The Cancellation of Lauren Fein

World Premiere at Palm Beach Dramaworks

By: - Feb 18, 2024

“We don’t need you to tell us about (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). We live it,” the title character says in Christopher Demos-Brown’s riveting and vital play, The Cancellation of Lauren Fein.

Indeed, you would think Fein would fully embrace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies. After all, the brilliant Biology professor is female, Jewish, gay, married to a Hispanic woman, and together, the couple foster a Black youth. Also, one of her best friends is Black and her research partner at the university is Nigerian.

On the other hand, “the world is a complicated place,” that professor from Nigeria says.

Truly, it is complex, and so are people and language. Therefore, it may be wise not to assume anything or adopt a black or white, rigid way of thinking. In addition, communication is often key.

These are some takeaway lessons in The Cancellation of Lauren Fein, which is receiving an excellent world premiere production at Palm Beach Dramaworks (PBD) through Feb. 25. Due to high ticket demand, the professional, nonprofit company in West Palm Beach, which commissioned the play, extended the production by a few performances.

 Once again, PBD produces top-notch work

It is not a stretch to say that PBD is doing its best work since last year’s superb production of Twelve Angry Men. Look for The Cancellation of Lauren Fein and PBD’s production of it to receive Carbonell Award consideration.

Undoubtedly, under Margaret M. Ledford’s careful direction, the acting is so convincing and the action so engaging that you feel as though you are watching an episode of Law and Order. In addition to the actors’ skill, PBD’s intimate playing space helps create that sense of realism.

Although the running time is roughly two-and-a-quarter hours, the play seems to breeze by. That is because you become so engrossed in this thriller of a play that you lose track of time.

If, while experiencing the piece, you feel as though you are reading a John Grisham page turner, that is understandable. Like Grisham, Brown is a practicing lawyer, so he is familiar with the type of incidents that occur in The Cancellation of Lauren Fein.

Brown writes with familiarity, and his play contains suspense, snappy dialogue, a wicked dry wit, and sympathetic characters. Also, the play contains quotable lines. For these reasons, and more, you would be wise to hurry and buy tickets.

 Timeliness is evident

With our fiercely divided society and high-tech world in which people demand instant results, and information spreads faster than a cheetah, Brown’s play couldn’t be timelier. Surely, the piece will make you ponder where society is headed and take stock of yourself.

The piece takes place at an unnamed university in an unnamed city, reinforcing its timeliness and timelessness. And while Brown does not specify a time period, it appears as though the play takes place in the present.

Brown’s play is about cancel culture as it occurs on a university campus. Specifically, an anonymous accusation spreads like wildfire until everything the titular character cares about dearly – her reputation, her dignity, her wife, her Black foster son, her research to cure sickle cell anemia, her job is gone. She becomes like a pariah. People shun her and even look the other way when they see her.

Fein must defend herself against accusations that she is a racist and that she sexually molested a graduate student. It is unsettling that things happen seemingly so quickly. Indeed, soon after the first anonymous complaint, it seems we’re suddenly witnessing a hearing that will determine whether Fein keeps her tenure and her job.

It’s not clear exactly what cancel culture is. In fact, if you ask different people, you’re liable to receive different answers.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are debates over what it is and what it means. Is it “a way to hold people accountable, or a tactic to punish others unjustly, or a mix of both. And some argue that cancel culture doesn’t even exist.”

What is cancel culture?

Cancel Culture “can be about righting a wrong, and it can also be about stifling speech,” PBD Producing Artistic Director William Hayes wrote in the production’s program.

Watching Brown’s play will leave you thinking about what Cancel Culture is and if you’ve ever been a victim of it. Or, perhaps, you were part of a group that “cancelled” others.

Multiple layers

Brown’s meaty play covers a lot of territory. It’s not only about Cancel Culture. In addition, the play touches on affirmative action, heritage, hypocrisy, the omnipresence of technology, parenting, methods of education, ethics in the workplace, our society’s divisiveness, and our “win at all costs” mind set.

Excellent acting

“The only way Melanie wins this is with a late round knockout,” Buddy McGovern tells the titular character, referring to the female professor presenting the university’s case against Fein.

McGovern is professor emeritus at the university’s law school and has offered to defend Fein pro bono. The biology professor takes him up on his offer.

McGovern is a southerner who can be folksy and easy-going but also vehement. In addition, he can be wily and bitterly sarcastic.

McGovern speaks with a strong Southern accent, and Stephen Trovillion, who portrays the character, nails it. In real life, McGovern has no such accent, but you would hardly know that from experiencing this production.

With gray hair and glasses perched on his nose, Trovillion’s McGovern looks like a seasoned pro who knows his stuff and is serious about his work.

Like the other performers, Trovillion imbues the professor emeritus with an intensity that could produce a heated environment. Also, the actor properly emphasizes words for the desired effect and commands the stage. As McGovern, Trovillion starts out by acting charming and folksy, but that easygoing demeanor is gone by the time of the hearing.

As his client, Fein, Niki Fridh believably conveys passion, pride, and ambition. Clearly, Fridh’s Fein is a high-strung woman who is fiercely driven and quick to speak. To her credit, Fridh also shows us her character’s vulnerability and, later, desperation as things get out of hand for her.

Meanwhile, Karen Stephens sympathetically plays Dean Marilyn Whitney, Fein’s boss. You sense that this woman is committed to investigating the complaints against Fein, but that the two are also close friends. Stephens is credibly torn in the role. And, when necessary, she is adamant, yet Stephens’ portrayal is admirably natural.

Diana Garle winningly portrays Paola Moreno, Fein’s wife who, in addition to appearing as a character, narrates the action.

Garle’s Moreno starts out poised, passionate and confident, with a clear and expressive voice. But by the end, Garle’s Moreno is a broken woman, bent over in a yoga-like position and choking back tears. It’s a bravura performance by the actress, whom American Theatre magazine named as one of the publication’s “People to Watch: Theatre Workers You Should Know.”

Bruce Linser portrays Evan Reynolds who, like Garle, is a theater professor at the unnamed university. Linser believably makes Reynolds a melodramatic, somewhat flamboyant man who is good-natured at heart – or is he? During the hearing, Linser scrunches his face into a vivid expression of disgust and bitterness. Sometimes expressions “speak” louder than words, and this is one such case. Linser is double cast as a judge whose sharp, no-nonsense voice strikes fear in you.

Malcolm Callender also excels as a believably impulsive and emotional foster kid, Dylan Fein-Moreno. Clearly, his two mothers, as Fridh and Garle portray them, love the boy with all their heart.

Odera Adimorah endows Fein’s Nigerian research partner, Chikezie “Chi” Nweze with an aura of patience and wisdom. The character represents a calm voice and presence in a production of a play full of pyrotechnics.

Lindsey Corey puts on superior airs as Melanie Jones, the gender studies professor presenting the university’s case against Fein. While she talks down to witnesses at times, Corey’s Jones also carries a dignified air during calmer moments.

And Barbara Sloan is firm but fair as a professor serving as judge during the hearing. Clearly, she is exasperated as the hearing becomes a shouting match.

As an ensemble, the actors do a good job of creating and sustaining tension during the emotional hearing. The heat that they generate mirrors the tension in our society. Indeed, we’re living during a time in which people take sides and often refuse to listen to each other.

A tragic hero?

True, while the work Fein does at the university is valuable and she may be a good person at heart, she isn’t perfect. For instance, the professor had an affair with Zoe, a graduate student (a seductive Kaelyn Ambert-Gonzalez).

Despite Fein’s imperfections, we leave the theater wondering whether she deserved what happened to her. She is a flawed, tragic figure, as worthy of pity and compassion as one of Arthur Miller’s flawed common male characters. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the program contains a quote from John Proctor of Miller’s The Crucible.

Behind the scenes artists excel 

Behind the scenes artists working on the production also help carry out Ledford’s vision. For instance, the characters wear mostly dark colors or gray, befitting the gravity of the play. The costume designer is Brian O’Keefe.

In the lighting department, designer Kirk Bookman bathes the stage with intense, realistic lighting during the hearing. However, dim, shadowy lighting illuminates the stage during moments of narration.

Scenic designer Anne Mundell’s semi-circular shaped set is simple and stands for multiple locations. Adam J. Thompson’s projections help to fill in a setting’s details. Also, the projections suggest the speed with which a simple text mushrooms into a rumor with multiple messages rapidly popping up on the screen.

Roger Arnold deftly designed the sound, which includes the pleasant effect of twittering birds, and also the harsh noise of a jail or prison cell slamming.

While we may want to shut out from our lives the at-times painful issues that the play tackles, we need to ponder them for the betterment of society. Fortunately, The Cancellation of Lauren Fein shines a light on them while wildly entertaining us. Certainly, it is “theater to think about.”

 The Cancellation of Lauren Fein by Christopher Demos-Brown continues through Feb. 25 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach. The running time is roughly two hours, with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $89. For tickets, go to or call (561) 514-4042.