Review: 'Zenith' at San Francisco Playhouse

Jordan Nickels

Life is a series of expectations and goals you set for yourself, that get you to where you want to eventually be. But what does it take to get there, to that highest point? This path is explored through Kirsten Greenidge’s new play Zenith, currently running at San Francisco Playhouse.

The play is a fictionalized account of a real-life mother of two named Diane Schuler, and piecing together the life behind a person involved in a tragedy. We live in a time where we are faced with tragedy daily in the media, and take the people we see tied to these events in black and white terms. However, Greenidge considered the grey area of this woman’s imagined past, to see if there was more to this perpetrator in terms of the motives behind her actions.

We meet Angela, a busy mother, a devoted wife, and a loving aunt…with an incredibly painful toothache. We experience the world swirling around as rapidly as the pain in her lower jaw, memories in her life leading up to the unfortunate event. Despite her determination, we see a woman with the Earth bearing down on her shoulders, incapable of reaching the highest point, the American Dream she has set out to claim. 

I thought Atim Udoffia did an excellent job of portraying Angela, playing a woman so strong and upbeat, but at the same time unstable and unable to ask for help. She balanced this character’s emotions brilliantly, never missing a stride. The show was rounded out by an incredible ensemble cast, including Indiia Wilmott and Sally Dana, who played the various female characters that took an incredible amount of range and personality, and Nia Fairweather, who’s final monologue as Hazel seized the audience’s full attention.

 Credit should be given to the director, Lauren English, for taking on this challenging, fast-moving piece. It was incredibly smart in the space they were in to use a profile staging, which gave us the feeling that the audience was closing in on Angela’s world and narrowing her viewpoint. The pacing was great and allowed the characters to never miss a beat, but also take their time with some very crucial moments with Greenidge’s words.

While it took me some time to get into this play, towards the end the complications all made sense. This nonlinear rush of snapshots, glimpses into Angela’s life, were a race to the top. One of the last texts she sends to her brother, Tim, at the campgrounds was that she was reaching her zenith, which means a highest point or state, a culmination. This play propelled the audience to the zenith, as we viewed everything in Angela’s life that lead her to this moment of culmination, and left the characters, and the audience, to deal with the aftermath. Like the climax to any story, your highest point may also be your lowest, and it’s important to know that behind every event, no matter how tragic, there is a person. They may not always be right or wrong, but there is a person there, and they have a story too, and a pinnacle they try to reach.

Zenith by Kirsten Greenidge is a part of the Sandbox Series of new plays at San Francisco Playhouse. See this world premiere play now through September 10th at A.C.T.’s Costume Shop in San Francisco.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: , Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8

Featured (left to right) Indiia Wilmott (Mom 2), Atim Udoffia (Angela), Nia Fairweather(Hazel) Photo: Ken Levin