The 99-Seat Beat: Rap and race, immigration and equality, Molière and ‘Morrie’
In the face of moral ambiguity, what does integrity look like? This week, promising shows from the intimate theater scene include a hip-hop-infused drama with a Black Lives Matter story line at the Fountain, a re-imagined classic farce at City Garage, a drama about local racial tensions staged in downtown L.A. and “Tuesdays With Morrie” in Sierra Madre. All touch on tests of character that define personal identity and remind us that we can do better.
‘Hype Man’ at the Fountain
The essentials: Poised on the brink of stardom, a white rapper, his black hype man and their female mixed-race beat maker find their partnership strained to the limits after a police shooting. Friendship and career ambitions collide with social conscience and personal demons in the West Coast premiere of Idris Goodwin’s music-infused “break beat play.”
Why this? The Fountain Theatre continues its stellar track record of outreach with this keenly observed immersion in hip-hop culture and the social conditions that animate it. Rap fans may appreciate the play’s dialogue and sensibility (playwright Goodwin is also an MC), yet there’s insight for all in the creative process and realities of the music business.
Details: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends April 14. $40-$45. (323) 663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com
‘The Bourgeois Gentleman’ at City Garage
The essentials: Molière’s equal-opportunity satire skewers nouveau riche pretension and aristocratic snobbery in this revival of City Garage’s acclaimed 2008 production. Featuring choreography and music inspired by the original 1670 staging but adapted and re-imagined for the present by director Frédérique Michel and designer Charles Duncombe, the piece charts the risqué antics and misadventures of a social-climbing fop manipulated by con artists and ne’er-do-wells.
Why this? Though best known for stylish but challenging, sometimes impenetrable avant-garde material, Michel and her City Garage team have also demonstrated an impressive facility with classical farce — and the comic ballet style of Molière in particular. Times reviewer David C. Nichols praised the original production as “nominally avant garde, mainly an unguarded hoot.” For a centuries-old romp about a clueless vulgarian with delusions of grandeur, this one seems especially on point.
Details: A City Garage production at 26th Street Arts Center, Bergamot Building T1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; ends April 7. $25 (Sundays are pay what you can). (310) 453-9939, www.citygarage.org
‘Canyon’ at LATC
The essentials: Set in a newly gentrified Southern California neighborhood before the 2016 election, Jonathan Caren’s new drama uses the aftermath of a home remodeling accident to expose the socioeconomic fault lines in our melting pot ideals. An affluent white couple expecting their first child, a crusading black public defender and his career-sacrificing wife, and a father-son team of Mexican day laborers all find their values tested and falling short as best intentions give way to mistrust, prejudice and self-interest. Without resorting to heavy-handed rhetoric, Caren’s play humanizes the hidden tensions underlying policy debates over immigration and equality.
Why this? With its insight into local demographics and implicit call for understanding and perspective to transcend fear and bridge differences, Caren’s script is well suited to this collaborative fusion of innovation and tradition between the up-and-coming Iama Theatre Company collective and the well established Latino Theater Company. Brooklyn-based director Whitney White places the audience around and practically on top of the performers, bringing the action up close and personal.
Details: An Iama/Latino Theater co-production at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. Opens Thursday. Performances 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through March 24. $38. (866) 811-4111, www.thelatc.org
‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ in Sierra Madre
The essentials: Journalist Mitch Albom and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s stage adaptation of Albom’s bestselling memoir dramatizes conversations with his former college professor, Morrie Schwartz, shortly before the latter’s death from Lou Gehrig’s disease. An engaging raconteur and mentor, Schwartz faces terminal illness with bravery and humor.
Why this? In another cross-pollination between local companies, the production is directed by the MET Theatre’s longtime artistic director, L. Flint Esquerra. The play stars Group Rep’s co-artistic director Larry Eisenberg as Morrie and Sierra Madre Playhouse regular Jackson Kendall as his student in life lessons.
Details: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 31. Dark March 17, additional performance March 18. $40 (March 18 is pay what you can). (626) 355-4318, www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some recommendations are shows we’ve seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast.
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