Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Kill Local
La Jolla Playhouse
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Hamlet and David's review of Pump Up the Volume

Amanda Quaid and Matthew Amendt
Photo by Jim Carmody
A well-told story can create empathy for characters that are immoral. Memorable films, shows, and television series deal with murderers ranging from bloodthirsty rulers to intimidating gangsters. Kill Local, in a La Jolla Playhouse world premiere production, asks audiences to understand an assassin who is addicted to killing. One of the strongest aspects about Mat Smart's (a UCSD San Diego M.F.A. playwriting program graduate) dark comedy, which was developed during the Playhouse's DNA New Works Series, is the manner in which he doesn't turn the protagonist, Sheila (Amanda Quaid), into a soulless machine. Theatregoers are drawn into her life, even as she commits shocking acts of violence.

In a high-rise tower, Sheila awaits instructions to murder the corrupt real estate scam artist Todd (Matthew Amendt). Helpless and desperate to live, Todd attempts to connect with Sheila on a human level. Although the hit woman acts emotionally guarded, she is affected by personal information Todd shares about himself. Through her conversations with Todd, a high school loner named Ami (Carolyn Braver), her tech savvy sister Abi (Xochitl Romero), and her boss/mom Gloria (Candy Buckley), Sheila starts to wonder if she should live a peaceful existence. Her hopes for a change seem to be less possible as people continue to be slaughtered.

Director Jackson Gay and the crew don't soften the savagery that Sheila and others commit. Wilson Chin's set contributes to the atmosphere. There are scenes with gore and grisly action as the narrative progresses. This is something that ticket buyers should be aware of before entering the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre. Adding black comedic irony is Broken Chord's audio, which plays "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" right after an act of brutality. On opening night, the production actually had to stop right after this song played, due to a technical issue. Fortunately, all ran smoothly after the problem was fixed a few minutes later.

Quaid shows how a life of crime has taken a psychological toll on Sheila. She brings intensity to the evening, and Braver, Romero, and Buckley often bring comical levity to the proceedings. While each actress is given interesting material, the character of Todd isn't quite as well fleshed out as the others. Todd isn't as likable as he could have been, which is a result of Smart's writing and Amendt's constant shouting. Since Todd is introduced in the very beginning, Kill Local gets off to a slow start. An additional scene showing Todd before he is in danger might help deepen his personality.

In each sequence, Smart uses offbeat laughs and dramatic revelations. Sheila and her family have quirks that allow them to feel well developed. Even when planning to kill someone, Sheila finds time to question what meal at Chipotle won't ruin her diet. While tension-breaking prose frequently works, several serious moments are a little too reminiscent of crime classics. For example, Sheila says she will take one final assignment before retiring from her deadly career. It's a concept that has been used a lot in the past and Smart doesn't really add anything new to that idea. Also, a death that occurs right before the climax isn't devastating, because Smart tries too hard to be sentimental.

While these issues can be improved, there is so much that Smart gets right in this thriller. What's particularly impactful is how each person has a different view of death. Where this especially works are the ways that Sheila and Gloria discuss murder. To Sheila, death was something that gave her a sense of purpose. Gloria only views killing as a way to earn money. The different stances on murder plays an integral part in Kill Local from the opening scene to to the resolution.

Both humorous and vicious, Smart introduces a type of anti-heroine that isn't normally featured onstage. For that reason alone, Kill Local deserves to be produced again after closing at the Playhouse.

La Jolla Playhouse presents Kill Local through August 27, 2017, at 2910 La Jolla Village Dr, La Jolla. Tickets start at $35.00 and be purchased online at or by phone at 1-858-550-1010.

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