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Entertainment & Arts

Review: West Adams gentrification takes center stage at Skylight Theatre

Andrés M. Baggs in “West Adams” at Skylight Theatre.
Andrés M. Baggs in “West Adams” at Skylight Theatre.
(Ed Krieger)

If “West Adams,” now at the Skylight, had been produced three years or so ago, it might have been dismissed as overwrought.

Who knew that such drastic change could transpire in such a short span of time? Playwright Penelope Lowder has her finger firmly on the pulse of American culture, and this patient is in dire need of resuscitation. Her world premiere play is a modern-day parable about the rise of racism, disrespect for the rule of law and the brutally strident rhetoric that has infected the national discourse.

The play commences as a comical sendup about urban gentrification. New to L.A.'s West Adams district, two engaging but clueless couples set out to make their mark on the neighborhood by winning a contest to sing the National Anthem at a local block party.

Michael (Clayton Farris) wants to make a splash by displacing the area’s African American incumbent on the neighborhood council, despite the reservations of his wife (Jenny Soo) about the expense of such a campaign. The product manager at Michael’s bouncy castle company, Edward (Andrés M. Bagg), a Peruvian national whom Michael sponsored for entry into the country, is a born-again Christian happily expecting his first child with his white wife (Allison Blaize).

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Allison Blaize, left, Clayton Farris and Jenny Soo in “West Adams” at Skylight Theatre.
Allison Blaize, left, Clayton Farris and Jenny Soo in “West Adams” at Skylight Theatre.
(Ed Krieger)

To say much more about the plot would spoil the production. Suffice to say that monsters are at large on West Adams. Genial though these newcomers may seem at first, their increasingly extreme efforts to insinuate themselves into the scene and uproot the status quo take an appalling turn.

David Murakami’s projection design is the standout of this handsomely designed production. Award-winning director Michael A. Shepperd and his wonderful cast lift the rock off Lowder’s dishearteningly fine play. Indeed, there are plenty of laughs to be had — before the horror sets in.

“West Adams” launches the Skylight Theatre’s season of three plays from SkyLAb, an innovative residency program that fosters new plays written by company members. It’s a brilliant debut that bodes well for the rest of the season.

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'West Adams'
Where: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends March 8

Tickets: $20 and up

Info: (213) 761-7061, (866) 811-4111, SkylightTix.org

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

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