A NoHo Arts theatre review of Diversity Entertainment’s production of “Dead Skin” written and performed by Laneikka Denne, directed by Peter Blackburn, and produced by Jessica Orcsik at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Laneikka Denne is very young for a new playwright by most measures. She wrote “Dead Skin” at 17 in her native Australia, it was awarded the State Theatre Company x Flinders University Young Playwright’s Award, the premiere was at the Kings Cross Theatre in 2021 and it was published by Australian Plays. Not too shabby. Laneikka is also the recipient of the Diversity Entertainment Creative Mentorship and it is because of this program that “Dead Skin” is performing at Hollywood Fringe, and will then go to an Off-broadway theatre in New York while she works on a feature film adaption of the play for Diversity Entertainment, LLC. So, she’s a very busy girl. And, after seeing “Dead Skin” myself, I can tell you that she is also a pretty brilliant one.
The play is about Andie. She is about to turn 18 and is a sweet, slightly odd gay girl hopelessly in love with her best friend Maggie. Andie has a very stilted relationship with her father, who is mostly absent and very angry when he is home. She knows nothing about her mother, her father will never explain why and, at this point in her life, it is driving her literally crazy. She sees visions of her mother, feels her presence in her house, but doesn’t even know her name.
The play unfolds as a series of crucial moments in Andie’s life. Awkward flirtations and furtive touches with Maggie, difficult interactions with her father, dreams of a mother she has never met. And then there are the flashbacks of her mother and father. Their first meeting in the store where Andie now works after school. Their romance, their rows, their own volatile and ultimately doomed relationship all mirroring Andie’s life now. Her father recently remarried and his new young wife Audrey, who is really not that much older than Andie, is very concerned about her. She wants to help but is torn between her love for Andie’s father and her need to help Andie find her mother. All this and a very real and visceral heavy feeling that something is very very wrong in Andie’s world.
These scenes feel scattered and sometimes almost random, but they perfectly reflect Andie’s teenage mind, the nonsensical nature of this tightly wound and deeply wounded girl who must find out who she is. The dialogue is achingly good. So funny and flashy and almost dangerous at times between Andie and Maggie especially. There’s an intense kind of desperate need for each other, however obvious it might be that it will never work out. And then the cruel nature of love and rejection and a severing of self when it all goes wrong.
There’s an other worldly thread through “Dead Skin” that teases us with a truth of Andie and her mother and keeps us on the edge of our seats, waiting, hoping for her, aware the odds are not in her favor. Like watching someone caught in a riptide.
“Dead Skin” is a truly astonishing play and it stays with you. I keep returning to the stage, seeing them playing out this story, with an ominous suspension of faith. It’s really excellent and every actor, all Australian, beautifully delivers on the promise of their roles.
Laneikka Denne is wonderful as Andie. So fragile and so fierce and so very brave. I loved this play. I hope you see it and I know it will touch you as much as it did me if you do.
There are five dates, so you really have absolutely no excuse: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7292?tab=tickets
Laneikka Denne (Andie), Robbie Ryde (Henry), Ashlee Juergens (Magie), Emma Burnside (Andrea), Nerida Bronwen and Sascha Vanderslik (Audrey) and Kate O’Neill (Nurse/Customer).
Opening: Friday, June 10 at 2:00 PM
Thursday, June 16 at 6:00 PM
Sunday, June 19 at 1:30 PM
Thursday, June 23 at 9:30 PM
Saturday, June 25 at 6:30 PM
7456 Melrose Blvd, West Hollywood, 90046