Southern California is mythologized as a land of reinvented identity, but in Cornerstone Theater Company’s “Urban Rez,” it instead becomes ground zero in a quest to reclaim identities long lost.
The identities in question are the heritage and birthright of indigenous peoples trapped in bureaucratic limbo over what constitutes official government “recognition.” This topical new play continues Cornerstone’s mission to develop original works in partnership with communities underserved by the performing arts. For “Urban Rez,” company members join with nonprofessional actors representing 15 tribal nations to explore and humanize the cross-cultural challenges that go with being a truly native Southern Californian.
Amid these separate scenes, an overarching narrative emerges involving Max (Kenneth Ramos), an artist who runs afoul of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act restricting use of the label “Native American Art” to members of tribes officially recognized by the federal government — of which, it turns out, there are none in Los Angeles or Orange counties, sizable Native American populations in both areas notwithstanding.
It’s not difficult to spot the professionally trained performers among the cast, but it’s also beside the point: A signature of Cornerstone productions is the affecting honesty and inclusiveness that transcends the artifice of stagecraft, and this one is no exception.
“Urban Rez,” this week at the viaduct at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1799 Baker St., Los Angeles; April 21-May 1 at Kuruvungna Springs at University High School, 1439 S. Barrington Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 4 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Pay-what-you-can, $5-$30 suggested. www.cornerstonetheater.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.