This eery montage where  Michael Jackson‘s dance moves are slowed down reminded me of silent-screen great Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) and of course Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)who was greatly admired by Jackson and inspired his moonwalk. The whiter Jackson’ skin became, the more tragic and mime-like his performances.

In this one the crowd goes absolutely wild watching Jackson perform “Billie Jean” 30 years after its release:

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Charlie Chaplin

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laviews

“LA Views II” is the second installment of the Company of Angels’ hugely popular Playwrights Group project, “LA Views,” which debuted in 2008. Among the inspirations for this show are Enrico Caruso, Sessue Hayakawa, Alla Nazimova, Pola Negri, Mabel Normand, Ramon Novarro, Mary Pickford, and Rudolph Valentino.

Luminaries of the Silent Era are the inspiration of contemporary Los Angeles playwrights Damon Chua, Leon Martell, Jamison Newlander, Henry Ong, S. Vasanti Saxena, Lilly Thomassian, Brenda Varda and Kyle T. Wilson.  This moving and comic chronicle, set during the heydays and nowadays of Downtown Los Angeles’ Alexandria Hotel, shines a light on the parallel lives of those who have inhabited this building in its heyday and those who dwell in its present embodiment. This production examines lives once lived at their most celebrated, while contrasting the reality of current existence that approaches irrelevance and obscurity.” http://www.companyofangels.org

Finding myself in the company of actor/poet Xavi Moreno at an exclusive private screening of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” in Boyle Heights last weekend, I decided Xavi was the perfect spokesperson for CoA’s new production. One reason is that he performed in two significant plays last year which highlighted L.A.’s history present and past:  the exuberant Company of Angels’ staging of  Ricardo A. Bracho’s “SISSY“,  about affirming one’s difference on the streets of 1970’s Culver City, and Cornerstone Theatre Group’s “FOR ALL TIME” written by KJ Sanchez, a heart wrenching examination into how civilians and convicts alike are affected by the consequences of their actions and by the laws of California’s  justice system. The other reason for making Xavi Moreno’s the ambassador to “LA VIEWS II”?  He’s one of those rare actors who can claim L.A. as his native city.

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Company of Angels members Richard Azurdia and Xavi Moreno in Boyle Heights.

Xavi Moreno:  I was born, raised and staged “East”of the LA River in the historic neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The house I grew up in has a view of the Hollywood sign from the front porch. I wasn’t inspired by seeing the sign every day – I couldn’t – it was always smoggy. It’s in my blood. My parents have always been entertainers. I was placed on stage 2 months after my birth. I played “Baby Jesus” in a comedic production of “El Nacimineto” that featured my pops as Jose and several other known Mexican actors at the famed El Million Dollar stage in Downtown. That was my first on-stage performance, naked and I’m still not equity..haha.

What kept the inspiration wheel rolling was my babysitters: El Chavo del Ocho, El Chapulin Colorado, La India Maria and novelas like Rosa Salvaje and Carusel de Ninos. My parents were always working so these folks took care of me and when the T.V was shut off, it was my turn to shine and that’s when my crush for live theater began and I have endured a lifelong love/hate relationship with the stage ever since. Theater has stereotyped me, personalized me, released me, and brought me many of my best travels, friends, and experiences, while it has also held me back and held me down. Theater is the foundation that all my accomplishments have been built upon. It’s the fuel that jets me always a step ahead of the pack.

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When Xavi’s life is not engulfed by theater, he performs as one of  Los Poets del Norte.

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Toraichi Kono and Charlie Chaplin.

I attended two out of the three plays presented at EdgeFest’s LA History Project at the Autry National Center last Sunday. Circle X’s 1pm production of Tom Jacobson’s “The Chinese Massacre” which “chronicles the first race riot in Los Angeles history, when 19 Chinese men and boys were lynched by a mob of 500 people from all nations” was a truly impressive debut even if still in the workshopping stage. The play generated many laughs while staying true to the hard facts. Or attempting to. Indeed, some of the funniest moments were born out of the playwright’s desire to confess to us that all the research he did came from press clippings and studies that might or might not tell the absolute truth. Sometimes the playwright gave us two points of view on the same person or incident from two different sources with two very different agendas, which made the play very timely as we’re dealing with two presidential candidates with two very different versions of our future, our past and our present. I highly recommend that you add your name to Circle X‘s e-mail list to stay informed about the future of this disturbing yet necessary play.

I stayed for the next presentation: the first act of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble’s “My Man Kono” written by Philip W. Chung and directed by Jeff Liu about Toraichi Kono who was Charles Chaplin’s valet for 17 years “before being arrested as a Japanese enemy spy on the eve of World War II.” This first act was extremely moving and also enlightening – does anybody know that Charlies Chaplin was the subject of an attack on his life while visiting Japan? – thanks to a terrific cast all around and an outstanding Garrett Wang as Toraichi Kono, all impassive face and bottled up emotions against Donovan Oakleaf’s Charlie Chaplin pirouetting around the stage with open arms and an overflowing heart. I must say when the play began I was embarrassed for whoever had the formidable task of bringing Charlie Chaplin to life but that’s exactly what Donovan Oakleaf did and I’m still recovering from the shock of having been in the genius’ presence. I also recommend that you go to Lodestone’s website to get a chance one day in the near…distant… future, as Philip W. Chung promised us, to witness this intriguing pair who, ironically, ended up having more in common when they grew apart.

Here is Sunday’s line-up for Part II of the festival:

11 AM
Watts Village Theater Company
At Risk
By Judy Soo Hoo
Directed by David Catanzarite
In a fictional middle school in South Los Angeles, every student is at risk, and so is every teacher. Watts Village Theater Company’s offering to the festival explores the history of United Teachers of Los Angeles through the eyes of a rookie and the motley band of veterans who get him through his first year.

1PM
About Productions
Bleeding Through
Written by Teresa Chavez and Rose Portillo
Directed by Teresa Chavez
A multi-media work inspired by Norman Klein’s novella Bleeding Through Layers of Los Angeles, which uncovers the narrative ghosts, both fictional and non-fictional of Angelino Heights, and addresses historical forgetting and the erasure of memory.

3:30PM
Native Voices at the Autry
Serra Springs
By Larissa FastHorse
Music by Brian Joseph
Lyrics by Brian Joseph and Larissa FastHorse
Directed by Robert Vestal
Two teens, two adults and one strange dude deal with some major surprises during one magical night at a protest to save the last sacred site of the Tongva people in West Los Angeles.

What: EdgeFest Los Angeles History Project
When: Sunday, July 13, and Sunday, July 20, 11AM, 1PM, 3:30 PM
Where: Autry National Center of the American West, Griffith Park Campus, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90027-1462
How Much: Free
Reservations: Not required.
More Info: lahp@edgeoftheworld.org

If this is not one incredible theater event!!! I just hope L.A. will come and support it.

“Edge of the World Theatre Festival, with generous support from the James Irvine Foundation, the Autry National Center and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, has commissioned six new plays about our city and its rich history. These plays will be presented as workshops by six of Los Angeles’ most exciting and innovative theater companies as part of EdgeFest’s ongoing Los Angeles History Project.

The event will be held at the Autry National Center on Sunday, July 13 & Sunday, July 20, 2008. All presentations are free of charge.

The schedule of works to be presented is listed below.

Sunday, July 13

11AM
Son of Semele Ensemble
Record Storm Spreads Ruin!
By Aaron Henne
Devised by Son of Semele Ensemble
Directed by Edgar Landa
A corrupt administration. A leader clinging desperately to his power. A devastating flood.
In 1938, Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw, on the verge of being ousted from power, broadcasts over the radio airwaves to a drowning city. His citizens, some living and some dead, converge on City Hall to offer him one last chance at salvation from his past deeds, before he is overtaken by a record storm.

1PM
Circle X Theatre Company
The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)
By Tom Jacobson
Directed by Marya Mazor
Based on historical incident, the The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) chronicles the first race riot in Los Angeles history, when 19 Chinese men and boys were lynched by a mob of 500 of “people from all nations.” Resonant with more recent racially motivated Los Angeles civil disturbances (the Zoot Suit Riots, the Watts Riots, the Rodney King insurrection), The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) brings to light the remarkable, culturally diverse 19th-century Wild West town that exploded into today’s metropolis.
Note: If you’d like to make a reservation for The Chinese Massacre please call 323-667-2000 x354 and leave a message

3:30
Lodestone Theatre Ensemble
My Man Kono
(Act One: The Chaplin Years)
Written by Philip W. Chung
Directed by Jeff Liu
The story of Toraichi Kono, who worked as movie star Charlie Chaplin’s personal valet for 17 years before being arrested as a Japanese enemy spy on the eve of World War II. This is a presentation of Act One of the play which covers Kono’s years with Chaplin.

What: EdgeFest Los Angeles History Project
When: Sunday, July 13, and Sunday, July 20, 11AM, 1PM, 3:30 PM
Where: Autry National Center of the American West, Griffith Park Campus, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90027-1462
How Much: Free
Reservations: Not required.
More Info and July 20th schedule: www.edgeoftheworld.org.

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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)