One 16-year-old's escape from reality in Out Front's 'All the Natalie Portmans'

out front theatre all the natalie portmans
"All the Natalie Portmans" is on stage at Out Front Theatre Company through Feb. 19. (Photo by Tyler Ogburn)

Watching romantic comedies can be an easy way to escape from reality. A new play’s 16-year-old protagonist, Keyonna, finds Natalie Portman’s movies the ideal escape … but what if Natalie decided to talk back to Keyonna? “All the Natalie Portmans” is the latest production onstage at Out Front Theatre Company now through Feb. 19. Nikki Toombs is the director and joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with lead actor Kayla Parker, who portrays Keyonna.

Interview highlights:

Craving escape from the struggles of life as a gay, misfit teen:

“Keyonna needs to have this escape because I think when you’re having to balance rejection, lack of love, the desire to be respected, regarded, to feel a sense of community, it’s something about immersing yourself in that world where there is no judgment, where it feels as if there’s no pain,” said Toombs. “In the moment when that pain presents itself, a simple click will just change that dynamic.”

“I think the thing that is probably the most painful for Keyonna is that less than a year ago, her father has passed, and she talked a lot about her father being kind of the glue that held the family together,” said Parker. “Their mother is struggling with alcoholism, and so, you know, a lot of times I think Keyonna feels like she has to step into that role of being the glue for her family.” Parker continued, “She also, of course, is … trying to figure out the best way to get acceptance from her family and to get acceptance from the girl that she’s in love with.”

What Natalie Portman represents to Keyonna:

“At one point, Natalie Portman was the ‘it’ girl. She was all things beauty. She was all things talent, she was all things great,” said Toombs, “And I think that desperately Keyonna seeks to be all things great in whatever world that is — in her real world, in her creative world. And I think that is one of the reasons that [playwright] C.A. Johnson decided to choose Natalie Portman.”

“Keyonna has kind of gotten wrapped up in these fairy tale type of stories, and I think that because of her home life, she can’t see herself in that fairytale. She doesn’t write — she even says it — she doesn’t really write about Black characters because I think … she associates that Blackness with pain,” said Parker. “She looks at white actresses as the epitome of beauty, of success, and a lot of times these white actresses were able to be vulnerable and fragile in ways that she, in her personal life, was not able to be, and they’re praised for it.”

What “All the Natalie Portmans” represents for Out Front:

“A lot of times on our American stages, there’s not a lot of representation that mirrors the world that we live in. Sometimes I’ve found in my experiences that there’s an ‘insert Black play here, insert LGBTQ+ play here,’ and then we have done our job when it comes to inclusion, but that’s not true,” said Toombs. “I think it’s a beautiful thing when institutions, both in words and action, demonstrate that they are ready to tell American stories, not from a limited perspective, because there’s danger in having a single narrative. And I am just excited that Out Front has decided to put [words] in action.”

“It was very important to be able to get a diverse cast, to be able to tell these words, and also, as an audience member, there’s nothing more beautiful than being able to see yourself on the stage,” Toombs said. “There’s power in mirrors and windows. And when we have these mirrors, you can be able to see yourself, and then when we have these windows, you’re able to see inside someone else’s world, and that is what promotes empathy and community.”

“All the Natalie Portmans” is on stage at Atlanta’s Out Front Theatre, Feb. 10-19. Tickets and information are available at