If the L.A. Festival is trying to reveal Los Angeles' new multiculturalism to itself, nowhere is it doing it better than in its ethnic-specific venues.
How much people outside each community will enjoy this cultural smorgasbord will depend on how adventuresome they are, how tolerant of qualitative unevenness and of the haphazardness of some of the technical arrangements.
That the communities themselves are enjoying the spotlight on their cultures was clear Saturday at North Hollywood's Wat Thai temple, one of three venues where the Likay theater of Thailand performed over the weekend.
This unusual-to-us form of largely improvised theater, song and dance is described in the program as derived from a variety of earlier forms, including Buddhist and Moslem chantings of the late 19th Century. It is a charmingly informal theater that sets up on street corners and parks to perform four hours at a stretch.
In those hours, audiences are free to come and go, talk, eat, drink and interrupt with direct gifts of money to favorite players. This was achieved at Wat Thai by the sale of leis and paper chains that audience members gleefully strung around performers' necks. Interruption seemed almost de rigueur.
The appealing company was Boonlert Sit Homhuan, headed by Boonlert Natphinit, a disciple of Homhuan ("late doyen of Likay"), who also performed. By Western perceptions Likay is fairly static, drawn-out theater, with continuous musical accompaniment (the respected Duriyapraneet Ensemble of Thailand provided it), a good deal of dance, song, physical comedy and sweetly good-humored addresses to the audience.
The women, garbed in vivid floor-length gowns, and the men in traditional, richly beaded costume, unfolded an ongoing soap opera of love, jealousy, intrigue and adultery that never seemed to grow too serious or to end. A game attempt at translation was scuttled by poor miking, but everything else came over that mike, including announcements of lost babies and illegally parked cars.
It was precisely these colloquialisms, the interweaving of joking asides to L.A. and the festival and the gentle interaction with the audience that made it special--that, along with the opportunity to flesh out the experience by tasting Thai food sold at various stands.
Earlier in the day, this writer stopped by Griffith Park to catch yet another free play (and bite of rye) by the Bread and Puppet Theatre. This time it was "The Same Boat," an illustrated piece about political corruption and the importance of preserving the Amazon rain forest. The pastoral venue, stirring choral singing, large puppets and larger imagination made this a delicious event. Bread and Puppet has added a final free Domestic Resurrection Circus at Santa Monica Pier noon Saturday.