ARULA’S AMERICAN SPRING: Theatre Review
American Spring, the fourth live stage show by Artists Rise Up Los Angeles since the Trump regime took power, rocked Atwater Village Theatre with a moving matinee on April 14 meant to raise consciousness and funds. Largely using spoken word, in a series of one-person presentations, a dozen mostly female and/or nonwhite thesps gave a voice to those whom the Trump-sters seek to render voiceless and Ralph Ellison-like invisible, thereby shining the spotlight on the so-called “least” of these among us during ARULA’s 90 minute production, co-directed by Mapuana Makia and Jose Restrepo. Here are some highlights:
African American women led the way, as some observe Black females are doing offstage, too, in terms of activism. FreXinet freely floated from one female character to another a la Anna Deavere Smith to answer the probing question she posed: “What does it take to be Black in America?” The braided-hair actress wrote and acted out the various dramatic personae, demonstrating her range and talent.
With “We Woke But We Already Tired” and “I Pledge”, Taylor Bennett and Candace Nicholas-Lippman trod similar troubling territory on the Atwater’s boards. Like FreXinet they skillfully displayed a range of emotions that shed light - especially for members of the so-called “superior” race - as to what it’s like to be African American in Trump’s shAm-erica, as white supremacy ascends and rears its proverbially ugly head again, encouraged with a wink, nod and tweet from the Offal Office. Nicholas-Lippman’s piece is a rumination on pledging allegiance to the flag of a country that falls far short of its proclaimed ideals. It reminded me of when I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance during assembly and homeroom when I was in Junior High 119 in Glendale, NY and justified my action on account of that it was, like you know, a FREE country - so I could do what I wanted to. Silly 12 year-old moi! (FYI, on April 27 and 28 the young, gifted and Black Nicholas-Lippman is presenting the one-woman show A Rose Called Candace at The Actors Company - see: www.arosecalledcandace.com.)
Melvin Ward injected a Black male’s point of view with a harrowing tale of being pulled over by the pigs under the pretense of “a busted taillight.” Of course, this is porky’s ruse and Ward’s real “crime” is “driving while Black” in racist AmeriKKKa. Although nonwhites may find this to be all too recognizable and common, Ward gives insight to those using “white privilege” as to the target Blackness places on African Americans by a racist society, and how racism undercuts one’s very sense of self. Called “Invisible Man (Do You See Me?)”, one imagines that at least when it comes to the pigs, Ward would actually prefer that they didn’t see him at all and would just leave him alone as he goes on his way. Although, of course, being overlooked and unseen by society at large takes its toll.
Sue-Kate Heaney’s “I’m Sorry”, deftly directed by Mapuana Makia, encapsulated ARULA’s essential point, as an extremely apologetic woman finally stands up for herself. In AAA, written and performed by Camila Greenberg, the blonde actress also explored the theme of self-empowerment while honoring Dr. King and Lennon (John, not Vladimir). A relative of the great groundbreaking Jewish major league baseball player Hank Greenberg, the 29-year-old Camila has appeared in many screen productions, including HBO’s Veep (created by Scotland-born Armando Iannucci, who just wrote and directed the stellar satire The Death of Stalin.)
In Alex Alpharaoh’s “I Get It From My Momma”, this son of a hard-working immigrant expresses a similar theme, as he recounts his mother’s endurance of extremely oppressive conditions at an American sweat shop, that included sexual harassment by the presumably white male overseer.
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In the three prior ARULA presentations that included a shorts film festival, a “Taxes & Tweets” show of songs and standup featuring Trae Crowder, the “Liberal Redneck”, and ARULA’s inaugural Jan. 31, 2017 performances at El Portal in North Hollywood protesting Trump’s inauguration, Trump was a frequent target of attacks. In ARULA’s American Spring show, Trump per se wasn’t mentioned as frequently; instead, actors focused on societal ills suffered under Trump instead. However, in “Worst” Siaka Massaquoi pondered whether Trump was the worst president ever, and the African American male reminded us in a bipartisan way of the sins committed by recent previous presidents, including Democrats Clinton and Obama.
(BTW, for what it’s worth, my standard for what makes one the “worst president” ever is which commander-in-chief unnecessarily murdered more human beings. I believe that dishonor lies, from Chile to Cambodia to Laos to Vietnam, with Tricky Dick. But in all fairness, let’s give The Donald a chance to wreak what havoc this lunatic can before he leaves office, in whatever form that takes. My prediction: He’ll end up like the fascist he loves quoting, Benito Mussolini.)
“Miss Liberty” was a clever sketch, with Lisa Dring standing throughout with one arm across her chest and another upraised. Over the course of the piece it becomes clear that the Asian American actress is portraying the Statue of Liberty - who is rather fretful about Washington’s current stance regarding those “tired and poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This was apropos, because in the preceding piece “Passover”, Vicki Juditz portrayed a woman becoming stronger in her convictions who participates in a pro-immigrant rally near New York Harbor, where last time I checked Lady Liberty is perched (unless Trump and his running dog Stephen Miller have yanked her down).
Beatboxer Matt Selby, whose day job is as Disneyland’s musical director, launched the program with a solo overture, gave one of the greatest introductions I’ve ever seen (or heard) to comedienne Mona Shaikh, a veteran of ARULA’s shows. In her piece de resistance “The Neck” the Pakistan-born Mona recounted a hate crime committed against her, for which she received no justice (aka “just us” white folks) in the courts and an ongoing injury. Although the so-called “naughty Muslim” delivered her act with her trademark humor, what happened to Shaikh is actually quite alarming and disturbing. Well, at least she got a good comic routine out of it!
In American Spring ARULA collaborated with “WE THE PEOPLE Theatre Action”, bi-monthly theatrical resistance presented by L.A.’s Sacred Fools Theater Company. Sue Hamilton, who introduced American Spring, is ARULA’s founding executive producer/artistic director. The show was essentially a one-acter, except for a brief pause in the action, as Heidi Godt and Jenn Liu, clad as a waitress, drolly served up pieces of pie to raffle buyers. Proceeds are being donated to East L.A. Women’s Center, and the proceedings were introduced by a formerly battered, abused Latina survivor who had found shelter at this center.
Once again, ARULA has shown itself to be a potent force in L.A.’s theatrical world for fundraising and mobilizing consciousness against Trump. ARULA is following in the theatrical footsteps of Bertolt Brecht, who pioneered the Epic Theatre as the Nazis conspired to take over Germany plus Clifford Odets and Marc Blitzstein, who were in the vanguard of America’s Depression era Proletarian Theatre. Today ARULA continues this vital, hallowed tradition as progressive politics enter stage left, with the curtain rising on a new anti-Trump Theatre of Resistance. Pretty soon, hopefully, Trump and his ilk will get the hook and the final curtain - and the last shall be first.
ARULA’s next show is scheduled June 28 at The Federal Bar, 5303 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601. For info: www.artistsriseupla.com.
The third edition of the “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book”, co-authored by L.A.-based critic and film historian Ed Rampell, drops in April 2018.