Ariana Mahallati and Abby Leigh Huffstetler. Photo: Crystal Ludwick

How to Defend Yourself

By Lily Padilla
Directed by Marti Lyons

Review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

There is nothing more infuriating than attempting several times to solve the same problem over and over again. Trying different methods and seeking advice from assorted perspectives might help lighten the burden but yields satisfying conclusions and closure. What about when it’s in our culture? Where smiles are demanded of girls, hugs are forced upon children, a sexual assault prompts finger pointing at everything including what was worn by the victim, yet the assailant walks away with a slap on the wrist. How do you fix this culture? How do you solve this systemic problem? How to Defend yourself, the most recent installment at the 43rd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays asks these questions while acknowledging hard realities.

In this era of #MeToo, so much attention is paid to stories of sexual assault and rape. The concept of Lily Padilla’s Post-Modern piece is so truthful, it’s almost eerie: a group of college students participate in a basic self -defense class as the dust settles on a brutal sex crime at a frat party. Padilla’s dialogue captures a natural conversational rhythm that grows into bold moments of word repetition and stammering at the play’s climax. The physicality and staging of the piece is impressive. The fight choreography from Drew Fracher makes every stronghold, punch demonstration, and break away fluid and flawless.

The cast delivers physically and emotionally strong performances. As Kara, Abby Leigh Huffstetler brings some comedic moments to a drunken sorority girl stereotype. David Ball’s Andy has good intentions, sympathizing with his female counterparts even if his efforts result in self-congratulating and mansplaining. As Brandi, the leader of the self-defense class, Anna Crivelli brings a desperate desire to do her part as the wannabe alpha dog. Crivelli proves to be a fighter as she leads fight demos and to keep composure in the face of tragedy. Molly Adea’s performance as Nikki is a slow build. Adea brings shy moments throughout the piece, as Nikki grows more uncomfortable with every demonstration and partner activity. Finally, Adea is explosive near the end, as she delivers her “it doesn’t work speech.” Her emotional and raw delivery echoes the frustrations of victims with a hunger for justice and change.

Efforts are made to learn how to fight back against an attacker and understandings are attempted throughout the play, and yet, resolutions are not met. And the sobering concluding sequence is a reminder of this reality.

How to Defend Yourself

March 13 – April 7, 2019

Part of the 43rd Humana Festival of New American Plays

Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202


Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and as well. Thanks for reading!


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