Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Nearly Naked Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of White Guy on the Bus, The Antipodes, The Wild Party, and All Shook Up

Duane Daniels and Laura Anne Kenney
Photo by Laura Durant
Plays that focus on family situations and tragic events in one's past that they strive to overcome often make for some of the most intriguing dramas. Jennifer's Lane's fairly recent work Harlowe is a tightly written one that proves to be a fascinating look into how tragedy impacts one family and how the main character, Harlowe, who is bruised both physically and emotionally, is just trying to finally be able to feel something again. Nearly Naked Theatre's production is beautifully acted and directed with one of the best overall casts I've seen in a Nearly Naked show.

Without giving too much away, the plot focuses on Harlowe who, after suffering a traumatic experience, has been brought by her sister to their family home to recover. Harlowe, who has lost her sense of touch, finds that the sensation of spending hours submerged in the water in the bathtub to hear her heartbeat helps, somewhat, to ease her pain, as does an encounter with her high school boyfriend. But are the frayed relationships, fears and insecurities of Harlowe's family members—who, we learn, are all suffering from insecurities from a recent horrible experience—too much for them to overcome so they can all learn to feel again?

Lane's 80-minute drama is a play about healing. It's beautifully written with no unnecessary scenes and a structure that slowly doles out information from the character's pasts to allow us to fully understand what they've experienced and how family and personal dynamics have impacted each and every member of the family of four. There is also plenty of smartly written and realistic dialogue and a lot of humor.

As good and moving as Lane's play is, there is one small quibble I have with the piece, which centers on a decision the family makes with scheduling something even when the character of Reese hasn't been heard from for a few days. It doesn't quite ring true that they wouldn't have waited another day or two before moving forward on this major family event.

Director Damon Dering has assembled a stellar cast for this production. Laura Anne Kenney is simply spellbinding in her portrayal of Harlowe. She beautifully delivers the character's dark, inner monologues so we can understand what's going on in her mind, while also creating natural relationships with her fellow cast members, including humorous interactions, that portray a true feeling of family, warts and all. As Reese, Harlowe's sister, Brianne Massa creates a matter-of-fact woman who has to act, somewhat, as the family caretaker. Through Massa's portrayal we see that, while she may be hardened on the exterior, Reese is also suffering from the pain of a few events in her past. Duane Daniels is superb as their father Edwin, a man who clearly drinks too much as his way to try to counter the demons he's dealing with from his past. Daniels doesn't make one false move. As Scott, Harlowe's former high school boyfriend, David Nelson delivers a genuine and sweet portrayal, and as Davis, Harlowe and Reese's younger brother, Logan X. Sargent is a complete natural.

Dering's direction is focused, with swift-moving scene changes and excellent use of the sides and front of the stage to portray the scenes outside Harlowe's family home. He derives beautiful and natural performances from his entire cast. His set design, with Baron Dixon, makes smart use of set pieces that cover other elements to ensure there are never breaks in the action, and Ike Towers' lighting design offers some beautiful stage images, especially for the scenes set at night and outside.

Nearly Naked Theatre's production of Harlowe has a phenomenal cast and excellent direction, with no errors in getting the most out of Lane's smartly written dialogue and well plotted play. Harlowe effectively demonstrates that even a show that may seem at first to focus on traumatic events is really a statement about how recovery, though challenging, can also result in new understanding, a way for a family to come together to heal, and moments of true beauty.

Harlowe , through September 22, 2018, at Playhouse on the Park at Central Arts Plaza, 1850 N. Central Ave., Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-254-2151 or at

Written by Jennifer Lane
Director: Damon Dering
Scenic Design: Damon Dering and Baron Dixon
Lighting Design: Ike Towers
Hair & Make-Up Design: Damon Dering
Sound Design: Ethan Wescott and P. Swartz
Properties Design: Jay Templeton and Ralph Roberts

Harlowe: Laura Anne Kenney
Reese: Brianne Massa
Edwin: Duane Daniels
Scott: David Nelson
Davis: Logan X. Sargent