The story of ‘Anna Lucasta’ is sad, tragic, romantic, amusing and even triumphant. And, yet, those adjectives don’t even begin to describe this amazingly vibrant, emotional, highly-dramatic and occasionally comical and sexy saga.
The play was originally written in 1939, by Philip Yordan with a Polish
family as the focus. Rumor has it that the Polish population wasn’t keen on the story. When it debuted in 1944 on Broadway, the show opened with an all-Black cast. Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis starred in the 1958 filmversion.
Fast forward and director Ben Guillory’s version is lighting up a stage at the Los Angeles Theater Center. The story centers on a young woman named Anna Lucasta (Ashlee Olivia) whose family has cast her aside because of a sexual indiscretion – or two, or three. When she is thrown out of her Pennsylvania home, Anna ends up as a prostitute in Brooklyn. For reasons thatcan only be described as unethical, Anna’s brother and brother-in-law want her to come back so they can marry her off to a moderately wealthy young man, RudolfSlocum (Dwain A. Perry), who also happens to be the son of one of her father’s oldest friends. Anna’s greedy, scheming brother-in-law Frank, played aptly and convincinglyby Sammie Wayne IV, wants to separate Rudolf from his bankroll. Anna spoils his plans by actually falling in love with Rudolf and seeing to it that no one gets the money. Only her mother, Theresa (Cydney Wayne Davis), and her sister-in-law, Katie (Tanya Lane), seem to actually care about what happens to Anna. Additionally, one of Anna’s former ‘clients’ in Brooklyn wants to continue exploiting her sexually.
There is a lot going on in this melodrama however, the upshot is a rough-around-the-edgesstory about love, family and redemption. Ben Guillory has assembled an impressive cast to bring this story to life. Ashlee Olivia, who plays the title role, is a breath of fresh air as she engulfs the character. Her flirtatious gait and expressive eyes gives the wayward Anna her enticing, yet insecure persona.
Sammie Wayne IV has full command of his character and the stage in a supporting role that nearly steals the show. Frank is the scheming husband of Anna’s sister, Stella (Alvina Carroll Saunders). Cydney Wayne Davis gives a robust and genuine performance as Theresa, the mother of Anna. The duality of softness and determination she displays throughout the show, adds substance to the role. Dwain A. Perry is a joy to watch as he gives an even performance in the role of Rudolf, a perceived hick from the sticks. He shows a vulnerability and a strength that forgives Anna’s indiscretions. Jennifer Sammons brings a gritty and earthy authenticity to her role as a mature, been-around-the-block-more-than-a-few-times streetwalker. The juxtaposition ofSammon’s character’s grittiness and Anna’s arousing persona adds texture to their scenes together.
The remaining cast members shore up the engaging show. There are some unanswered questions in the production. For instance, why is Joe Lucasta’s anger toward his daughter so explosive? Is there a back story that the audience doesn’t know? His anger toward Anna is over the top and seems a bit extreme even for the time period, given her perceived dastardly deed. The show works because the Lucastas, in all their glory and dysfunction, feel like a real family. Good acting, good direction, good costumes, good set, good timing, good lighting – all of the essentials come together to make this a good show.
Under Guillory’s fluid direction, ‘Anna Lucasta’ comes together quite nicely. He makes skillful use of the stage and allows the actors space to breathe. Tom Meleck’s set gives the family’s home a warm, inviting feel, while also giving the waterfront bar acold, clammy and even seedy quality.
by Lovell Estell III | LA Weekly: November 14, 2002