Sunday, November 17, 2013

Love on San Pedro by James McManus

Anthony Tate 

by Joe Straw 

“Who can I turn to
When nobody needs me
My heart wants to know and
So I must go
Where destiny leads me
With no star to guide me
And no one beside me
I’ll go on my way
And after the day
The darkness will hide me…”

 - Who Can I Turn To - Written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse from the musical The Roar of The Greasepaint The Smell of the Crowd.

You just never know how things are going to go when traveling downtown. The freeways are always crowded. Time is eternally a factor.  Will I find the designated parking area? How much is it going to cost?  And venturing into Skid Row to see a play adds another element to a possibly perilous journey. 

But the freeway traffic was relatively smooth, there was free parking at the Downtown Women’s Center, 442 S. San Pedro Street, and a van was available to take you to the theatre or an escort was prepared to walk you to your destination, depending on your preference. 

The night was pleasant so we decided to walk and as we crossed San Pedro onto Winston St., our escort left us as he was helping others in the crosswalk.  Some of the homeless were bedding down for the night and managed to say “Hello” as we passed by. 

Not knowing where I was going, I turned out to be the leader of the walk, and everyone was happy to follow. We turned into a gate, passed a security checkpoint, and walked into the back entrance of the Los Angeles Mission.  Someone from the kitchen yelled out “I hope you like the play”.

At the back door, we were greeted by a pleasant Cornerstone crewmember showing us where to go.

The chapel, on your immediate right, is the first room you see when walking into the backdoor, crowded with hundreds of men listening to someone speaking and one would surmise these were the fortunate ones that got a bed on this night.

We walked to the elevator and went up to the fourth floor and tottered outside.  And the view of the city’s skyscrapers, to your right, was nothing short of breathtaking. 

But looking over the edge, through the windows of a large room on the third floor, are hundreds of beds bunked and crammed into a large room. In a city where impossible dreams are realized, this would be, on this night, the final resting place to dream for a better life.  

Cornerstone Theater Company Presents Love on San Pedro written by James McManus and directed by Shishir Kurup at the Los Angeles Mission in downtown Los Angles through November 24, 2013.

Love on San Pedro is an exceptional work of art that implores the audience to participate in a very unusual way, anyway that is beneficial to this community.  Cornerstone also wants you to know that the people living on San Pedro form a community of people who give, who love, who forgive, and who will share their last piece of bread. 

Upon entering the theatre, I notice that it is an indoor basketball court.  One hoop is visible on one side contiguous to the entryway, while the other side has a serrated wall built out of corrugated cardboard; in fact the actors stand on a floor made of three layers of a very strong corrugated cardboard.  Shannon Scrofano, the Scenic Designer, has designed a set with many meanings.   And for me, the key is the cardboard, the discarded refuse of businesses.  This cardboard, I frequently see downtown, serves as the foundation of many homes for unfortunate human beings. 

As we enter the theatre, the play is underway and we watch street people doing their thing.  A man gives a haircut to a man with little hair, a group of people are singing and giving out sandwiches. The police mix among the bodies along the street and the day passes into night.

And as dusk turns to nocturnal endeavors, screams pierce the sacred night, of unspeakable menaces, that of someone trying to find the light, preferably that of morning, or a friend.   

“I am strong.  I am not weak!  Things gonna be alright.” - Marjorie

And Marjorie (Bahni Turpin) sits there trying to find light, hope, a kernel of inspiration, only to find herself late at night, outside on a basketball court, watching Sky Hook (Anthony Tate), brown bagging it and trying to impress Marjorie with his version of Kareem’s skyhook. But Marjorie is savvy enough to know that Sky Hook has just walked.

“What you got in the bag?” – Marjorie

“Medicine.” – Sky Hook

Sky Hook asks Marjorie to get “hitched”.  But the delicacies of that operation seem farfetched, as she grabs the brown bag from him, and takes a drink of his “medicine.”

So Love on San Pedro has a couple, a hook, two strangers finding love in the strangest place, on a basketball court.  And together, this unlikely couple moves from the darkness into the light of the morning.

Pastor (Olusheyi Banjo) a squinty-eyed rotund man of God-giving-life has lots to say when he speaks to the homeless because it’s all about finding God, and then finding a home, or visa versa. Pastor brings along his wife (Marla Howard) who doesn’t look too happy living this life. And yet she stays hoping to give someone relief, food, or whatever comfort is necessary.  

Pastor’s got to find song and he brings Cowboy (Eljie Alexander) to lead the group in whatever harmony they can muster.  (And, as an aside, the singing is marvelous.)

But, after it’s all over, Cowboy and Trucker (Darrin Wilkerson), make their way to the street and talk about their lives.  Cowboy mentions he was a roadie for Ozzie Osborne for nine years, and Trucker ask the question we all want to know:  “Did Ozzie bite the head off a bat?”  (It’s funny, no one ever really answers that question.  And you’ll get no answer here.)  But Trucker’s been eyeing that PBJ sandwich the whole time they’ve been speaking and he convinces Cowboy to give it to him.

They bed down for the night and just as their eyes are closed, the cops wake them and tell them it’s time to move on.

Lorinda Hawkins

Becca (Lorinda Hawkins), a social worker, meets with Henderson and gives him a pep talk to (Alonzo Phoenix).  Becca, sympathetic to his cause, wants Henderson to find a job.  But Henderson, who is 42 years young, is skeptical if he will ever find a job again. He is dressed appropriately despite his ill-fitting suit. Still, Becca compliments him on his choice of wardrobe.

“Classic is the soul of classy.” – Henderson

Meanwhile former prostitute, Mamie (E Vet Thompson), comes to Marjorie to have her hair fixed and with little or no fuss, she gently takes off her Mamie’s wig and methodically and with precision fixes the hair that is underneath, at no cost. Marjorie promises to bring her some stilettos.

Skyhook is outside working on his own special kind of project and when Man With the Plan (Marcenus “MC” Earl) asks him what he is up to.  Using little scraps of refuse, Skyhook creates a hugging machine. This amuses Man With the Plan but he also sympathizes and tries to help Skyhook finish his hugging machine.

“Some folks get no hugs.” – Skyhook

Cynthiaanne Cofell

Meanwhile Queen (Cynthiaanne Cofell), Jade (Nisha Bordeaux), and Mamie attend some kind of educational religious exploration with Father Mac (Peter Howard), the local priest, and they get into some personal questions which leads them to a better understanding of life around them.

Shirshir Kurup does a wonderful job in directing experienced actors as well as actors of the community. It is an insurmountable task controlling this many actors in one production.  But you’ve got to give credit to Shirshir for offering Los Angeles a fine production using actors who are living or have lived on skid row. The production moves along splendidly and has a strong emotional bite. The production also offers Los Angeles a first hand account of the people who live here.  

James McManus, the writer, has given us a marvelous play that touch on emotions deep inside us where we felt our deepest pain of our own lives, when we thought things were hopeless and had given up.  But, in the telling of this story (which includes the collaborations of skid row occupants), he provides us with a ray of hope that things are going to get better providing one has to will not to give up.

Elzie Alexander plays Cowboy and does a very fine job, has a nice voice, and a very good look.

Olusheyi Banjo plays Pastor and has some nice moments. His objective needs work but pleasant nevertheless.

Brian Beasley played the Cop Bible and Janine Betts played Russell Muscle.

Nisha Bordeaux was Jade and was very strong in the role and has a very lovely voice.

Cynthiaanne Cofell plays Queen with great aplomb.  She has a very specific look and handles her instrument with extreme delicacy. Cofell is excellent in the role.

Marcenus “MC” Earl is very likeable as Man With The Plan and seems to float easily across the stage.  But missing are the specific traits of the character.  He’s the man with the plan, but there’s no plan at least that I saw.  He is taking other people’s plans and making his own. (e.g. the hugging machine) but considering his name then, he should be that character the moment he enters the stage.

Lorinda Hawkins plays Becca and does an excellent job.  Her voice is strong and the manner in which she controls her physical life is superb. As the character, she cares for her clients and wants the best for them. This was really wonderful work.

Marla Howard plays Pastor’s Wife and has a good look.  It is interesting to look at the face of the character and tell what the character wants. I got that the wife did not want to be there, which is not bad, but it is a choice that doesn’t lead her far. Still, she has enough pleasant moments on stage.  

Peter Howard plays Father Mac and has a very nice look, a strong voice, and a way about the stage. I didn’t see much conflict in his portrayal of this character, inner or outer.  Surely, a man must have demons when he is on stage.

Lee Maupin plays Hags a man with strong convictions and a strong voice to back it up.  Also, he has a very good look. More performances in this role will have him settle down and be fine in the role.  What I find fascinating about the character is that he has the capacity and desire to chain himself to a garbage can for the sake of getting a voice in the community.  

Alonzo Phoenix plays Henderson someone who cannot find a job. But it is more than that.  It is about his confidence in his abilities.  Henderson comes across as someone who is physically able but needs a lot of help to get him through.  Phoenix’s performance was nicely played but requires finding a stronger core to the character and he needs to find a creative objective.  He will do fine when he settles into the role.

Alan Richer is Colonel and does a fine job. If the Colonel is a man who has had military service, and may have been a Colonel, then we need to see this.  If that is just his name then it must invoke the manner of a military office and we must see this.  In either case the moment he steps on stage he should take complete control of his surroundings, order his men about, and use his physical life to express actions in keeping with the character’s name.

Anthony Tate is Sky Hook and I enjoyed his performance.  Sky Hook is a mild-mannered man with a drinking problem.  And he is a man with marriage on his mind with a woman who needs strong medication to cope with life.   What he has is a hugging machine that he has invented for his future wife and which he really wants to keep it a secret.  But when she finds out he is totally destroyed and throws her pills all over the floor. When he sees her in pain, the character must crawl to her begging for forgiveness.

L - R Cynthiaanne Cofell, E' Vet Thompson, Nisha Bordeaux

E’Vet Thompson plays Mamie and gives an exceptional performance. She has a marvelous presence and a unique way of communicating with her counterparts, simple, to the point, and very conversational.  Good work all around.

Center:  Anthony Tate, Bahni Turpin

Bahni Turpin plays Majorie and does a marvelous job.  Majorie is a woman who has a cancer and is dying.  She must know the end is near and she bides her time by helping others.  But, she will also steal your last beer if your not looking.  Turpin has grand manner on stage; she has a lovely voice, and helps her counterpart to get over the rough spots.

Darrin Wilkerson is Trucker.  And I suppose there a reason he is called Trucker.  Maybe he is a trucker, drives a 16 wheeler, or used to drive one.  Trucker is down on his luck and I don’t think his luck is changing. Wilkerson needs to find in his objective in the desire to change his current circumstances.

Other members of the delightful cast were members of the chorus and they were Adelina Martinez, Fannie Mayfield, Peaches Parker, and Suzette Sullivan.

Megan E. Healey was responsible for the Costume Design. The characters all looked nicely dressed.

Geoff Korf did a fantastic with the Lighting Design

There were some great sound effects by John Nobori who is the Sound Designer.

Nikki Hyde is the Production Stage Manager.

Other members of the production crew are as follows:

Production Manager – Lester Grant
Technical Direcctors – Alec Cyganowski, Jeff Williams
Assistant Directors/Choreographer – Nicole Gabriella Scipione
Musical Director – Dornelius Kincy
Assistant Stage Managers – Ash Nichols, Marcela Robles
Assistant Costume Designer – Blanca Honigstein
Production Coordinator/A2 – Douglas Rosenberg
Production Coordinator/A1 – Joey Rodriguez
Props Artisan – Samira Idroos
Master Electrician – Dean Wright
Light Board Operator – Nickolas Gomez
Wardrobe Supervisor – Rosalie Alvarez
Wardrobe Assistants – Mario Rodriguez and Larie Russ
Production Assistant – Tiger Moon
Scholar in Resident – Melissa Govea

And the Front House Team members are as follows:

Creative Seeds & Partner Night Assistant – Cesar Ortega
Press & Communications Intern – Jacqueline Rosas
Front of House Manager – Andrea Nelson
Box Office Associate – Brian Pracht
Front House Assistants – David Gomez, Richardo Medina, Elton Richardson,
Alma Velasquez, Ivery Wheeler

Props & Set Construction Crew are as follows: 
George Anderson, William D. Angle, Ricardo Beltran, Ree Biemingham, Paul Buire, Patrick Birdson, Kenneth Bryant, Michael Cherry, Lloyd Colquitt, Tim Cormier, No’e Gomez, Tepper Harris, James Hayes, Charlie Marlow, Eldon Millett, Miguel Ramirez, Chris Ricks, Carl Robles, Robert Shields, Daryl Stringer, Gergory Taylor, Anthony Wiley, James Williams, Michael Willians, T. Nathan Woods.

Run! Run! See this production and take someone who was once homeless, like me.

NOVEMBER 7 – 24, 2013
Wednesdays & Thursdays @ 6:00 PM
Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30 PM
Sundays @ 2:30 PM
LOCATIONParking is at Downtown Women’s Center at 442 South San Pedro St. There will be a shuttle and walking guides to escort you to the venue.

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