She caught my eye, I nodded and continued to my car. I began to read. Then I noticed the woman staring at me. I politely nodded and returned to my reading.

I did not engage with her.

She must have stared at me for ten minutes.

Should I flee every time I sense someone’s displeasure? Trying to second guess everyone quickly transforms to paranoia. I minded my business. What was my offense?

Then I looked up to see her photographing me with a smart phone. She left her car to grab a shot of my license plate. What mischief might she create with my image on the internet?

I stayed in my car. To ‘talk it out and reach an understanding’ seemed futile and absurd.

She drove away.

And had I snapped pictures of her? Imagine.

I know our Constitution has no ‘right to not be offended.’ However, I wish there was a right to be let alone.

This is how a culture ‘evolves’? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Two shipwrecked strangers: Actress Renée Marino on ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’

by John K. Adams

You may doubt mere words could draw blood. But you haven’t seen John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, extended through April 15th at Theater 68. It is as if Shanley writes in some secret language which penetrates our emotional core and reconnects us to that true life within us.

Brought to us by Panic! Productions, starring J. Bailey Burcham as Danny and Renée Marino as Roberta, Danny is a perfect storm of stellar writing and spectacular acting.

Since Burcham brought it to Marino over a year ago it has been their dream project. Some of Marino’s passionate comments on the play follow.

According to Marino, Burcham has her complete trust. “It is such a blessing to have a scene partner who helps lift the material as high as possible.” Trust is what you need when venturing onto an emotional tightrope like Danny.

Marino shares, “This play is the epitome of pushing my boundaries and taking the chance to reveal my heart and soul and life’s blood on the stage every night. To make the audience forget they are watching a play.”

“These stories need to be told. Bailey and I are so blessed to be able to explore these emotional depths and share them with audiences. It is really something to hear gasps from the audience.” Marino continues, “It means so much to work with material that isn’t just entertainment, but an opportunity to deeply move people.”

Marino sums up, “Shanley’s writing is so brilliant. The story is so layered, every time I review the script I find new moments to reveal.”

It is as if Shanley writes in some secret language which penetrates our emotional core and reconnects us to that true life within us.

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” is staged on extended run through April 15th, with three performances the weekend of April 7th and two on the closing weekend, at Theatre 68 located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. Tickets for both shows are on sale at Plys411.com/danny.

Note: This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 6, 2017.

Pet Orphans of Southern California Grand Reopening in Van Nuys

Animal lovers continue 40+ year commitment to ‘Rescue, Rehabilitate and Re-home’

By John K. Adams

If you have a pet or want a rescue pet, you should know Pet Orphans of Southern California is celebrating the Grand Reopening of their full service, affordable Van Nuys veterinary clinic on Sunday, March 12th, from noon to 4pm.

Come meet Dr. Melissa Roth and the staff and tour the spacious facility. Schedule a future appointment for veterinary care, grooming and a professionally photographed pet portrait. Or plan to fall in love with a special rescue pet in need of a loving, forever home.

Pet Orphans wants everyone to know their full service veterinary clinic and adoption service will be open to the public on Tuesday, March 21st. Pet Orphans is open seven days, from noon to 4pm Monday-Friday and noon to 5pm Saturday and Sunday.

Clients are encouraged to call for the clinic’s hours to schedule an appointment, as it is not a walk-in service. The clinic is closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

Dr. Roth, new to the organization, describes veterinarians as “Type A people pleasers, helpful in ensuring quality of life for animal family members.” She adds, “Vets are a little like the family doctor of yore – true generalists. While physicians treat humans and generally specialize, veterinarians have to be knowledgeable regarding multiple species including dogs, cats, lizards, farm animals, etc… If the apocalypse comes, grab a vet. They have broad knowledge.”

Director of Operations LaTanya Montgomery coordinates with rescue organizations throughout Southern California. Their primary goal is to “rescue, rehabilitate and re-home” every animal they receive. Trainers are available by referral to assist adopting owners to manage behavioral challenges with their new pets.

Adoption Coordinator Danica Reslock stated that they look at several factors when successfully matching a rescue pet with prospective owners. “It’s all about good fit, behavior, size and activity level,” she said. “When we are busy, we place as many as 10 pets per week.”

You can adopt your rescue dog or cat with a minimum donation that helps to offset the cost of spay/neutering, vaccinations, a microchip and grooming. Every rescue cat or dog is examined for health prior to exposure to the general population.

Groomer Penny Chong stays busy tending her furry clients. Her calm control helps relax the dogs and cats in an unfamiliar environment.

Pet Orphans survives solely on donations and receives no government support.

Appointments are preferred. Walk-ins will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Veterinary services include dental care. Pet health insurance is recommended and can be obtained privately.

Human-only refreshments will be available at the March 12th meet and greet. Please leave your pets at home.

Appointments for services booked on March 12th will be discounted 10 percent. Raffle tickets will be sold and a silent auction is planned.

Since 1973, Pet Orphans of Southern California is located at 7720 Gloria Ave. in Van Nuys. Visit PetOrphans.org or call (818) 901-0190.

Note: This story appeared originally in the Tolucan Times, March 2, 2017.

Love and scar tissue on display in ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’ and ‘Poison’

John Patrick Shanley doesn’t write small talk. His characters fight like cornered animals, every syllable flung like a threat. Even expressions of love are spit through clenched teeth. There is a saying that “hurt people hurt people.” John Patrick Shanley brings that to the stage in living color. Shanley’s plays, Poison and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, playing at Theatre 68, are vivid examples of this.

In Poison, the one-act directed by Kay Cole, Kelly (Kelsey Flynn) wants Kenny (Nicola Tombacco) back. Kelly asks a gypsy fortune teller (Katie Zeiner) for a potion to get him, no matter the cost.  Zeiner’s performance as the gypsy is worth the price of admission.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, directed by Ronnie Marmo, opens with Danny and Roberta (J. Bailey Burcham and Renee Marino) growling at each other over beers in a cheap bar. Is this scenario a mating dance, an attempted murder or a suicide pact? Shanley’s play takes them through seething anger and self-loathing to tenderness as these broken souls grope toward a warm embrace in a cold world.

Words on a page are only that without talented actors bringing those words to life. Marino and Burcham draw us into their character’s intimate, horrible reality and reveal, perhaps also within ourselves, the savage redemption of the irredeemable.

Note: This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 17, 2017.

Hits and Misses from the Past Year

It has been a very busy January and I have not produced much new writing this month.

However, the last year was an opportunity to write my blog, re-publish some items from my output at the Tolucan Times, and also, in a burst of creativity, to write a series of eight short plays. One of these received “semi-finalist” status in a short play competition.

Some of my blog posts did not get the attention I thought they deserved so to reprise 2016, I offer a collection of links for those of you who might enjoy a play review, a commentary, or a few memories from my past in no particular order:

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/lying-in-wait-for-santa/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/the2tails-helps-you-celebrate-your-inner-mermaid/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/an-evening-with-betsy-oconnell-is-an-evening-well-spent/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/sexist-pet-costumes-or-the-unexamined-life-is-not-worth-leaving/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/p-l-a-y-noir-one-acts-as-dark-as-it-gets/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/an-occasional-squall-would-add-to-the-source-and-create-a-rising-crescendo/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/say-centanni-for-romantic-italian-dining-in-burbank/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/racing-with-evolution/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/missed-opportunities/

Enjoy!

 

 

Ivanka Trump Held to Account for Her Taste in Art

So now Ivanka Trump is getting tsuris from the artists whose work she owns (file under ‘Sins of the Fathers Department’).

According to PJMedia: ( https://pjmedia.com/trending/2016/12/23/group-of-artists-attacks-ivanka-trump-on-instagram-get-my-work-off-your-walls/ ), these denizens of Greenwich Village want her to remove their paintings from her home so their work won’t be negatively associated with her.

What ingrates! They were happy enough to accept her money when she bought the works. Now a little free publicity exposes them for selling their art to someone who doesn’t live up to their PC bona fides.

Oh the humanity, coming to terms with personal avarice in the face of artistic integrity! “OMG! What will my friends at the Met think?” Perhaps they will think they are sell-outs. And they would be right.

Ivanka now has several options as to how to best respond to this. Obviously she could ignore these uncircumcised philistines. That is what she will probably do and that would line up with her generally classy image.

But that wouldn’t be very much fun.

I think she should offer to sell the works back to the artists for the cost of the original work, plus any appreciation, plus a handling charge and the appraisal fee.

If the artists don’t care enough about their works to reclaim them to ‘safety’, Ivanka could offer them on the open market and glean what she can from them.

I can see the Craigslist ad now: “Buyer wanted for slightly used artworks by (insert names here). Pristine condition. May have slight water damage from melting snowflakes. Willing to accept any reasonable offer. Final prices will be publicized.”

Seeing their work going for pennies on the dollar via Craigslist should give these entitled artistes pause as they watch their cache diminish along with the demand for their work.

Living in the material world… or as Dorothy Parker once said, “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think”.

Sherry Theater’s ‘The Widow’s Testimony’ provides a dramatic guilty pleasure

Review by John K. Adams

This lurid story of murder, adultery and incest is set in the courtroom of a small, present day, Southern town. Dark secrets are revealed.

The structure of the story is familiar to anyone who has ever watched a courtroom drama. But this story is anything but conventional.

Director Christine Roberts keeps the proceedings moving along at a good clip. Twists are revealed rapidly and sometimes with comic effect.

Roberts guides the large cast to a solid, unified performance. Supporting roles, and even non-speaking roles like the stenographer (Piccora Manning), are delivered with style.

Shalonda Shaw wrote, co-produced and stars in the title role, and delivers a nuanced and believable performance as the beleaguered widow. Shaw’s writing provides a rich showcase for 15 talented performers who we certainly will see more of again.

Donald Prabatah, playing the accused Pete Walker, has few lines but is a riveting stage presence around which the unsettling story swirls.

Malika Smith plays the defendant’s mother, Betty Walker. Portia Kane portrays the murdered man’s mother. Both display poignancy and depth.

Joie Williams and Lex Michael play energetic prosecution and defense attorneys.

Local newscasters, played by Wynter Eddins and Skip Pipo, provide an amusing counterpoint to the dark proceedings.

Six members of the audience act as the jury, so even the cast doesn’t know the outcome of the trial until the very end.

“The Widow’s Testimony” was staged at the Sherry Theater located at 11052 W Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. For more information on the cast visit Facebook.com/WidowTestimony.

Note: This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times, December 18th, 2016.