Monday, November 26, 2012

Their Eyes Saw Rain by West Liang

L - R Oscar T. Basulto, Marc Pelina, West Liang, Pamela Guest, Kavin Panmeechao

By Joe Straw

I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing any productions at The Company of Angels. They’ve been around “forever” over on Hyperion and, six years ago, they moved to the haunted Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Spring Street.

I arrived a little early and witnessed “different” kinds of people in front of the building.  Multiple tattoos, shaved heads and bodies parts pierced from artists seemed to be the norm at the Alexandria Hotel. 

But, from the outside, there was no trace of the theatre other than the huge Company of Angels flag flying outside of the hotel.

I make a quick trip through the lobby and notice old people sitting, who appeared to be sleeping or thinking and not bothering to look up as I passed.  Actually, this looked like the beginnings of a terrifying Kubrick film.

“The Company of Angels, third floor, that elevator over there.” said a man at the information desk, holding a phone on his ear, and interrupting his conversation like he’s probably done a thousand times before.  

Looking like a scene from an old Hitchcock film, the elevator rumbled to the third floor.  Step out, no signs, no people, only hotel doors. Now, I am totally freaked out. – The narrator.

The Company of Angels presents the World Premier of Their Eyes Saw Rain written by West Liang and directed by Justin Huen at the Alexandria Hotel on Spring Street in Los Angeles.

First, this is a shoddy title for a play.   I prefer “They Saw Rain”, or “He Saw Rain”.  But what do eyes do but see?  Isn’t “eyes saw” redundant?

Nevertheless, Their Eyes Saw Rain is a wonderful Twilight Zone science fiction thriller, with wonderful performances, by a very exciting cast.  The play is under the skillful direction of Justin Huen, who will have you squirming in your seats, and dripping with fear, as the show leads the audience into an unexpected nightmare of an ending.   

Once you leave the theatre, connecting the dots in this thriller is a wonderful exercise. One can’t help but sit down and decipher all that was witnessed. I love it when that happens. I believe this play has more meaning than the literal description in the press release.

The play starts with a man as he sits on his porch watching the rainfall.  The setting is sometime in the late forties in a small dying southern town known as Castle. Since an unexpected death 70 days ago, it has rained nonstop.  Or so, that’s what some people think.

Upstage center sits Terrance (West Liang), a lonely young Asian American man.  He watches as the rain falls off his porch and onto the ground listening as the thunder rolls in the background. Terrance lights himself a joint or a cigarette, takes a deep breath, and coughs violently. He stands, with his head extended away from his body near his chest, and he blinks forcefully, trying to wipe the floating images that continually linger in his eyes.  Something is wrong.  He is violent in manner, without verifiable reason.

“Billy!  Get your jacket on! Billy!” – Terrance

Joanus (Kavin Panmeechao), his other brother, comes into the room instead with some unexpected news that he is unwilling to divulge.  Instead he talks about a cookbook.  In fact, they talk about books all the time as though they were selling them.

“Listen.  We’ll be late.” – Terrance

“I’m ready.  Want me to fetch him?” – Joanus

But all Terrance can do is vigorously shine his shoes, and not very well at that.  Still he attempts an aggressive attack on the toes.  And he shines Billy’s shoes as well, toes only.  

Joanus hesitantly says that Billy needs some down time and that sends Terrance into a tither.  

Billy, hearing the angry noises, comes out.  But he is not ready.  Oddly enough Billy is wearing the same black coat, and tattered black pants, as the two brothers. But he is not wearing his black tie.  He is in his stocking feet and he doesn’t want to go.  

Terrance slaps Billy. It is a violent slap signifying something more sinister than that of an angry man.

“We stay together.” - Terrance

Joanus ties Billy’s tie and they leave for places unknown.

L - R Samantha Klein, James Thomas Gilbert 

Meanwhile, in another part of town, Peach (Samantha Klein) steps into her kitchen, wearing a stained slip, and reading or cutting coupons from the paper. From outward appearances, she is dirt poor, and does whatever she can to get by.  Stepping out from the bathroom, with no shirt and tightening a belt around his waist, Jake (James Thomas Gilbert) walks into the kitchen as though he is very familiar with the home and Peach.

Peach reads from the papers that the school is closing, which she takes as a sign that things are moving in the wrong direction. Jake thinks the school closing is just fine.  

Nevertheless, Jake wants more.  He wants to get married to Peach and to take care of her and her boy, Joseph. Only there is a slight problem.  Even though he’s the sheriff of this dead-end town, Peach does not love him.  She informs Jake that she has been seeing Joanus for some time.

That doesn’t sit too well with Jake as he slaps on his gun, throws on his sheriff’s shirt, and takes a swig of some nasty liquor.  

In another part of town, Rosetta (Pamela Guest) enters the room with cookies, offering the boys every bit of southern hospitality. 

Fable (Oscar T. Basulto), Rosetta’s husband, carries a stick.  He playfully wants to know if the boys have a book on sex. He takes a liking to this form of education much to the dismay of Rosetta.

Terrance starts to cough violently and runs out of the room. Billy and Joanus tell Rosetta that everything is fine and really   “…there is no fixing things in Castle”.

“Billy, its getting worse.” - Rosetta  

Rosetta likes Billy.  She sees a light from his eyes and takes the initiative to help Terrance with this disease that he appears to have caught from his father.

Fable has also seen that the disease is getting worse in Terrance.

“Nothing is getting any better, Terrance.” – Fable

Terrance assures Rosetta and Fable that they are making progress.

Later that night, Joanus is with Peach and it is clear that Peach is infatuated with him.  But Joanus tries to dissuade her by saying that Jake wants her.

“I don’t want him.” – Peach

Joanus says he’s got no money except what he carries around in a shell of a book that he turns over to her.  (She says she got a job but it’s not clear what she does as she seems to be in her slip all day long.)

Peach wants to change this boy who is barely a man.  Even Joanus admits he “ain’t strong like a man.”  But Peach brushes that aside.

“Change don’t come from wishing things.” – Peach

Meanwhile Jake stops by Terrance’s home.  He enters and lights a cigarette, which don’t sit too well with Terrance.  He tells Terrance that he wants to speak to Joanus because he has a bone to pick with him and things got to change, even in Castle.  

“I’ve been fine to you boys since your daddy died.” – Jake

Jake gives the impressions he wants the “boys” out of town and soon.  Terrance tells him Jake may be a bigger man now that he’s wearing his father’s sheriffs uniform but that Terrance and his brothers aren’t going anywhere.  Even Billy tells him to “git”.

“Someone will be leaving Castle, and it ain’t me. – Jake

To gather support, Jake starts a petition for community residents to sign asking for the “boys” to leave.   Rosetta and Fable refuse to sign.  Jake argues that he is protecting the people of the community. Jake may be doing this but for the wrong reasons.

In the beginning of the second act, Rosetta has a secret while the town meeting is taking place.  She passes out cookies to the audience of the town meeting (us). When Terrance starts to cough violently, Dr. Landy (Gregory Niebel) comes down to help.  That’s when we are privy to a remarkable truth that takes us to the shocking ending.

There are a number of fascinating aspects to this production although much of it is open to dramatic interpretation. But suffice it to say that this is a wonderful production by fantastic actors giving it their all.

Oscar T. Basulto as Fable did a fine job although I didn’t understand why he carries a stick around with him. The stick must have a purpose, and must be connected to the story, otherwise why have the stick?  And as much as I liked his performance, I would have liked to see a stronger choice, a clearer emotional life, and a stronger objective. Still, there was some very nice work done.

James Thomas Gilbert was incredible as Jake, the sheriff.  He is the small-town sheriff that doesn’t have enough sense to go after bigger fish. Actually, he’s unaware of the big fish. If he was aware, I think he go about the expulsion a different way. Interestingly enough (and probably by mistake), Jake has his pulse on what he must do around Castle. Try as he might, he will never get the girl. Gilbert does a remarkable job.

Pamela Guest plays Rosetta and is sympathetic. She has a soft spot for one of the boys. And she has long-standing relationships with them, although the nature of the relationship is unclear.  She humors her husband but pushes to get these boys professional help because of a need that she sees.  Guest is marvelous in this role searching for a dramatic truth.   She is physically and emotionally specific to the character in a job well done.

Samantha Klein as Peach is torn between two men. One she has given up on, still he is there, coming out of her backroom partially clothed, making him coffee, and emotionally supporting him.  There is a slightly sinister side to her behavior.  She is in love with another man and she makes no bones about wanting out of relationship with her “law friend”.  She uses him to get things fixed around the house: fixing the toilet and fixing the radio. Still she supplies him with liquor, so maybe she wants a little more.  Klein is very good in the role and presents a fertile emotional life.  But her intentions with each man is secretive and possibly not all that honorable. Klein’s working class portrayal is simply splendid.

West Liang does a marvelous job as Terrance.  His amygdaliform eyes straining, constantly blinking away the sight of seventy days of perpetual rain, knowing full well something is wrong.  Perhaps he has a bad case of ombrophobia. As the character, Terrance believes he needs to take care of his brothers at all cost. He is not willing to leave them but he also understands they need to make a living and does his best to keep them focused on making money so they can survive. Liang is magnificent in the role he wrote.  And he brings very specific physical actions to compliment a volatile inner life.

Kavin Panmeechao plays Joanus, the middle brother.   He seems conflicted in his relationship to Peach and with leaving his younger brother to the ruthless demands of his older brother. Panmeechao could show us more of his objective and the conflict that interferes with that objective.

Marc Pelina plays the younger brother, Billy.  Billy seems to be the smartest of the three brothers and he knows this life is going to get him into a lot of trouble.  Try as he might to get away from something contagious, he is bullied into remaining with his brothers. Pelina’s objective is not focused.  He needs to find someone—his brother or his neighbors—to help him with his predicament.  

Gregogy Niebel does some exciting work as Dr. Landy/Daddy. He is a caring community doctor who tries to help Terrance of this affliction.  He’s seen it before; he knows about it, he tries to administer some kind of help.  But in the end, he can’t help the patient if the patient is unwilling to help himself. Niebel has a commanding stage presence and has two very exciting parts and really shines in both.  

This can’t be a story about small town tribulations; we’ve already seen that.  There is something more to West Liang’s play.  The play has a deeper meaning pointing to something very sinister underneath.  The town people are slightly aware that something is creeping up on them but they seem helpless to stop or to get help.  No one takes corrective measures because they are not fully aware of the problem.  One can walk away seeing what they want to see in this production, a literal presentation, or a dramatic play that takes us deeper in our self conscious being.

There are simple things in the play that are missing in Justin Huen’s direction.  The brothers wipe the books they are selling in preparation of a sell but money is never exchanged.   Terrance articulates an idea of taking it over the empty school, yet he doesn’t have a plan and he doesn’t move in that direction.   There appears to be a concerted effort by his neighbors to get him to the school to get medical attention but that action is not visible on stage.   The other characters do not question Terrance’s motives or sanity.  They should know something is wrong when a man sees rain for seven months when it hasn’t been raining.  But they don’t know how to help him.  But aside from these small quibbles,  Mr. Huen has done a remarkable job and is worthy of your immediate attention. 

The fight scenes by Fight Director Edgar Landa were very real and very violent and I squirmed when bodies hit the floor.

Other members of this remarkable production are:

Produced by: Richard Azurdia
Stage Manager: Jennifer Perez
Assistant Stage Manager: Adam Gonzalez
Scenic Design: Gregory A. Crouch
Assistant Scenic Design: Luis Galindo
Lighting Design: Justin Huen
Costume Design: Jackie Gudgel
Sound Design: Howard Ho
Prop Master: Art McDermott
Fight Director: Edgar Landa
Graphic Design: Xavi Moreno

Run!  And take a friend with an open mind.

Through December 16th, 2012

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