A Taste of Honey Review - A Hard Look at the Two W's*

Written by Shelagh Delaney when she was a teenager, A TASTE OF HONEY shocked the staid British theater community when it was first presented in 1958. The Odyssey Theatre ensemble under the skilled direction of Kim Rubinstein has revived the stark English working-class tale of Manchester residents trying to survive. Of course, events and language that were daring and shocking to audiences of the 1950’s may be far more understandable and acceptable to audiences in the current millennium. No longer is homosexuality against the law in England, nor is out-of-wedlock pregnancy the stigma it was in the 1950’s. Nonetheless, the vitality and energy of the original remain. Poverty is still around, as are poor parenting, alcohol, and sexual experimentation.

Gerard Joseph and Kestral Leah - Photo by Enci Box

The production has been fortunate to have as its leading lady Kestrel Leah – herself a native of Manchester - playing the confused teenager Jo who has been forced to grow up before her time. Jo lives with her mother Helen (Sarah Underwood Saviano), a promiscuous musician barely making it. Enter sweet-talking African-American sailor Jimmie (Gerard Joseph), perhaps with a girl in every port; and Jo is unable to resist. And what is a pregnant teenager to do, especially when her mother leaves her and hooks up with Peter (Eric Hunicutt), a ne’er do-well with lots of money and no clear-cut way of earning it. Thanks goodness for gay best friend Geoffrey (Leland Montgomery), who takes on the role of Jo’s absent family.

Eric Hunicutt and Sarah Underwood Saviano - Photo by Enci Box

The cast does a bang-up job of bringing these struggling players to life – with special kudos to the ladies, especially the talented jazz musician Saviano who actually plays for her supper. The guys do a good job of holding up the male side of things, although Peter seems miscast as Helen’s violent, hard-drinking boyfriend.

Kestral Leah - Photo by Enci Box

Despite being over 50 years old, A TASTE OF HONEY has managed to remain timely. Although the shocking elements of the original no longer shock, the play has force and relevance as a study of the relationships among each of its members. Mother/daughter conflicts abound, as do issues of love, expediency, motherhood, substance abuse, hope, honesty, the meaning of friendship, and the two  *W’s, Work and Want. The credit for this metamorphosis must go to director Kim Rubinstein, who helms the production with sensitivity but also in-your-face realism. No punches are pulled in this well-done revival.

Leland Montgomery and Kestral Leah - Photo by Enci Box

Nephelie Andonyadis’s stark scenic design and Denise Blasor’s costumes are simple and underscore the absence of any type of luxury for these characters. Katelan Braymer’s lighting and jazz music provided by Armando Wood and Mark Guiterrez add to the overall mood.

Sarah Underwood Saviano and Kestral Leah - Photo by Enci Box

A TASTE OF HONEY runs through November 27, 2016, with performanc3es at 8 p.m. on select Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 8 pm. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (with one extra performance at 5 p.m. on 10/25/16). The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $25 to $34 (with discounted tickets for select performances). For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 or go online.

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