WATTS : For Theater Group, the Play’s the Thing


There’s a tragedy brewing in Watts.

A Greek tragedy brought on by a theater company that plans to stay for a while.

Santa Monica-based Cornerstone Theater Company is into its fourth week of a 15-month residency in which five plays or musicals will be created. The first play, “The Love of a Nightingale,” is an adaptation of a Greek myth laced with betrayal and magic, and violence that results from silence.

Making her directorial debut with Cornerstone, Ashby Semple said she chose British author Timberlake Wertenbaker’s short play because the topic is relevant to the community. The heroine is violently silenced and “it seemed resonant that this community’s voice is underrepresented,” said Semple, who has been with Cornerstone for six years as an actress.


But audiences don’t have to come for the sociological meaning of the play, Semple said. “Let them come and see a funky evening of theater.”

The play runs Oct. 28 through Nov. 6 at the Watts Towers Arts Center, which will seat an audience of 60 to 66 people. In conjunction with “The Love of a Nightingale,” Semple is directing a 10-minute play with a cast of children about the life of Watts Towers creator Simon Rodia, called “Breaking Plates.”

Part of Cornerstone’s aim is to establish a theater company in Watts. Cast members in Semple’s plays, as well as future productions, are mostly local residents.

Since 1986, Cornerstone has created 18 community productions in 11 states. The Watts residency is the company’s longest to date. The company is funded by local and national grants that total $650,000.

Cornerstone’s second play, “Los Faustinos,” which will run from Dec. 2-18, will involve a cast of 35 actors, said Stephen Gutwillig, managing director of Cornerstone.

Since spring, a community advisory committee has been brainstorming ways to help Cornerstone establish a continuing community-based theater.

“Hopefully, this will mean the revival of theater in the community,” said Mark Greenfield, director of the Watts Towers Art Center and a member of the advisory committee. “For the last 15 to 20 years there hasn’t been much theater happening (here).”

Marceneus Earl, 24, grew up in Watts and will play the bad guy in “The Love of a Nightingale.”

“With Cornerstone coming into the community,” he said, “we have a chance to get young people into the production of a play, rather than into the normal everyday thing, which is nothing.”

Information: (213) 567-8634.