A strong, clear #MeToo voice

The Foun­tain gives voice to Amanda Kohr’s look at sex­ual as­sault in ‘Light­house.’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Cather­ine Wo­mack cal­en­dar@la­times.com

The one-act play “The Light­house” at the Foun­tain Theatre is an in­dict­ment of rape cul­ture.

“It’s beach week, baby!” A tall, hand­some col­lege ath­lete cracks open a cold beer as he flops onto a worn sofa. The se­mes­ter is over for Shane and his friends, and the stress of fi­nal ex­ams is quickly fad­ing into a blur of sun, sand and mo­ji­tos served in red Solo cups.

On­stage at the Foun­tain Theatre in East Hol­ly­wood, six young ac­tors fall eas­ily into the rhythms of day drink­ing and ban­ter in­side the fic­tional rented va­ca­tion home. The set is sparse, but the in­side jokes and ca­sual flir­ta­tions be­tween its oc­cu­pants feel so real you can prac­ti­cally smell the salty air and taste the PBR.

But there is an ele­phant in this liv­ing room.

Perched on a tall di­rec­tor’s chair in the mid­dle of the stage, seem­ingly in­vis­i­ble to the rev­el­ers, sits a silent fe­male life­guard. Only when she’s left alone with Jesse, the play’s cen­tral char­ac­ter, does the life­guard be­gin to speak.

“Are you sure you want to be wear­ing that?” the life­guard asks, peer­ing dis­ap­prov­ingly over her sun­glasses at Jesse’s short denim shorts and tank top. “Are you try­ing to get laid for at­ten­tion or val­i­da­tion?”

Hyper­crit­i­cal, judg­men­tal and dis­parag­ing, the life­guard is a con­stant pres­ence through­out Amanda Kohr’s 80-minute, one-act play, “The Light­house.” As the win­ner of the Foun­tain’s com­pe­ti­tion-style Rapid De­vel­op­ment Se­ries, the play re­ceived two nights of free semi-staged read­ings this week — all part of an ef­fort to give a louder voice to play­wrights un­der 30.

One of sev­eral sur­re­al­ist el­e­ments in the show, the life­guard plays the part of Jesse’s dark­est in­ner voice fol­low­ing a trau­matic sex­ual as­sault at the beach house. “The Light­house” is Kohr’s in­dict­ment of rape cul­ture and the epi­demic of sex­ual as­sault on col­lege cam­puses. Kohr said the play was in­spired by the 2015 case of Brock Turner, the Stan­ford swim­mer con­victed of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing an un­con­scious woman, and was in­formed by Kohr’s own ex­pe­ri­ences.

On two printed sheets of folded white of­fice pa­per that served as the pro­gram for the evening, Kohr, 27, wrote can­didly about her own story:

“I grew up ac­cept­ing sex­ual as­sault — the act was so preva­lent that it swam be­low the radar un­der the per­cep­tion as nor­malcy. By 16 I had been ma­nip­u­lated into un­wanted sex­ual sit­u­a­tions, as­saulted and cat­called.”

As an un­der­grad­u­ate at James Madi­son Uni­ver­sity in Vir­ginia, Kohr said in an ear­lier phone in­ter­view, she “heard about, wit­nessed and ex­pe­ri­enced so much sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment among col­lege-age stu­dents that it just be­come nor­mal.” At times, she said, she felt like it was “harder to find some­body who hadn’t been roofied than some­body who had.”

Kohr wrote “The Light­house” in sum­mer 2016. She had read Jon Krakauer’s re­ported nar­ra­tive, “Mis­soula: Rape and the Jus­tice Sys­tem in a Col­lege Town,” and she closely fol­lowed the Stan­ford case as it un­folded. She was ap­palled by the le­niency of Turner’s sen­tence — six months, re­duced to three months for good be­hav­ior — and was in­spired by the let­ter that his vic­tim read at the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing.

“I am a firm be­liever that en­ter­tain­ment can help ed­u­cate,” Kohr said, “so I re­ally strove to draw my au­di­ence in through comedy and then bash them with the truth.”

Kohr wrote the play more than a year be­fore the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal broke, sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment be­came a na­tional cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion, and #MeToo be­came a move­ment. That’s one rea­son Jes­sica Broutt, 25, the co-founder and co-pro­ducer of the Foun­tain’s Rapid De­vel­op­ment Se­ries, found Kohr’s play so com­pelling.

Broutt, who in­terned at the Foun­tain as a col­lege stu­dent and worked briefly as the com­pany’s box of­fice man­ager, came up with the idea for the se­ries with Foun­tain as­so­ciate pro­ducer James Ben­nett four years ago.

“We no­ticed that there weren’t re­ally a lot of young peo­ple go­ing to the the­ater,” she said. “We would go to all these awe­some read­ing se­ries at other theaters, but it was never young peo­ple who were play­wrights, and they gen­er­ally weren’t L.A.based.”

Broutt and Ben­nett pitched the idea to the Foun­tain’s man­age­ment as a sort of the­atri­cal bat­tle of the bands. Broutt would se­lect four plays by L.A. play­wrights un­der 30. The the­ater would pro­vide the ac­tors and the space, and each play would re­ceive a “snap­shot” read­ing at which au­di­ences would vote for their fa­vorite, draw­ing them more ac­tively into the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The ac­tors and di­rec­tors are vol­un­teers, and the per­for­mances are free.

“We were try­ing to rule out all the rea­sons why peo­ple our age don’t go to plays,” Broutt said.

This year marks the se­ries’ fourth sea­son. Broutt says that when she read “The Light­house,” she knew im­me­di­ately it was spe­cial.

“I just felt like, wow, this is a play that is tak­ing on rape cul­ture and break­ing it down in a way that is ed­u­ca­tional and pro­vides a sur­re­al­ism and a hu­mor that will en­gage peo­ple,” she said. “It’s very rare for me to see some­thing that is do­ing all of those things ef­fec­tively. And then as we were go­ing through de­vel­op­ment last fall, the Har­vey We­in­stein stuff came out.”

In just a few months Kohr has been able to work with Broutt to pol­ish the play, have it re­ceive two short read­ings as it pro­gressed through the com­pe­ti­tion, and watch it per­formed on­stage in its en­tirety for the first time.

“When I was in col­lege I had a lot of shorter things staged,” Kohn said, “but this is my first thing that’s like bor­der­line pro­fes­sional.”

Au­di­ence mem­bers on Wed­nes­day night were racially di­verse and younger than what’s typ­i­cal in most L.A. theaters. They laughed out loud as Jesse’s rapist, Shane, was pre­sented as a hero dur­ing ex­ag­ger­ated, game-show-style court pro­ceed­ings. And some wiped tears from their eyes when Jesse found the strength to si­lence her in­ner-critic life­guard and redis­cover her own con­fi­dent voice.

At the end of the “The Light­house,” the house lights came up dra­mat­i­cally as Jesse called for peo­ple to speak out and shine a light on sex­ual mis­con­duct. In the front row, Kohr hugged her friends. Her #MeToo story had found an au­di­ence.

Maria Ale­jan­dra Car­dona Los Angeles Times

A READ­ING of Amanda Kohr’s “The Light­house” at the Foun­tain Theatre in­cludes Gar­ret Wag­ner, left, Kel­ley Mack, Michael D. Turner and Chops Bai­ley.

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