Reporting on the shows I watch
Twenty years since those explosive weeks in spring, a number of events commemorating that moment in history appeared all over Los Angeles. One of these events was a play in a continuing series by Company of Angels, a theatrical group that focuses on Los Angeles history and culture. I was drawn in by a friend who was in the cast, but after watching the show, I found it to be a strong and interesting work of dramatic fiction, inspired by those harrowing nights so long ago. Running about two hours with a brief intermission in between, LA Views V is a collection of eight one act plays of varying length and size, including the stories of a variety of communities that experienced the Los Angeles riots following the verdict of the police officers accused and clearly shown on tape beating motorist Rodney King. While the different plays were of varying quality and even tone, the overall experience was quite enlightening and handled by talented actors.
The play opens up with "Rise Up" by Nic Cha Kim, taking a news reporter view of the riots while exploring the position of the news in the coverage of the riots. "Rodney & Ricky" by Malik Burroughs follows, examining trio of black siblings and their different reactions to the Rodney King verdict, an associate in a predominantly white law firm being torn between trying to be level headed and dutiful to his job as the pressures from his fellow minorities and family mount on him. This piece has an excellent mix of comedy and dramatic tension, which is a feature of many of the plays in this particular show, especially in the first half. The next play, "Burning Plains" by Jonathan Ceniceroz examines some direct tension as a gay couple (white and Latino) struggle with friction from the situation, meanwhile the neighboring comedian argues with his mother about getting to an audition during the riots and roughly transitions to an interesting moment as the two neighbors encounter each other. Finally closing up the first half is "Switzerland" by Mayank Keshaviah, which explores inter-black community tensions set in the Switzerland of a Mexican restaurant.
The second half of the show is a bit more serious in tone and features some more abstract theatrical elements, like the background dialogue that filled "Kicks" by Gabriel Rivas Gomez as a mother discovers that her son participated in the looting of the riots. Then the show takes another interesting turn with "Rooftops" by the same playwright as it takes the view of those Koreans defending their businesses as they come into conflict with the National Guard. This marks a moment in the play where the Korean characters' dialogue was performed completely in Korean, probably leaving most of the audience unable to understand precisely what the characters are saying. This writing decision I wasn't fully sold on as it creates a barrier between the audience and the characters and could come across as no different than the alienating news reports about the Korean business owners. Being able to understand the Korean dialogue, I found that it was a bit wooden and unnaturally written at times, although it did give me particular access to what was going on with the characters.
This is followed by "Rioters or Cannibals" by Julie Taiwo Oni, a play that takes the white perspective and goes a bit into a moment of surreal as one character tries to do research about cannibals for his screenplay while his girlfriend struggles with the repercussions of the injustice of the Rodney King verdict. While I respect the attempt to frame a white perspective of the events, I felt this particular piece, perhaps an examination of white guilt struggling with the ability to ignore the events or make outside commentary on them, doesn't contribute as much to the picture being woven by the other plays. The show takes a turn for the fantastic with "Clean" by Michael Patrick Spillers, as a pair of gangsters evade armed Koreans whose store they burnt down and hide in an old Hollywood graveyard, where the ghosts of the dead performers find themselves unable to rest.
Company of Angels is a small black box theater, but the tech of the show was pretty well done and the direction of the show cleverly has the transitions including rioting by the cast, infusing the transitions with a sense of the moments in which the plays were set. I do feel like the show played it a touch safe with a rather sympathetic light being cast over most of the show, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't interesting, especially in the first half with a strong balance of comedy and drama. The second half is still interesting, particularly from a directorial and artistic standpoint, but wobbles a little because of inaccessibility or a weak tie to the rest of the plays, but fortunately closes fairly strong.
When the show was over, I came out of the theater quite pleased with the overall experience and I would definitely recommend it for those living in Los Angeles as a way of digging deeper into the city's scars and coming to see how the city views the events from twenty years ago as well as how it reverberates in the dialogue between the communities involved in the riots then. Even with the quality of the work being a little uneven, it was a strong experience that will be enjoyable to even casual theater-goers. 8/10.
- Show website