Ever wonder where the young people are when you go to theater in Los Angeles? There’s a reason for that. According to a recent survey conducted by Stage Raw, two-thirds of LA theatergoers are over the age of 50. Almost half (47.4%) are over 60.
The survey wasn’t extensive, but its accuracy is undeniable, and borne out at theaters around town: Older patrons are theaters’ lifeblood, their subscription-buyers, and enthusiastic attendees.
But since COVID-19, subscriptions and attendance generally are down and theaters are struggling. Now more than ever, the theater world needs young people to start building the habit of going to plays.
Certain theaters and productions seem to have the magical ability to bring out a younger audience. Two current plays, from Echo Theatre Company and the Latino Theater Company, have audiences made up of young people and families. (It’s worth noting that the Latino Theater Company was just awarded a three-year, $5 million grant to spearhead the National Latinx Theater Initiative “to boost the national profile of Latinx theater companies across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, disperse funds needed to pursue greater financial stability and nurture artistic voices in a post-pandemic landscape.” A number of LA theaters will be the beneficiaries of this grant.)
Echo and LTC, along with a scattering of others, are developing original, groundbreaking shows that support local playwrights, actors and others by speaking to the next generation of theater-goers.
How It’s Gon’ Be
How It’s Gon’ Be by JuCoby Johnson takes place over a short period of time but spans lifetimes. The characters are so well-drawn, and so well-acted, that it’s clear where they came from and where they’re going, just from looking at this snapshot.
Bookended by Angela (Karla Mosley) folding laundry to Earth, Wind and Fire (my own preferred approach to laundry), the play digs deep into what is expected from and owed to family and friends. Karla’s son Jahaan (Donté Ashon Green) pines for freedom—and for Lady (a luminous Nona Johnson). Angela runs a tight ship, but the return from a military deployment of her husband and Jahaan’s father Kenny (standout Sedale Threatt Jr.) threatens to usurp her power. And sure enough, Jahaan seizes the opportunity to reject his mother’s strictures.
Yearning unfulfilled can be torture for teens, but yearning fulfilled adds endless complications to their lives. As Jahaan and his friends Rashad (Michael Howard-Dossett) and Terry (Durran Moreau) try on their potential future selves and romantic partners, they learn how friendship can be tested, and what it takes to stay the course. Things never look quite the same when seen through the eyes of someone who knows you well and calls you out when you need it.
The father-son dynamic is less convincing than the friendships. Jahaan’s determination to blame his father rather than appreciating his return feels overstated, as his friend points out in a powerful scene.
I often feel that good plays could be made great with some judicious tightening, and How It’s Gon’ Be is no exception. That said, the direction, by Ahmed Best, keeps the action moving and the empathy high. Spoken word poetry and music are folded into the proceedings, and the voices of Mosley and Johnson add enormously to the show’s warmth. This is a play that repeatedly asks, “Do you love me?” The answer is a resounding yes.
How It’s Gon’ Be runs through Oct. 23 at the Atwater Village Theatre,, 3269 Casitas St. Tickets are $34 and are available here. Performance times are Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 4:00pm.
Tacos La Brooklyn
From the opening land acknowledgement and guidance on exits, Tacos La Brooklyn sets its lively tone. Upbeat, multicultural, multilingual, funny, moving and completely of the moment, this is a show with built-in appeal to the TikTok generation. Selfies, social media, payment apps, music, night markets—all are woven through a story about cultural appropriation and what it means to be a community.
Who gets to define a culture, or a neighborhood? Who gets credit for authenticity, and who gets flamed for being a pretender? Writer Joel Ulloa and director Fidel Gomez guide an exciting cast in the search for answers.
The storyline is as LA as it gets: Korean-American Chino (Gavin K. Lee) absorbed Chicano culture from a young age. Don Agapito (Sal Lopez) feeds the abused and hungry boy and teaches him his method of preparing barbacoa by cooking meat underground. Don Agapita runs a taco cart called Tacos La Brooklyn, a reference to Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights, now Cesar Chavez Avenue.
We see Chino with Don Agapito and his wife Lencha (Alejandra Flores) in flashbacks; in the current day, Chino works with Lencha at a popular cart called Chino’s Underground Tacos and strives to save enough to open a taco stand on Cesar Chavez Avenue. His cart is located at a Night Market near Monse (Zilah Mendoza), who sells desserts, and Mike (Xavi Moreno), the proprietor of Mike’s Cali Meats.
In addition to cooking the meat as he was taught, Chino makes sure to purchase the highest quality ingredients, to “elevate” his tacos. This, as well as his Asian heritage, draw the attention of social media influencer Yesenia Tapia (Esperanza América), who accuses him of appropriating Chicano culture and promoting gentrification. With Yesenia’s thousands of followers turning on him, Chino’s dream is in jeopardy.
A wandering guitarist, “El Musico” (Jesus “Chuy” Perez), provides a soundtrack that balances the thoroughly modern sound. The set comes alive with projections that provide a sense of place, display character profiles and translate Spanish and Japanese to English. Yes, Japanese: The show opens and closes with a storyline about a lowrider subculture in Japan embraced by Mariko aka Little Treste (Sayaka Miyatani), Benjiro (Paul Dateh) and Whisper (Ariel Kayoko Labasan). Is it cultural appropriation or the sincerest form of flattery?
The characters of Tacos La Brooklyn have dreams they work hard to achieve. All they’re looking for is a little recognition. As Mike puts it, “They love you until they don’t.” The haters are everywhere, but when minds are opened, the forces of hate cannot prevail.
Tacos La Brooklyn was developed by the Latino Theater Company’s Circle of Imaginistas playwriting group and produced in association with East West Players.
Tacos la Brooklyn runs through Oct. 29 at the LA Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St. downtown. Tickets are $48 ($22 for students) and are available here. Performance times are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 4:00pm. Validated parking is available for $8 at the lot next door (530 S. Spring St.).