Sunday, April 5, 2015

PRISON BOXING at the Skylight

 Leah Joki’s one woman show, Prison Boxing, directed by Linda Grinde, is a serious memoir/polemic. She takes us through her eighteen years working with inmates and convicts in California prisons. She swings back and forth from her youth in Montana (where she went to Catholic schools and had never seen anyone of a different color until she was eighteen) to being accepted to Julliard where she was active in ‘protest’ theatre, and loved being naked on stage, to being an exchange student in Belgium where the social competition was a challenge, to winding up as an arts teacher in the California prison system.  It’s a checkered journey.
Leah Joki / Prison Boxing  
Photo by
Terry Cyr
The actress will soon be sixty and it seems that her long service as a teacher and ten subsequent years as a performer and writer all come to a head with mixed blessing in the eighty minute one woman performance.  Roland Rosencranz’s simple set and Derrick McDaniel’s lighting enhance the idea of how tough it is to just get into prison.  A grid of nine squares on the floor represent the stages that one must go through to be admitted.  No metal! Bouncing on stage, her light brown hair bounces with her as she cheerfully welcomes the audience in the Skylight’s 25 seat theatre.   She greets us warmly and walks us through the stages of gaining entry to prison, step by step.  Sound by Christopher Moscatiello is shocking and one certainly feels incarcerated.

As Joki relates the steps that led her to her long tenure as a teacher, we side track from time to time with insights into her personal life. The serendipity of being accepted to Julliard; she transitions to portray some of the prisoners and officials whom she encountered in her career.  She relates the story of the horrible kidnapping of Polly Klaas in 1993 in Petaluma, California. At one point, she becomes the twelve year old as Polly’s photograph is projected on the white tile wall upstage.  She dramatically relates the kidnapping and murder by  hardened murderer, Richard Alan Davis, who taunted the Klaas Family when his guilty verdict was handed down.

The boxes that indicated the steps that Joki had to fill while coming to and from her job are reflected in the title.  Often, she said, she was encouraged to ‘put on the green’ (become a much more highly paid prison guard) and leave her art behind.  She never could.  With downsizing of the arts programs in the California prisons, she noted that pay for the Corrections Officers was increased by over a third. 

The small audience in Sunday’s performance did not deter the actor from enthusiastically bringing her own story to life.  It’s admirable to expose one’s self in this way.  Prison Boxing deserves an audience.

Written and performed by Leah Joki
Skylight Theatre
1816 ½  N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Plays Saturdays and Sundays only at 5PM
Closes April 26, 2015
Tickets and Information:
213 761 7061

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