Monday, November 25, 2013



Directly on the heels of seeing Judi Dench’s current take on the Magdalene Girls, (Young women sent to the nuns to give birth in shame) PHILOMENA,    Fionnuala Kenny’s ELVIS’S TOENAIL brings the story of shunning and punishment by the Catholic Church, one’s own family and the community directly to the heart.  

At rise we hear a vicious argument and see pregnant Rita (perfectly cast Leanne Klingaman) expelled from her parents' home. 
Lenne Klingaman plays Rita

It’s 1961 on Raffle Road in Dublin.  American Rock and Roll is on the rise. On the wall of the workshop where progressive Mrs. Kelly (well presented Laurie Wendorf) turns out frocks as well as supplying nuns’ habits and school uniforms for the local abbey and Catholic School, Elvis's poster, in motorcycle gear: a shrine graces the upstage wall. Mrs. Kelly employs four unique colleens who work hard and, incidentally, adore The King.  

Giddy excitement by bouncy veryredhead Carmel (bouncy and energetic Arielle Davidsohn) and her pal, Imelda (equally enthusiastic Christine Quigless) permeate the shop as their somewhat senior colleague, Christine (McKerrin Kelly), demurs to their youthful excitement.  
 Christine Quigless as Imelda and Arielle Davidsohn as Carmel

The heavy polemic of the cruelty of the Catholic Church rings loudly throughout Kenny’s script as Rita finds her way to Mrs. Kelly’s, disobeying the order to go to the nuns with the shame of her pregnancy.  Her extraordinary skills and strong work ethic endear her to her co-workers.  We meet Mother Francis (trooper Marnie  Crossen) who places a large order for garments that will help Mrs. Kelly’s business and her connection to the abbey.   A side story of missing seamstress, Rose (tall and dark Katie Savoy) buttresses the issue of pregnancy without the state of marriage as Father Ambrose (slightly over the top Gary Bell) comes looking not only for Rose, who has vanished on payday, but Rita as well. This strongly exhibits the  extraordinary power that the Church may even to this day hold over the faithful.  Kenny’s script leads us to feminism and independence that was difficult, if not impossible to imagine fifty years ago, not only in Ireland, but around the world as well.    In no uncertain terms, the good guys and the enemy are  clearly drawn.  The title is almost incidental to the play.  Imelda’s relative has sent The Toenail, a relic from the bathroom of King Elvis, which is now displayed with his poster and covered with a velvet curtain ironically depicting the Sacred Heart.  When criticized by Father Ambrose, it’s pointed out that it’s all about Hope, without which, life may simply be unbearable. 

Unnecessary fake smoking by Miss McEvoy, the buyer (Francesca Ferrara) and a fine turn by Saxon Jones as Christy round out the cast of this must see production.  Sal Romeo’s direction (with Joe Banno) comes together on the tiny stage, set design executed by Elana Kathleen Farley. 

I highly recommend seeing Elvis’s Toenail before seeing Philomena and somewhere in the mix rent Peter Mullan’s The Magdelene Sisters for insights into how religion and prejudice have shaped our society and the hurdles that still challenge us: hurdles and walls which must be conquered to promote   acceptance of Women’s Rights as they struggle even still for Equality.  

by Fionnuala Kenny
The Sidewalk Studio Theatre (View)
4150 West Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Runs November 15th -December 14th, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  

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