Seatbelts Required — On the Rocky Road of Life (and Death)


From l, Cynthia Manous plays middle sister Agnes, Chelsea Pitillo plays youngest sister Maggie, and Elizabeth Kimball plays oldest sister Janet in “Seatbelts Required.”

Seatbelts Required, a new play by Kimberly Demmary, brings together three sisters, coming to terms with their mother’s recent death, each in their own way, and in the process, forming a deep bond.

Their characters develop, as they “come to life” on stage, as they maneuver this gut-wrenching journey. The play showcases LA natives, Cynthia Manous (Agnes); Elizabeth Kimball (Janet); and Chelsea Pitillo (Maggie), highly talented actresses with natural chemistry, remarkable range of emotion, and the inherent ability to share the message of how truly precious life is.

With shades of Albee’s Zoo Story, the first scene begins with light hearted banter, and gradually crescendos to an intense, almost volatile, powerful second act. Grieving over their mother’s death serves, theoretically, as the backdrop, yet so much angst, tension, and fury over harrowing memories of their childhood is seething beneath the surface. Sibling rivalry is an age-old theme, dating from biblical times (Joseph and his brothers; Cain and Abel), yet Seatbelts takes sibling rivalry to a whole new level. The three sisters seem to be in competition from the moment they were born, with a manipulative mother who pitted one against the other, resulting in a bitter family dynamic as adult siblings.

The second act is much more powerful than the first, as dark secrets unfold and memories unravel. The moment Maggie (Pitillo) discovers the White Album amidst her mother’s belongings, and sings “Blackbird,” I became entranced. More secrets are uncovered, as Maggie brings out a letter from “Mommie Dearest,” addressed to each daughter.

Light and darkness are significant and symbolic throughout the show, with lights flickering on and off in the opening scene. Each secret revealed sheds light on the darkness of their formative years. One insightful line recited by one sister says it all: “Aren’t we really all the same as our mother?” A re-enactment of a puppet show added an evocative, cathartic touch, as the sisters vented their grief, in an ironic and seemingly innocent venue. As each sister “drank up,” in commiseration, their inhibitions lessened and empathy increased. Quite a powerful performance!

All this “mama-drama” took place in a tiny 37 seat theatre, with room for enormous potential.

Seatbelts Required is running through Nov. 27 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The Actors Workout Studio is located at 4735 Lankershim Blvd. For tickets, call (818) 506-3903.

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