"In Response," Towne Street Theatre's multi-author answer to systemic racism throughout American history, ends this weekend — and it's a must-see.
Towne Street, founded after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, is dedicated to creating original work that is reflective of the African American experience. "In Response" does just that.
The opening piece is "Pains of a Black Earth Man," writer-performer Adrian Zeigler's spoken-word ritual that sets the tone for an omnibus that asks as many questions as it provides specific perspectives.
In Vincent Terrell Durham's searing "A Mother's Cry," five women from different eras depict the horror of losing a child. "The Saturday Nighters," written by Madeline Puccioni, centers on a confab of Georgia Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Oswald Villard responding to an anti-lynching bill before Congress.
And so it goes, aided by shrewdly chosen videos and costumes. Some pieces are short and surreal, others realistic, and the collegiate elements of some works are trumped by passion, variety and authenticity.
Humor shows up, as in Ken Cosby's delicious Act 2 opener, "Trippin," which starts out as a campy disco riff, then swerves into sobriety with the arrival of authorities, only to end on a hilarious reversal.
But it is the graver pieces that directly hit our solar plexus: Veronica Thompson's "The Escape," a tale of a young female slave attempting to go north in male disguise; Cosby's "No Justice," involving a white racist cop and a black internal affairs officer post-Rodney King; or the house-stilling mime piece, "Two Sandras," written by Samantha Clay.
The huge cast has undiluted commitment, many of them doubling as writers and directors.
Rarely does theater by committee convey such potent impact. Long before the hopeful "A Concern of National Interest" finale, which takes on a certain Irving Berlin standard, "In Response" has entered our consciousness in ways impossible to ignore or shake.