A Medley of One Act Plays - Review

At last, there is renewed hope that Los Angeles can churn out excellent theatrical productions as well as box-office movies. The Cultural Reconstruction Series is a new project at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown L.A. Two of the five companies involved in the Cultural Reconstruction Series, with the main emphasis on diversity, are the renowned theater repertory The Robey Theatre Company and The Against Type Theater Company.

Toyin Moses, Ursaline Bryant, and Alex Morris in "Madam C.J. Walker"


Their first collaboration is A Medley of One Act Plays presenting five original works, three by new playwrights and two by seasoned veterans. It's difficult to decipher who's the rookie and who is the old pro because all five plays are supremely done. A lot of heart and intensity evokes from both the writing and the acting giving you no choice but to emotionally react. 

The most poignant story was Dominica Myers 'How's Your Love Life'. It's a straightforward story about 30-year old Janie (Victoria Tilford) caring for Helen (Royce Herron) an elderly woman with dementia. It is very tragic watching Helen going in and out of lucidity and repetitiously asking Janie, "How's your love life?" All frustrated Janie can do is answer the question, which is always a different reply, and proceed with caring for Helen.

Royce Herron in "How's Your Love Life"


Tilford and Herron performed this piece a couple of years back at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. These women gave powerful performances now as they did then. Their connection to one another is strong and intense. You feel bad for both women who are seemingly trapped in a hopeless situation and want to offer them support.

'A Private Act' steps away from sympathy and makes a pit stop in the arena of righteousness and self-delusion. Written by Tom Gibbons and set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Senora Ruiz (Laura Ceron) is repelled by how Colonel Kapalma (Cestulo Guerra) shows up at her husband's grave offering flowers and condolences when he was the one who put him there. The colonel explains that he merely 'interrogated' her newspaper husband to find out 'sources of information'.

Castulo Guerra and Jossara Jinaro in "A Private Act"


Senora Ruiz is no fool. She knows how the colonel and his men 'interrogate' people when they don't get what they want. Somehow, the colonel takes this inopportune moment to seduce the widow. Truly sleazy. Again, Senora Ruiz is nobody's fool and she tells the colonel exactly what he can do with his affections. It was good to see Ceron out of her nurse's uniform she wears in the NBC drama ER and change into something with more bite. She glares directly at the colonel showing her anger and her tears over her loss. Guerra is the perfect hard ass who makes a great verbal sparring partner to Ceron. He hits, she knocks it back and it goes on. It makes it interesting to see who wins.

Resident playwright Aaron Henne under the watchful eye of Ben Guillory from the Robey Theatre's Playwright Lab teaches the Robey's artistic director the plays. I don't know what teaching methods Henne employs but whatever he's doing the playwrights come up with the most innovative and emotive work.  It's a mix of different concerns tackled firmly and candidly with a dash of sensitivity and optimism.

'Hangman' written by William Bordon is a great example of the universal issue of freedom and justice. Peter Kwong is a freedom fighter inciting people to stand up against the government and gets lynched by Ben Jurand's character for his troubles. Jurand tosses Kwong around like a rag doll and just to be evil, makes Kwong tie his own noose. Like Ceron and Guerra in 'A Private Act', these men combat each other in intellectual wordplay that seems endless. Kwong does his best to stall for more time but Jurand isn't falling for the tricks. He will fulfill his job. Jurand is ferocious as the executor and Kwong is the underdog to stand behind.

Ben Jurand and Peter Kwong in "Hangman"


An extra shot of estrogen power comes from Kathleen Shaw and Denise Jaxon in 'Madam C. J. Walker' and 'Progress and Peace', respectively. Shaw's focus is how the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company served as both a blessing and curse to the marriage. Walker was an early version of the working woman balancing home and a thriving career. Ursaline Bryant shows how the hair maven Sarah Breedlove aka Madam Walker was ambitious and thinking forward on providing job skills so women can be independent. Sadly, though, the business that made Walker a success is a complication in her private life.

Jaxon continues the struggle of the independent female in 'Progress and Peace' playing Crystal Morgan, a well-educated, extremely well-paid engineer at Metric Communication who, like over 90% of Americans, hates her job. She really wants to sing but her boss Stan (Tom Hyer) and ex-lover turned competitive colleague Lloyd (Tommy Hicks) want to keep her locked in. The only ally she has is Donna (the vivacious and wonderful Deborah Png) Stan's secretary who encourages Crystal to pursue her dream. And, Jaxon uses her amazing voice in her self-composed song 'Progress and Peace'. Nice touch in having the 1946 painting The Barbershop by Jacob Lawrence prominently displayed in Crystal's office in a not-so-subtle way, saying she won't assimilate under the pressure of corporate America.

Tommy Hicks and Denise Jaxon in "Progress and Peace"

A Medley of One Act Plays is truly a depiction of American life. Not that everything ends up all neatly tied like the perfect bow on a gift. There is a lot self-sacrificing in everything we do and sometimes, it just isn't fair what appears on our doorstep. The stories are excellent pieces of prose with actors who do a phenomenal job in executing the vision. Los Angeles does have great theatrical talent. You just have to know where to look and the Los Angeles Theatre Company is the place to find it.

A Medley of One Plays is currently showing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, Fri-Sat at 8 p.m. and Sun at 3 p.m. until Saturday May 27. For more information, call (213) 489-3281. For tickets visit, www.robeytheatrecompany.com, www.againsttypetheatercompany.org www.latinotheater.com


Photos by Ed Krieger

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