April 2008


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I was ecstatic this morning when I saw Taco readers’ comments on the Company of Angels’ new production and I received this e-mail from CofA member Kila Kitu (see Taco story): “The response to L.A. VIEWS:Ten Minutes at a Time has been overwhelming. Three of our last shows have already sold out.”

You see, when I joined the Taco writing staff, someone up there guided my way to the world of LA’s theater groups and I was stunned by the talent I encountered. If you check the reviews posted under Taco’s Theater link, you will get a glimpse into this wonderland. L.A.’s scene of small independent theater ensembles is a treasure that still needs to be discovered by the larger public so that these intelligent, compassionate and daring artists can keep on creating the compelling body of work that I’ve been privileged to enjoy over the last year and a half. In a recent must-read article, LA Weekly’s Theater Editor Steven Leigh Morris raised the red flag on the fate of LA’s live theater: “The Purpose of Theater in Absurd L.A.”

This Friday sees the opening of a new production by the Lodestone Theatre Ensemble who has a special place in my heart for co-producing the first show I ever reviewed for Taco: the hilarious sketch-comedy TELEMONGOL, staged in collaboration with Cold Tofu, 18TH Mighty Mountain Warriors, and OPM Comedy. We all know how that first time sticks to you and sometimes with you. On that fateful night, TELEMONGOL’s veteran performers took more than one bite of my virgin reviewer self and in the name of Decency, all I can say is my ribs still hurt.

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Smelling a virgin… Wanru Tseng, Greg Watanabe, July Lee and Denise Iketani in TELEMONGOL.

Click here for full story.

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On a Sunday morning, my niece Dulce and I found a dead crow in the middle of the street near her apartment. Dulce wasn’t surprised, she knew the crow was sick. Dulce and her mother Andrea are acquainted with some of the critters foraging on their block.

Our first reaction was to get the raven off of the street. Dulce put some gloves on and the deceased in a cardboard box. “We can throw it in the trash,” I said. As soon as I uttered “trash,” I regretted it. Dulce objected: “No, let’s bury him in the back. We buried a bird there before.” It was almost 80 degrees that Sunday and the thought of digging dirt in the hot sun didn’t appeal to me at all. In the back of the apartment complex where they live, Dulce found a place for the bird to rest. She didn’t hesitate to grab a pan and excavate. I helped by opening the water faucet when Dulce needed to wet the dirt to dig deeper. When I saw Dulce sweating I offered to bring her water or take the next hauling shift but she declined. So I grabbed my camera.

I’ve thrown dead birds in the black bin at my house countless times. They’re my cat’s gifts. Sometimes I save the little ones from Bambi’s claws. I hold them in my hands for as long as it takes for their hearts to slow down. If they’re so wounded that they can’t fly anymore, it’s agony to me because no place will take them and I don’t have it in me to bash their heads or suffocate them to spare them from slowly starving or being found and finished by the cats. Once I held a dead hummingbird in my hand for the longest time because he looked like he was sleeping and he was so diminutive and beautiful.

I’m a vegetarian. I don’t want any animal slaughtered, tortured or confined in my name. But, unlike Dulce, I was unwilling to take the time and effort to bury the crow. The soul was gone so why treat it with reverence? Once a friend died next to me of a heart attack on a dirt road and, while going through the motion of CPR, it was clear to me life was gone from her body.

Is the body comparable to the value we attached to cardboard when the soul passes away? I must say Dulce laboring in the sun so diligently made me feel different. And the picture of this crow resting in peace by the bed of flowers changed my mind. His shiny black eye strangely resembled the eye of the mouse whose neck was broken by Bambi recently.

Is there life after death after all? Definitely in our hearts when they beat for these little creatures lives and passings and maybe somewhere I’ve never visited.

Dulce and I said a prayer and put a stone on the crow’s grave. “Amen,” said Dulce. “Namaste,” I replied.

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Face by Mike Gonzalez (Plastic bottles, Alum., Cans)

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The First Street Studios was packed 2 Saturday nights back for the opening of the SALVAGE Art show, featuring works made with salvaged and recyclable materials. The show runs through April 26th and its closing reception will feature a Fashion Show. For more information, see flyer at the end of this small sampling of truly eclectic creations.

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El Tatuaje by Hugo Martinez Tecloatl (Mixed Media on wood)

Click here for more.

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Flor de Maria Chahua and Art McDermott in “Legit” by Henry Ong.

“L.A. Views: Ten Minutes At A Time” by the Company of Angels @ The Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. April 10th-26th, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm. $20. Reservations recommended: (323) 883-1717.

I discovered the Company of Angels last year when they performed one of Suzan Lori-Parks’ 365 days/365 plays (Taco review) and left exhilarated by their synergy, undeniable talent and dedication to the City of Angels. In their new production, “L.A. Views: Ten Minutes at a Time”, “with laughter, tears, hope, sorrow (and even 70’s music,) the eight playwrights involved in LA Views bring you 10-minute stories that leave you questioning your own understanding of community and all it encompasses.”

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Protestors against anti-immigraton laws march by the Alexandria Hotel, March 2006.

Another treat is that the Company of Angels’ new black box is located inside one of our City’s landmarks, the Alexandria Hotel in Downtown L.A. Last Sunday I met with one of L.A. Views’ directors, Karen Anzoategui, and asked her about the Ghost Building and her involvement in the production:

KA: Our theater is on the third floor overlooking this beautiful ballroom where they used to have dances and parties. Mae West used to stay at the Alexandria Hotel. Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone were also frequent visitors. The room that has become our theater used to be the V.I.P. room for the ballroom where all these celebrities gathered. We moved everything out, cleaned it, we scraped it, painted it. We found a lot of interesting things like all these encrypted words on the wall. Why would people write “cheat” and “rat”? It’s so intriguing and mysterious. You wonder where it all comes from.

A lot of older residents still live at the hotel, the Hotel does things for them like movie nights. We want to get them involved with the theater. Some of them are excited about us being there. This old lady’s been coming by just to sit and watch. It’s been great also for us to come together as a company, because we had to build the theater from the ground up. We also have a great technical director, Justin Huen.

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Alexandria Hotel circa 1919.

TACO: I’ve met Justin, he’s also an actor.

KA: He’s a man of many talents. With him on board, I knew we were going to have a great damn show. We wanted to ask “What is community in Los Angeles?” So the Company of Angels’ Playwrights Group came together and started writing around that theme. I really wanted to be part of something that is about LA because that’s where I want to be.

TACO: Tell me about the play you directed for LA Views, “Turning Around Mercy” by Jason Newlander.

KA: I started reading the plays and one of them was about this hospital and at the time I was doing HIV work, I was drawing blood and maybe interested in getting certified as a Phlebotomist. So I was in the vibe of hospital settings and also finding out about what happened in the emergency room at King Drew Hospital. I talked with my peers who worked there and learned that it shut down and wondered why? Why did they let it get to that point? That’s exactly what the play ”Turning Around Mercy” is exploring. It’s these women administrators trying to hold a hospital together so that it doesn’t fall apart. That’s why I wanted to direct it and Jason Newlander is a great writer.

For descriptions of the plays and a list of cast and crew, go to www.companyofangels.org/laviews.php.

For more fascinating stories on the Alexandria Hotel, check out Damon Chua’s blog, The Ghost Building. Damon Chua is one of the playwrigts involved in LA Views. His play is called “Stuffed Grape Leaves.”

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L.A. Views’ “Mass Transit” by Evangeline Ordaz. Pictured from left to right: July Evans, Nicole Ortega (back), Oscar Basulto, Richard Azuurdia (back)

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A few months ago I’m heading North on Lincoln Blvd. when, on an impulse, I jump out of my car to pixellate The Red Garter’ sex-appealing logos.

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As soon as I see the closed door and the yellow notice my natural born protector-of-the-small hops back into my car, grabs my cell phone and contact the real estate broker. “Hello, I’m calling about The Red Garter in Venice. I was wondering if you could put me in touch with the seller because I write for an LA blog and would love to preserve a little bit of LA history by photographing the interior of this vintage “cocktail lounge” (before it gets recycled into another retail store.)” I keep the last portion to myself as I hear a voice in my head arguing that what I call “a vintage cocktail lounge” most people would call “a dive,” including the real estate agent at the other end of the line judging by the awkward silence. “The property’s been sold.” “So maybe I could talk to the new owner?” Upon my insistence, the broker reluctantly gives me her e-mail address, gets mean on me when I ask her to repeat it and hangs up before I have a chance to deliver a spirited: “Thank you for your commitment to…” She didn’t commit to anything but I nonetheless rush home to pen a passionate appeal to the new owner while I fail to swat the annoying buzz in my head that keeps repeating “Frankie, it’s a dive!”

This incident takes an unpredictable turn when I learn that at about the same time, a young woman by the name of Lauren Everett answers her own maternal call for the preservation of the human over the commercial when she sees an ad on Craigs List for the sale of an apartment complex where LA’s own dirty old poet, Charles Bukowski, once lived. Everett and other preservationists contact the Cultural Heritage Commission and manage to halt the sale of the East Hollywood property long enough to attempt to build a case for the designation as Historic Landmark of the DeLongpre Avenue bungalow where USPS worker Henry Charles Bukowski became, at 49, a full-time writer. Just as I assume my e-mail to the Red Garter’s new owner was dragged across the real pain in the esstate’s broker desktop and dumped in her Trash Bin, I don’t believe for one moment the author of “All the Assholes in the World and Mine” will get the seal of approval from the City and when I see a picture of the building in question I even wonder: “Why? It’s a…”

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