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Disjointed Voices From a City That ‘Never Rains’ : L.A. Riot: Playwright Joe Fox interviewed 25 Angelenos to create a work about ‘people whose dreams have not been fulfilled.’ It plays tonight at LATC.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A week after last spring’s riots, Joe Fox was sitting in a coffee shop in Silver Lake when he overheard a conversation from a nearby table. “I personally find jewelry to be such a power play,” the man said, unaware Fox was listening.

“It just seemed so incredibly bizarre that a week after ‘ground zero’ that people were talking about jewelry, “ Fox said. “The riots didn’t happen that far from Silver Lake.”

The paradox was not lost on Fox, who was doing public-relations work for the First AME Church in South-Central Los Angeles. He had seen the areas damaged by the uprising; more importantly, he had seen the people who had been damaged.

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“Right after the uprising, there were people from all walks of life, from all over the city, who came to the church to help in some way,” he said. But even after the rebuilding had begun, there were “so many voices that were not connecting, and I thought that was a mitigating factor in what happened last spring.”

So, sitting in that coffee shop, it occurred to him to dramatize those disconnected voices. The result is “And it Never Rains,” playing tonight through Sunday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

The 90-minute show is less a “play” than a dramatization of 18 broken and intermingling monologues, like performed poetry. The characters range from an immigrant from El Salvador to a gay man opening a shop on Melrose, from a Korean shop owner and his daughter to a black woman who wants to be a singer.

What they have in common is Los Angeles--the city where they all thought they could make their dreams come true.

Fox and four others interviewed 25 people, 18 of whom became characters; the words are theirs. This journalistic technique is like that used by Anna Deavere Smith, who did a one-woman show called “Fires in the Mirror” in response to last year’s unrest between Blacks and Hasidic Jews in New York. She is scheduled to give a similar performance about the Los Angeles riots at the Mark Taper Forum in early June.

Fox’s interviews were very structured. He asked his subjects what brought them to Los Angeles, what their frustrations were, how they viewed the riots and what their hopes for the city are. That format is also the structure of the play.

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“The play is not about the riots. I didn’t want one mention of Rodney King in the play,” he said. “To me, that wasn’t what the riots were about. To me, it was a spark that ignited the city, but the conditions have existed way beyond Rodney King. What we’re talking about is people whose dreams have not been fulfilled.”

As playwright and producer, Fox pulled together limited funding and an ethnically diverse cast and crew. He and artistic director Olivia Chumacero held auditions in December in black, Korean and Latino communities. About three-fourths of the cast comes from riot-affected areas, and the actors range in age from 12 to 62.

Chumacero said she was intentionally seeking non-professional actors. “I was looking for people who could work in an ensemble, people near the community and people interested in saying what they believe,” she said.

She hired graffiti artists to paint the set, which includes abstract skyscrapers and a freeway map of the city on the floor so the audience is, in effect, looking at downtown and sitting in South-Central.

The message of the play, she said, comes as much from its creation as from the staging.

“What we did was bring all these people from all over these communities, all these economic groups, and put together this work of art,” she said.

Choreographer Young-ae Park said the production team was “a microcosm of what Los Angeles can be. It’s the hope--the way I worked with Olivia, the way we worked together.”

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It was the first time the modern dance instructor ever worked with fellow Korean-Americans, and she came back to Los Angeles from a teaching post at Arizona State University to tackle the job. Her task was to take the cast, most of whom are not professional actors or dancers, and create movements that complemented and interpreted the words of the play.

Musical director Bob Dole composed several songs for the show, abstract music he calls “cross-cultural sound assemblage.”

“It’s a big process involving a lot of people,” he said. “We have very little time. We do what we can and hope for the best.”

“And it Never Rains” is at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., tonight through Sunday at 8 p.m. Suggested donation for tickets is $10. All proceeds go to the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund. Call (213) 969-4612 for ticket information.

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