Cassandra Medley’s Cell kicks off Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s new season, the first under new artistic director Lydia Fort. This intense world-premiere play starring Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson, Monique Gaffney, Vimel Sephus and Andrea Agosto is engrossing but overstuffed. It’s a family drama (two sisters and a daughter haunted by the past and by circumstances). It’s a hard-hitting commentary (Cell is set in an immigration detention center, where desperation and exploitation collide). It’s a crime story (a detention center higher-up is sexually assaulting detainees, and there’s a cover-up). There’s even a romantic subplot involving Sephus and Agosto.
Cell is a despairing play, with characters seen and unseen crying out for hope in an unjust, uncompromising world. While beautifully acted and enhanced by inventive rotation of David F. Weiner’s scenic design in Mo’olelo’s limited theater space, it’s a big-time downer.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat