Review: "Leaving Lannahassee” at Shelter Studios

Anthony J. Piccione

It’s not every day that I’m asked to come review staged readings of a play. However, when I was asked to come review the staged reading of Lynn Navarra’s Leaving Lannahassee, which had first received a full production earlier this year, the apparent subject matter of the play – which deals with the topic of mental illness– inspired me to come out and see what it was about this particular play that dealt with this subject that helped it receive so much praise.

Earlier this year, the play had made its NYC premiere at the American Theatre of Actors, where the production was both critically and commercially successful. At this encore performance – for one night only – the original Off-Broadway cast and director reunited to deliver a dramatic reading of the play, and to discuss the substance of it afterwards, with funds for tickets sales apparently being donated to the National Institute of Mental Health.

I found it to be not merely an insight into the mental health of the characters, although that was a clear theme. More broadly speaking, it came across to me as a vivid picture of what it may be like for many people living in rural America who have dreams and aspirations like anyone else does, but are usually unlikely – often for reasons that aren’t necessarily their fault – to achieve those dreams, thus fueling coming tragedies in their lives. It’s unfortunately something that way too many people are familiar with, and I admire the way in which that was captured in this play.

In terms of the cast, you could tell that these actors were already familiar with this play before this reading, as they delivered their lines with a level of energy and personality that you often find in full productions, but isn’t always as easy to reach in a staged reading setting. John Lewis and Stephen Wagner both deliver powerful performances in the lead male roles of Dennis and JoJo, respectively. Meanwhile, Liz Meinders delivers an especially captivating and energetic performance in the role of Brandy, which is particularly strong toward the climax of the play. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Carol Beaugard as Mercy, Lucy Apicello as Mrs. Ronan and Laurence C. Schwartz – who also serves as the play’s director – as Sheriff Callaway, all of whom delivered solid performances

It will be very intriguing to see what the future may hold in store for this play. In a previous interview, Ms. Navarra herself has stated “if we get theatres, directors and/or investors interested in Leaving Lannahassee or other plays of mine, I’d say the sky’s the limit!” Only time will tell exactly who those specific people or theaters might be, but after tonight, it’s not difficult to see what would make people interested in this play…