In Case of Emergency

Jun 12, 2016

13418419_10154164011286668_5994375452237980787_oFor the past nine years, Chalk Repertory Theatre has been creating some pretty unusual theater in the Los Angeles area. On Saturday night, I witnessed their latest production, In Case of Emergency.

The play takes place in the garage of a young lady tormented by fears of disaster, so the venue for the play was, in fact, a very typical garage attached to a very typical suburban home in Montrose. Site-specific theater is Chalk Repertory’s method—a great technique that pulls us out of our comfort zone. Usually a night at the theatre is rich with the trappings and conventions we have grown to love, and to rely upon: when we arrive at the Ahmanson, or the Geffen Playhouse, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. But when you’re sitting in front of a stranger’s garage in Montrose with thirty-one other patrons, you have no idea what might be in store. When the curtain rises (or when the garage door rattles upward) we become voyeurs, peeking into the troubled lives of the characters inhabiting this house and garage, and we have no idea what might happen.

It turns out that it is two sisters we have come to visit in Montrose, and so you know from the get-go that there will be drama. It’s the eldest daughter, Meredith (Amy Ellenberger), who has an unhealthy fear of imminent disaster. Meredith is always looking for the worst case scenario, and so she hires a professional in emergency preparedness, Alex (Daniel Rubiano), to organize her packed-to-the-rafters garage.  It turns out that Alex, a troubled veteran, is maybe not the best person to call in times of an emergency. But Meredith and Alex do seem to have something in common, and we can see the potential for something besides mayhem begin to develop. In Case of Emergency, though, is not a simple romantic comedy. It is a comedy for sure, with hints of romance, but when Meredith’s sister arrives, the author begins to peel  away the layers of artifice, and we can understand a little bit about the origins of Meredith’s neurosis. And so the back-story unfolds, and we become privy to the on-going sisterly drama.


All photos courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre

All photos courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre


One difficulty with site-specific theatre is the juxtaposition of a real environment with actors reading lines. Poor acting just isn’t allowed because it will become immediately obvious. We don’t have that problem with this production. The actors do a really fine job. A palpable chemistry exists between Meredith and Alex from the beginning. The chemistry between Meredith and Emma is also apparent, in fact it is more than apparent. These two actresses must have been sisters in another life because they convey all the tension and pent-up anger that is often found in sisterly relationships. You know that an actor is in character if a large beetle flies into the set and everyone reacts totally in character—this is the sort of test that environmental theatre may present (and did present on Saturday night), and these actresses passed with flying colors. Daniel Rubiano’s portrayal of a war veteran with PTSD is very moving and thoroughly believable. Never is Rubiano’s performance excessive or gratuitous. Rather, it seems heart-felt, especially as he expresses his concern for his children at school.


Photo by Halei Parker, courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre

Photo by Halei Parker, courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre


In Case of Emergency is a well-crafted examination of the relationship between two sisters and their interaction with a third-party who carries his own emotional baggage. Ruth McKee creates a clever scenario for the three actors to interact in a meaningful and comic way. The author, however, finds a single note and remains on it for much of the play. Will there be tension between two grown sisters who share a tumultuous past? Yes, there will be. Is this drama portrayed in an engrossing manner? Yes, it is.  Can I handle eighty minutes of sibling strife? No, I cannot. I don’t know who could have moderated the relentless arguing between the two sisters: the author, the director, the actors? I do wish, however, that someone had.

Performances of In Case of Emergency run through July 3.  Performances take place in garages of actual private homes—a different location each weekend within the Northeast Los Angeles region.


Photo by Halei Parker, courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre

Photo by Halei Parker, courtesy of Chalk Repertory Theatre


In Case of Emergency
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.
Through July 3rd
Ticket prices are $20 – $35
For more information, please visit
Or visit Chalk Repertory Theatre on Facebook


in case of emergency post card front






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