Reviewed by Amanda Callas

Kill Shelter  is a powerful world premiere play by Ashley Rose Wellman at Theatre of Note in Hollywood.    This grounded, slice of life drama tells the quiet story of a single mother who works in a public animal shelter.  

Kill Shelte r is anchored by a no-holds-barred, immersive bravura performance by award-winning actor Ashley Romans ( Shameless ) as main character Colleen. She doesn't seem to know how to strike a false note. Everything Ashley Romans does is truthful, specific, and compelling. I was blown away by her talent and her commitment to radical honesty on stage.

The loft-like, intimate space of the theatre, with no division between stage and audience, makes the audience feel like a part of everything. It also captures the claustrophobia of the crowded shelter and the tiny studio apartment where our main character, Colleen, lives and works. There is just not enough space - in so many ways.

When college intern Brady, played with fresh simplicity and engaging charm by Brandon Warfield, comes to work at her public shelter, Colleen opens herself up to sharing her world in a way that perhaps she never has. Colleen's growing attraction to Brady brings mixed feelings and complications. Brady bears witness with her to the shelter's never-ending work, the crowding, the hate calls, the doxing, the euthanasia.

The animals are portrayed by puppets, crafted with much creativity and superb emotiveness by puppet designer Emory Royston. Watching the pets euthanized on stage is harrowing. Each animal, loving, ferocious, or wounded, has a story, narrated by the actor moving the puppet. The abandonment and the death of the animals are daily devastation that even the incredibly resilient Colleen struggles to bear.

Colleen's teen daughter Ellie fiercely judges her mother for working at a kill shelter. Ellie is played with immense subtlety and heart by Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson. When Ellie unexpectedly becomes pregnant as a high school student, everything about their lives is thrown into question.

In  Kill Shelter,  Playwright Ashley Rose Wellman explores the tension between idealism and real life, between the compassionate idea of a no kill shelter and the reality that a no kill shelter exists because it discriminates, because it turns animals away. There are too many unwanted animals, too many discarded pets. There is not enough space to house everyone forever. A no kill shelter is a private space, run by charity, well-funded, well-loved, selective. A   public kill shelter is for everyone. It's democratic and ugly.    It is reviled by activists and animal lovers.   Euthanasia is horrifying. Yet it also deals with all of the public need. 

Some kind of subtle, underlying thematic connection is mined by playwright Ashley Rose Wellman between the public shelter, euthanasia, and abortion. What happens in the space between the generous idealism of wanting to protect and nurture all life, and the   reality that all life is not wanted?

Heroism is to be found here in unexpected places, not by the people making all the grand talking points, but by the people doing the real, underpaid, unrewarded work of dealing with things, day after day. Colleen's Herculean labor is taken on the spiritual and physical weight of every being who is unwanted - and carries it for everyone else.

The direction of  Kill Shelter,  by accomplished theatre director and nonfiction TV veteran Shaina Rosenthal, is full-bodied, truthful, unsentimental, and intensely moving. Shaina Rosenthal brings her documentary, reality instincts and sensibilities to this production to great effect. This play is produced with sensitivity and fierce realism by producer Niall Sulcer and the outstanding creative team at Theatre of Note. The stagecraft by scenic designer Colin Lawrence is inventive and immersive, even somehow invoking the precise shelter smell of despair and disinfectant.

Kill Shelter is thought-provoking, nuanced, bravely unflinching, emotional, and unexpected. It has a great deal to say. Theatre of Note has a real gem on its hands.

Kill Shelter runs August 24 through October 1. Performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 6:00 p.m. Running time: 90 minutes; no intermission.    Admission: $30.    Street parking, paid lots nearby. Online Ticketing:    Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.    Please note that this play is double-cast and the review here refers specifically to the above (RED) cast.

Posted By DH Magazine on August 31, 2023 03:39 pm | Permalink