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The 99-Seat Beat: Social history comes alive in 'The Ballad of Bimini Baths,' 'Ripe Frenzy' and 'Antigone'

The 99-Seat Beat: Social history comes alive in 'The Ballad of Bimini Baths,' 'Ripe Frenzy' and 'Antigone'
Jully Lee and Donathan Walters in "Mexican Day," presented by Rogue Machine. (John Perrin Flynn)

In an inspiring joint effort, three small theater companies are about to present bite-size chapters in the supersize “The Ballad of Bimini Baths,” set at a Los Angeles natatorium popular in the first half of the 20th century. The trilogy of plays by L.A. playwright Tom Jacobson is built on social observation, as are other recent and imminent openings: “Ripe Frenzy,” about a mass shooting, and a new take on the ancient Greek drama “Antigone” that points up its rebellious nature.


Bimini Baths trilogy at 3 theaters

The essentials: From the dawn of the 20th century to 1951, Angelenos enthusiastically splashed about in the Bimini Baths, at the site of hot springs one block east of Vermont Avenue between 1st and 2nd streets. A relatively affordable luxury for a 25-cent entry fee, the baths were visited by everyday folks and the Hollywood crowd alike, but as at many facilities of the period, only white people were admitted. From the baths’ history Jacobson has devised three plays about racism and sins in need of being washed away. The pieces are being staged concurrently by three of L.A.’s most adventurous companies, all devoted to new work.

Why this? Among the true events woven into the plays are the 1908 drowning of a 15-year-old boy at the baths, believed to be at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest; the 1939 burning of the nearby Palomar Ballroom shortly before Count Basie and his orchestra were to play there; and a 1948 sit-in by Los Angeles Tribune reporter Hisaye Yamamoto to desegregate the baths. These events figure prominently in, respectively, “Plunge,” “Tar” and “Mexican Day” — the last taking its name from the one day a month that people of color could visit, the day before the pools were drained and cleaned.

The plays progress from sin to redemption, something that Jacobson says he’s tried to show can’t be done alone — “you have to do it together.”

The stories are self-contained and don’t need to be seen in chronological order, Jacobson says, but each contains enough unresolved issues and twists, he hopes, to entice viewers to attend all three.

Details: A pass to all three shows is $45 at www.biminitrilogy.com.

“Plunge” presented by Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Previews Saturday and Sunday; opens May 26. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Tuesdays; ends June 17. $10 previews; $20 and $25 regular run. www.sonofsemele.org. 90 minutes, no intermission.

“Tar” presented by Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. Opens June 9. 8 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays, 5 p.m. Sundays; ends July 2. $15-$30. playwrightsarena.org/theater/tar. 85 minutes, no intermission.

“Mexican Day” presented by Rogue Machine at the Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A. Opens May 26. 8 p.m. Fridays and Sundays; 4 p.m. Saturdays; ends July 1. $20-$40. (855) 585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. About two hours, one intermission.


‘Ripe Frenzy’ at Greenway Court Theatre

The essentials: Opening night at a small-town high school production of “Our Town” becomes a scene of tragedy. A mass shooting prompts the town’s mothers to consider Americans’ culpability in the pandemic of gun violence.

Why this? Central to Jennifer Barclay’s “Ripe Frenzy” is the question of whether violence is being perpetuated by social media and news coverage that feeds on the horror and excitement of killings. There’s a resonance with Thornton Wilder’s quintessentially American “Our Town.” The play was awarded the National New Play Network’s 2016 Smith Prize for Political Theatre, was developed in part at last year’s Ojai Playwrights Conference and is being presented in L.A. as part of a rolling world premiere that included productions in Boston and Atlanta. Greenway Arts Alliance, the play’s L.A. presenter, will foster community conversations with post-performance discussions and a play-related art contest at Fairfax High School, where Greenway operates.

Details: Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. Previews 8 p.m. Friday, opens 8 p.m. Saturday and continues at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. May 20 and June 17; ends June 17. $15-$34. (323) 673-0544, GreenwayCourtTheatre.org/RipeFrenzy.

'Ripe Frenzy'
Melody Butiu, from left, Elizabeth Ann Bennett and Renee Marie Brewster in "Ripe Frenzy." Michael Lamont

‘Antigone’ by Fugitive Kind

What: Antigone’s brothers died on the battlefield. One is left unburied by decree of her vindictive uncle, who’s now king. She buries her brother anyway, and the uncle’s over-the-top response precipitates his downfall.

Why this? A play by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles is rethought by New York playwright Matt Minnicino, who serves warning to today’s autocrats. The expanded title of his piece, “Antigone, or We Are Rebels Asking for the Storm,” borrows the words of Russian activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who was imprisoned in 2012 with other members of the punk band Pussy Riot. The world premiere by Fugitive Kind is directed by Amanda McRaven, a 2014 Ovation Award-winner for Fugitive’s “The Pliant Girls.”

Details: Fugitive Kind at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends June 2. $20 and $25. (330) 209-7711, www.fugitivekind.org.

'Antigone, or We Are Rebels Asking for the Storm'
Sage Howard Simpson, left, and Mercedes Manning in "Antigone, or We Are Rebels Asking for the Storm." Alana Cheuvront

The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some (but not all) recommendations are shows we've seen; other picks are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast. Comprehensive theater listings are posted every Sunday at latimes.com/arts.

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @darylhmiller

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