'A great gray blank" is what might strike the visitor to Southeast Los Angeles, the mammoth industrial zone that stretches from downtown on either side of the Santa Ana Freeway. Who would live there? "S.E.L.A.," a docu-theater piece care of the TheatreWorker's Project at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, answers the question.
People looking for good-paying, steady industry jobs flocked to the area in the '20s and '30s, as everyone from Purex to Bethlehem Steel opened production plants (the eventual closing of Bethlehem, causing thousands of layoffs, inspired TheatreWorker's first project, "Lady Beth").
Recent plant closures are what trigger the retrospective slant of Rob Sullivan's script, but "S.E.L.A" goes beyond the specific tragedy of "Lady Beth" to take in the whole town around it.
It can't be such a bad place--most of the likable performers, usually telling their own stories of the good and bad times, live there. One of them is singer Ruben Guevara, whose group Con Safos celebrates swinging Whittier Boulevard and jazzy Central Avenue. Not such a gray blank, after all.
Then, performer Kevin Williams tells us the story of the chlorine gas cloud that floated over a grade school from the Purex plant two blocks away. Rebecca Cherkoss and Richard Carter have their horror stories, too. And Frank Curtis recounts how women weren't allowed to work at National Lead, because they'd become infertile. But, Curtis wonders, what about the men who worked there?
Sullivan and director Rena Down deftly mix the light and dark tones, without being too insistent on turning this into a really polished evening--a report from the streets never should be. Ironically, the more high-tech elements--Garry Glassman's disjointed, amateurish film segment and the L.A. Poverty Department's (LAPD) overacted video--are the ones that pull the plug on the show's electricity.
Performances at 1089 N. Oxford Ave. on Sunday through Tuesday, 8 p.m.; ends Tuesday. Tickets: $5-$10; (213) 466-2916.