Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

FirefliesSouth Coast Repertory
Review by Bill Eadie

Christiana Clark and Lester Purry
Photo by Jordan KubatSCR
The civil rights era continued to bring to a head the inequalities perpetuated by slavery and white male privilege in the United States. Playwrights have not only explored this period of activism in the country's history, but they have also been sensitized to equalities for women, and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals that were exposed as the 1960s activism spawned additional activism for underrepresented and oppressed groups. The civil rights movement itself had its own problems with the roles that people other than heterosexual black male leaders could play in the quest for freedom.

Playwright Donja R. Love, who describes himself as "Black, Queer, HIV+ and surviving," has been exploring how civil rights activism affected the people who existed in the shadows of the movement, and in Fireflies, one of a projected trilogy on these topics, he focuses on what seems to be a conventional marital relationship between a woman and a man of color. While this couple's celebrations and strife could belong to many married couples, the commitment to activism rests heavily on both of them.

Olivia (Christiana Clark) and Charles (Lester Purry) have known each other since childhood, when their families were sharecroppers in the South. They married young and have been married for a long time. Charles became a preacher/activist in the civil rights movement, which by fall of 1963 had reached a high point with the March on Washington and was experiencing push-back from hate groups. Churches and homes were bombed and innocent people were killed. President Kennedy would be assassinated within a few weeks of this play's events.

Charles is charismatic and looked to for leadership, but Olivia is the writer who makes his rhetoric zing. She has lived in her husband's shadow since they were first married. She's alone in the house quite a bit, and has become overwhelmed enough to hear bombs exploding in the night air that's filled with fireflies. Charles drinks too much. They both smoke and try to hide from each other that they do so. Frankly, Olivia is starting to show signs of what would today be called post-traumatic stress disorder. The only refuge Olivia has is writing letters—sometimes to Charles, but sometimes to a friend named Ruby, and sometimes to God.

Mr. Love has written a fragile story about two people who have in many ways gone separate ways while remaining married. Charles' brief return home touches off long-simmering tensions and looses revelations on topics that neither are really prepared to confront.

Fireflies shapes up as 90 minutes of a crumbling marriage, one that is driving Olivia mad, but this dysfunction is rescued by the nuance and sensitivity of the two performers, in collaboration with director Lou Bellamy. The founding director of Minneapolis' Penumbra Theatre, Mr. Bellamy has worked with these two actors in the past. With Fireflies, they rely on their mutual knowledge of each other as theatre-makers, their knowledge of characters like Olivia and Charles, and, I imagine, on their knowledge of each other as people. In any case, the result is a domestic drama that builds emotionally from the kinds of small touches that can keep a sensitive audience enthralled.

Interestingly enough, the greatest drama is provided by Jeffrey Elias Teeter's projection design, as enhanced by Scott W. Edwards' sound design, in which fireflies turn into bombs and the night sky is set aflame, at least in Olivia's head. For the rest, scenic designer Vicki Smith, costume designer David Kay Mickelsen, and lighting designer Don Darnutzer have carefully created an environment that projects, simultaneously, serenity and anxiety, beauty and ugliness, love and hate.

And it is all these things that make the South Coast Repertory production of Fireflies an engaging and, to a degree, shattering, 90 minutes of theatre.

Fireflies runs through January 26, 2020, on the Julianne Argyros Stage of South Coast Repertory's complex at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa CA. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:45 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the box office, by calling 714-708-5555, or online at There are some variations to the performance schedule, so be sure to check before purchasing tickets.