Thinking inside the box: La Jolla native to stage ‘The Box Show’ for Without Walls Festival

"The Box Show" is a one-woman production with La Jolla native Dominique Salerno playing 30 roles inside a box.
(Courtesy of Dominique Salerno)

For La Jolla native Dominique Salerno, bringing her one-woman show to local audiences is very much a homecoming. “The Box Show,” in which Salerno plays 30 characters, all confined to a box, will be staged as part of La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival on April 21-24 at Liberty Station in Point Loma.

Salerno attended La Jolla’s Gillispie School and The Bishop’s School and is a graduate of La Jolla Playhouse’s youth conservatory program. Having parents (La Jollans Robert Salerno and Dori Salois) involved in the San Diego theater scene, her eventual involvement in the arts was “inevitable,” she said.

“I did all the plays in school, every musical at Bishop’s,” Salerno said.

She took a break from it during college at Princeton University and studied religion, but was unsure what career path that would provide. So she took a job writing grants for a nonprofit.

“I loved it, but not as much as I loved the arts,” she said. So she went to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco to obtain a master of fine arts degree in acting.

“When I got to grad school, I was asked to create a solo show from scratch,” Salerno said. “The room they gave me had a small cupboard that was built into the wall, and I remember taking out the AV equipment and crawling in there to think. I wondered what could come out of the tiny space. I thought about the space being a recording studio or a uterus. That launched the whole show.”

After years of touring the piece, the New York-based actor and writer created an iteration of “The Box Show” for the San Diego stage. The 90-minute performance includes 18 vignettes in which she plays 30 different characters — all inside a 2-by-3-foot box.

“It’s a small space and forces me to use my imagination to create these characters and what the space could transform into,” she said. “I want the audience to wonder what is coming next. It’s an exercise in imagination for me and the audience.”

La Jolla native Dominique Salerno
La Jolla native Dominique Salerno attended La Jolla’s Gillispie School and The Bishop’s School and is a graduate of La Jolla Playhouse’s youth conservatory program.
(Courtesy of Dominique Salerno)

In one of the vignettes, Salerno plays a group of archetypal Greeks inside the Trojan Horse. There is Achilles, who plans to be the hero of the story; Odysseus, considered the brains of the operation; Calchas, considered the soothsayer with all the answers; Menelaus, for whom the Greeks are going to war in the first place; Epeius, who was a coward but also the architect of the project; and Agamemnon, who commanded the army.

“Being placed in these confines helped me generate energy within myself, so I hope the audience leaves with a sense that they can make art out of anything. ... The only limiting factor is yourself,” Salerno said.

Salerno said her return to San Diego and staging a production with La Jolla Playhouse is “a dream come true.” She said she would love to work in San Diego theater full time.

“The show belongs to San Diego. I see this as me dipping a toe back into my hometown, and hopefully there is more to come,” she said. “I grew up here, seeing all the shows here and being involved peripherally. Being able to come back with a show that is uniquely mine in the theater I idolized growing up, there is nothing better than that.”

‘The Box Show’

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21; 8 p.m. Friday, April 22; 4 p.m. Saturday, April 23; 6 p.m. Sunday, April 24

Where: Light Box at the Dorothea Laub Music & Arts Center, Liberty Station, 2590 Truxtun Road, Point Loma

Cost: $20