Amanda Quaid (seated) and Matthew Amendt in "Kill Local." Photo by Jim Carmody
Chances are after seeing La Jolla Playhouse’s Kill Local, you’ll never think of the old fireside favorite “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” the same way. In UCSD MFA grad Mat Smart’s graphic tale about a family of assassins, the children’s song is the recurring, otherworldly refrain of beautiful contract killer Sheila (Amanda Quaid). It’s also one of many unsubtle attempts Smart’s gratuitously violent play makes at irony in the name of black comedy.
In this world premiere play directed by Jackson Gay, Sheila, her mother (Candy Buckley) and to a lesser extent her sister Abi (Xochiti Romero) are propped up as killers for hire who in between blowing people away are ordering takeout from Chipotle or, in Sheila’s case, working on a relationship with the possibility of marriage and even kids. But when Sheila makes a mistake after assassinating a corporate sleazo (Matthew Amendt) in the first of the evening’s bloody doings, a complication arises that threatens not only the family business but Sheila and her kin’s lives.
Smart builds in biting lines for all, and in the case of Mom’s second-act mutilation of the teenaged threat to the family (Carolyn Braver), shock value to go with them. But his characters’ balancing act of irreverence and self-examination is unconvincing. Sheila, for example, is the satellite of Kill Local’s twisted universe, but we’re only teased with insight into why she keeps killing, whether she feels anything in so doing or afterward, or where her ruthless life is headed. In spite of an able performance from Quaid, and an entertaining one from Buckley as her mother, neither their characters nor any of the others feels much like real people. In a play about murder, even one seeking horrified laughter, you have to care why someone lives as well as about those who die, “deservedly” or not.
With an opening sequence that has the impact of a brick through a plate-glass window, Kill Local promises a journey into the mind of a remorseless killer who may also be a human being with deep-seated frailties. It only takes us halfway on that journey, leaving us with a protagonist who is – and THIS is irony – a bloodless one. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/9/17.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat