Femme Fest Highlights Multi-Culti One-Woman Shows

Karen A Clark: Photos courtesy of Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival.

The 31st annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival is taking place this weekend. LAWTF shines the limelight on women of various ethnicities who perform solo shows. This year’s theme is “Telling Our Truths.” On March 23 the Festival held “Intersection: Day of Workshops and Panels,” wherein, according to publicity, “participants gathered in a series of enriching workshops and engaging panels led by experienced industry professionals” at the Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood.

On March 28, LAWTF’s opening night champagne gala was held at that same venue. After a buffet meal diners moved next door to the Theatre 68 Arts Complex-Rosalie Theatre for an awards ceremony enlivened by two performances. The award-giving ritual was presided over by two veteran actresses of stage and screen. The roles of Mississippi-born, longtime LAWTF host Hattie Winston, a founder of the famed Negro Ensemble Company, have included on Becker and The Electric Company and in the 1970 Broadway show The Me Nobody Knows. Co-host Margaret Avery was Oscar-nominated for playing Shug in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 The Color Purple, she co-starred opposite Fred Williamson in the 1973 Blaxploitation pic Hell Up in Harlem and more recently depicted MLK’s mother Mama King in the National Geographic TV series Genius. As they presented the eight accolades, Winston and Avery read from a script and extemporized with panache.

Before detailing who won what, a few words on awards ceremonies, especially here in La-La-Land. If you and/or talents do not win – and especially if they’re not even nommed – this can only mean one thing: that the prize-giving rite is an exercise in gladhanding egotists slapping one another on the back and telling each other how fab they are. However, if an artist you support does win, this can only mean that this bestowal of accolades is a richly deserved recognition of one’s life and abilities by one’s peers. Having said that, I’ll start by reporting on the two winners whose paths I’ve had the pleasure of crossing over the years as a theater critic and who I can say from my personal experience of observing them and their work have well-earned their LAWTF trophies, which appear to be made out of glass and inscribed with the bearer’s name, etc.

As presenters, Winston and Avery informed the sold-out crowd about highlights of the recipients’ lives and careers. Videos, including perhaps some sizzle reels, were screened to give viewers a taste of the talents’ powers and abilities, far beyond those of normal men and women, before the winners were summoned to the podium to be given their trophies and make acceptance speeches.  

In the “Eternity Award” category, Caryn Desai is the Artistic Director and Producer at the International City Theatre. I’ve made many trips down to Long Beach to see plays at ICT, such as the Desai-directed production of John Logan’s Tony Award-winning Red, about abstract painter Mark Rothko (see: In her acceptance speech, Ms. Desai asserted: “Theater is still an important platform for our democracy,” and amused the audience by singing a version of part of Gershwin’s “Summertime,” with lyrics she composed to express her appreciation of being, well, appreciated, for her years of contribution to the stage. 

I encountered Carolyn Ratteray when she starred in David Wally’s sex farce Six Degrees of Fornication at the Whitefire Theatre in 2014 ( and was delighted to see this actress/director/writer get the acknowledgement her artistry merits with LAWTF’s “Integrity Award.” Ms. Ratteray’s TV credits include FX’s Snowfall, one of the best series in television history. She has studied theatrical clowning with Philippe Gaulier, and if I may say so, the French harlequin’s protégé has a lovely smile that looks as if she’s perpetually bemused by life.

Producer/director/coach/playwright Jessica Lynn Johnson, CEO of Soaring Solo Studios International and helmer of this year’s LAWTF, received the “Rainbow Award.” Writer/ director/actress Lisa Sanaye Dring of Hilo, a seven-time Ovation Award winner, also received an “Integrity Award.”

Emmy nominated actress/writer/producer Naomi Grossman, who repellingly appeared in TV’s American Horror Story and onstage in American Whore Story (NO, that is NOT a typo), won a “Maverick Award.” Ms. Grossman delivered the best line in an awards ceremony acceptance speech since, upon wining a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Oppenheimer, Robert Downey Jr. thanked his “miserable childhood” for his winning that coveted golden statuette. Naomi did him one better, gushing: “I’d like to thank myself for my own tenacity.” But don’t forget your abundant talent, Ms. Grossman!

A “Maverick Award” was also given to the bubbly actress/producer Wendy Raquel Robinson, an Emmy and NAACP Image Award winner, who won and ran to another engagement immediately after receiving her latest laurel. (BTW, wouldn’t a true “Maverick” do a George C. Scott/Marlon Brando and decline accepting an honor for pursuing one’s singular vision and going one’s way? But I digress…)

Co-producer/actress Maria G. Martinez, who has been associated with theaters such as CASA 101, also won an “Eternity Award.” She said: “We wanted to keep the kids out of gangs and knew art could change the world.” The “Infinity Award,” which is posthumously given to a force in the theater, was bestowed upon director/actress Shirley Jo Finney, and accepted on her behalf by Dr. Carliss McGhee.

LAWTF’s two-hour-plus ceremony was enlivened by some, you know, live performances, which is how theater should always be celebrated. In a highly entertaining staging of excerpts from her personal solo show The Women, Karen A. Clark acted and sang (including Gershwin’s “Summertime”) about her family. Like many one-person shows, it was extremely personal, beautifully performed and for my money, the highlight of the evening. 

L.A. resident Juli Kim was scheduled to dance, but, alas, she had injured her ankle and was replaced onstage by Jiyoung Choi, who flew in from Seoul to perform Korean dances. Ms. Choi appeared onstage in a traditional, colorful costume, with what looked similar to a cowboy hat slung around her neck. Mounting a two-foot (or so) high drum Jiyoung regaled the audience with a customary Korean drum, arms extended outwards from her sides, holding what looked like flags. At first, I thought she was impersonating a signal officer landing aircraft or going to use semaphore flags to convey words. But I was wrong – she was reenacting a Korean fortuneteller, and went into the audience to predict a few futures based on the colors of the cloths she twirled and unfolded. (As of March 29, I can predict the future: Jiyoung will dance at LAWTF on Saturday, March 30 at 3:00 p.m. Just call me “Criswell Rampell.”)

In a special tribute, LAWTF’s Co-Founder/President, the estimable force of nature Adilah Barnes, presented a surprise award to the unsuspecting Hattie Winston, honoring her 25 years of co-hosting the Festival’s yearly awards ceremony. That wrapped up the function, with Adilah inviting all gluttons for goodies to enjoy gluten free cake in the lobby. 

The program of one-woman shows and other solo performances for this year’s Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival from March 29-March 31 include:

“BOXED IN, SET FREE”, Friday, March 29, 8:00 p.m.

“CULTURAL ROAD MAPS”, Saturday, March 30, 3:00 p.m.

“OUTSIDE THE LINES”, Saturday, March 30, 8:00 p.m.

“LOOKING BACK”, Sunday, March 31, 3:00 p.m.

“RISING ABOVE”, Sunday, March 31, 7:00 p.m.

LAWTF is being performed at Theatre 68 Arts Complex-Rosalie Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. For info see: or call (818)760-0408.  

Aloha Oe (Farewell to Thee), Louis Gossett Jr.  


Photos courtesy of Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival. Juli Kim, and hosts Margaret Avery and Hattie Winston and dancer Jiyoung Choi.