A different take on a traumatic time with Florida Studio Theatre’s …and L.A. is Burning.
By Kay Kipling
You might expect a work titled …and L.A. is burning, dealing, from a distance, with the aftermath of the Rodney King/police beating trial, to be heavy stuff. But that’s not the direction writer Y York takes with her play, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III at the Gompertz Theatre.
To begin with, we don’t see any of that famous footage of the beating, although we do hear audio clips of news reports of the trial and public comment. To continue, the play is not set in L.A. itself, but in Seattle. And finally, York uses comedy more than drama to make her points about racism and relationships.
The relationships here are between three people: government office workers Haddie (Susan Greenhill), who’s white, and Alvin (Lelund Durond Thompson), who’s black, and the third point in the triangle, a fervent/strident writer about economics and race, Sylvia (Celeste Ciulla). Although Sylvia and Haddie are temporary neighbors, the highly educated Sylvia, something of an East Coast snob, would normally have no interest in being friendly with Haddie, whose background and upbringing have left her terminally ignorant and naïve in many ways. But a comment Haddie makes about racism being like Communism intrigues the researcher in Sylvia, enough so that she agrees to have coffee with Haddie. And Haddie, meanwhile, is forming a friendship of sorts with Alvin, whose agreement to help her with her reports at work may have more to do with his desire for a promotion than any spirit of philanthropy.
For all of them, the effort to truly communicate is a fumbling—and, as directed by Kate Alexander—frequently funny one. While Ciulla and Thompson are both fine, it’s Greenhill who dominates (not in a bad way) the evening. Her Haddie is appealing and appalling at the same time—a nervous wreck of a woman addicted to cigarettes and watching the Cosby Show, a character who carries her new pet goldfish with her to work and talks to it as if it could understand her. You may wonder how someone like Haddie ever got her job in the first place; she seems so singularly ill-equipped to perform. But then the occasional illuminating remark escapes her lips, and we find ourselves caring for her in her daily struggle to make sense of the world.
There may not be any earth-shaking revelations in …and L.A. is Burning, but it’s well enough written and performed to draw us in and keep us there. It continues through March 19; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.