Monday, February 21, 2011

Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia

By Joe Straw

February 19, 2011. Rain is pouring on the Westside of Los Angeles.  It is five thirty in the early evening, just enough time to get dinner and then on to the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Blvd.  The 405 (never a grand trip on nice days) is going to be hell and there will be a price to pay if we arrive later than eight.  (I’m never late and I take great pride in that fact.) 

The traffic was moving along at a grand pace of three miles per hour until we make it over the hill.  And the rain continues to pour down.  On oil soaked freeways, driving is always treacherous.  The nicer cars fly past, not fearing the wrath of meeting their maker, and the space to move over to the Ventura exit lane is at a premium.

Then turning right on Ventura Boulevard, one notices the south side of street is flooded.  A broken water main? Nope, just flooded. A torrent of water moving fast and furiously low to the ground along the boulevard with not quite enough force to move cars but enough to cover the wheels halfway. 

Running late, a quick stop at Poquito Mas for a veggie burrito.  Visibility zero.  Coming back outside to get my iPhone, my car is being ticketed, $58.00, by a very nice Asian parking enforcement officer.  “After six” on the Westside, is “after eight” in the valley. 

So much water, we could not walk near the sidewalk and the theatre was only a step away from the flood. Tennis shoes soaked, we ventured into the quiet confines of the Whitefire. After two and a half hours, a nice cozy seat in the theatre with minutes to spare.  Hopefully your trip will be better and your mileage varies.

Didn’t expect to see a lot of theatre patrons there in this weather, but the theatre was packed!

Was it worth the venture?  Yes, and then some!  What a magnificent show!

Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia presented by Laura Coker in association with The Dramatic Question Theatre Company and directed by Bryan Rasmussen at the Whitefire Theatre is a wonderful show and well worth the effort it took to get there.  It is riveting and genuine and speaks to an inner voice so deep one needs to see it again and again to make sure one gets it all. 

The play is thought provoking. It is about love, honor, duty, trust and everything that is manly about men.  

The story takes place in Firehouse 61 in the South Bronx.   It seems like another casual day when we discover that one of the men has made a rescue and has saved the life of a fellow firefighter, Mitch (not seen).

Valentino (Ed Morrone) and William Salerno “Breaker” (John Southwell) are waiting while their new hero firefighter brother Brian Boyle “Probie” (Gerald Downey) is being questioned by the station fire chief, Charlie McGowan “Cap” (Bryan Rasmussen).  It is only a formality.

Or is it?

Boyle enters and is humbled by the attention directed at him by his fellow firefighters saying he would only do what anyone of them would do for him.

Amidst the jovial times, Breaker has to initiate Boyle because he is a newbie.

Breaker: You wrestled in high school (holding him in a wrestling position). What’s this?
Boyle: That’s a half nelson.
Breaker: What’s this? (again, holding him)
Boyle: That’s a full nelson.
Breaker: What’s this? (pumping his back side)
(Boyle breaks away)
 Breaker: That’s Father Nelson!

When Boyle leaves, Valentino mentions that Boyle was the cop who shot Vales 36 times and now people are starting to talk about this particular rescue.  They question Boyle’s character in leaving a civilian in the building.

Robert Miranda “Perry Mason” (Kamar de los Reyes) is retiring after 20 years and although he has loyalties to his fellow fire fighters, he has lingering questions about the rescue.  Boyle, who is a rookie, is white and will be his replacement. Why didn’t Boyle first rescue Clara, the twelve-year-old little girl, and then the unconscious Mitch?

Boyle claims he didn’t see the girl because there was too much smoke.   He went “for the grab”.  But, there were rumors going around that it was a racially motivated grab.  He got the white guy out, but left the twelve-year-old Puerto Rican “crack addict” girl in there to die.

No one died.  We did our job, old school. – Breaker 

Breaker is the union boss and someone who wants to go along and get along with his fellows brothers at the stationhouse.  He wants everyone on board and he is adamant that everyone does precisely that.  So much so that he is willing to break bones to get that job done. 

It only takes a look outside the window to see the rumors staring back at you.  It is a stare of contempt. And as the crowd gathers they demonstrate their outrage at the unfolding events.

“Boyle was supposed to save that girl first!” - Miranda

They all agree that Boyle should have gotten the civilian first and the firefighter second, if he had seen the girl but the point is mute because there was too much smoke.  

Miranda has heard word from the street that Boyle left the girl.  Congressman Diaz wants a full investigation and the Captain lets it be known they should all stick together until the investigation has run its course.

But first, the Cap wants Miranda to be the spokesman for the firehouse. Miranda doesn’t want to do this because he has questions about Boyle’s veracity.

Breaker says he better get his act together and stand together with the firefighters.

Miranda meets with his girlfriend Aida Rojas (Jossara Jinaro), a defense attorney for Clara, and tries to put a brave front for the men who go out and save lives everyday. He stands together with his fellow fighterfighters much to the dismay of his girlfriend who demands action from a racially uncaring segregated fire department. (More than ninety percent of the firefighters in New York City are white.*) 

Later, the girl dies.

Miranda visits his brother Pito (Elvis Nolasco) who is living in an abandoned building to discover what really happened that fateful night and the answers are very troubling.  

This is a wonderful cast in this “vertical repertory” production through April 2011 on Friday nights only.

De los Reyes, as Miranda, was a firefighter through and through.  Conflicted by his loyalties to his men, his love for his girlfriend, and his commitment to his community, he finds himself torn apart by his loyalties.  Isolated in his loneliness and his steadfast resolute, he knows why the little girl was there and he fights for his community and for the sake of an innocent little girl.  It shakes his foundation to his core and sets in motion his actions for a final resolution. 

Southwell as Breaker give a heartfelt performance. Steadfast and strong in his objective to keep his loyalties to the fighterfighters he loves so dearly.  With him it’s either hard love or tough love and it’s all in a matter of moments and glorified perspective.  He cares so deeply it creates deep emotional scars. What an amazing performance!

Downey as Boyle is very sympathetic as he fights for his job that he knows he is close to losing.  He has a wife and a little girl and, in his love for them, he fights for his life and his job.  He knows this is his second strike.  He has made a choice that, once again, takes him on a downward spiral, one in which he may never recover.

Morrone as Valentino lives the life as a firefighter.  With him, it is always civilians first, so although he has his loyalties to the firefighter, he entrusts himself to find the truth. A very nice performance. 

The truth lies in here! – Aida 

Jinaro, as the attorney first and girlfriend second, was very nice in the role.  One has a couple of issues about the role being portrayed by a very feisty and physical Latina, so much so she was beating on Miranda throughout.  One would believe that after college, securing her JD, and then passing the New York bar she would let her words sting rather than letting her fists do the talking.  Still, she brings love to a man to soften the hardened edges created by the many current conflicts in his life.

Rasmussen, as the Captain, wants this all behind him.  He wants to close this chapter of his life and move on.  He takes the corrective measure to ensure stability and cohesiveness to a profession he loves.  But, he can’t do this with his house in turmoil.

That shit ain’t gonna be easy bro.  You’ve been killing my community…  You bitched up. – Pito

Nolasco, as Pito or Miranda’s half brother, is quite charming.  Forget the fact that he is a crack addict and squatting the only way he knows how. Despite all of his faults he is a man who lets it be known that he knows the truth and is willing to share it to those who want to listen.  A funny and charming performance.

One goes to theatre in search of something like Firehouse by Pedro Antonio Garcia.  It is a play that speaks to the heart and shares a compassionate spirit with fellow human beings. The works stings with its truth and its love for humanity.  It is a blessing in a world that needs more light and honesty. 

Bryan Rasmussen does a grand job directing this play.  Some moments are brilliant while some need a bit more tweaking.  The revelation is too easily revealed, 2B and not 2C that is the question.  (One would need to see this play to get the reference.)  Still there is a lot to be said of a number of beautiful moments in this play and the execution of those moments.

Also, these are important roles for Latino actors who can play more than what is offered on network television these days.  The days of playing street vendors and crack addicts are over.

Go see this play!

* Synposis of U.S. vs. City of New York, a class action lawsuit against FDNY of discriminatory hiring practices: at the end of 2010, the percent of black and Latino firefighters was 7.4 percent. 

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