There’s a lot happening in LA theaters, and it’s not just in Hollywood, the West Side and downtown. In fact, some of the oldest and most established Los Angeles theaters go beyond those borders. And these theaters present LA past and present—and many other stories—from a variety of perspectives.
Company of Angels is the first repertory company in LA. It dates back to 1959 and has featured actors including Leonard Nimoy, Richard Chamberlain and Vic Morrow.
Company of Angels’ current productions are deeply connected to the city and its many communities. The company commissioned Kimba Henderson to write Rise, and is currently presenting its world premiere. It’s a fascinating look at Boyle Heights and its evolution over the past century. As the play notes, “Los Angeles was founded on people telling others where they could and couldn’t live.”
Rise tackles the area’s gentrification against a backdrop of its successful multiculturalism. While it’s easy to look at the transition of Brooklyn Avenue to Cesar Chavez Avenue as telling Boyle Heights history, this more nuanced story shows how Asian-Americans, European-American Jews, African-Americans and Latinos have lived together in harmony in this area once known as the Ellis Island of the West Coast.
Emmeline (Justeen Butler and Bernadette Speakes), an African American woman born and raised in Boyle Heights, is at the heart of the story. Reasons for her refusal to leave the area in 1994 and 2015 are revealed through the play’s backwards construction, heading toward filling in an empty branch on the family tree.
The ensemble includes Sherrick O’Quinn, Doug Kaback, Raeanne Carlson and Markhum Stansbury, Jr. Miles Bryant plays Kenji, a Japanese-American interred at Manzanar. All are adept at representing multiple roles. Speaking of adept, director Lui Sanchez also did the scenic design.
Rise is a much-needed history lesson proudly wrapped in a compelling story about people who lived with intention. Through headstones at Evergreen Cemetery, it references familiar and unfamiliar names as far back as the 1800s who played key roles in Boyle Heights and greater Los Angeles, including real estate mogul Harriet Owens Bynum and Ralphs founder George Ralphs.
This is a show with an important message about the importance of community and looking past differences.
Also in the neighborhood and highly recommended is Queen of the Rumba at CASA 0101, written by the groundbreaking theater’s founder, Josefina López. The show is rich in music and dance and revolves around the true story of Alicia Parla, an 89-year-old looking back on her life as a rumba pioneer.
Rise runs through Nov. 5 at Company of Angels, 1350 San Pablo Street, just east of downtown. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here. Tickets to Queen of the Rumba at Casa 0101, which runs through Oct. 22, are $25 and can be purchased here.