Over the past six months, Montebello and Leimert Park community members have been writing their own stories—and those of their counterparts in the other community—for Through the Looking Glass, which aims to create a dialogue that will bridge understanding between two distinctly different L.A. neighborhoods. In weekly workshops, participants drafted, documented, stated, and re-stated their own histories as well as those of their partner artists by writing each other’s “autobiographies.”
Guided by playwright and poet Jerry Quickley, Through the Looking Glass participants studied and wove into their discussion two plays from the Mark Taper Forum 2015 season: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate and Lucas Hnath’s The Christians. Not only did community members read and deeply analyze the scripts, which deal with a number of themes tackled by Through the Looking Glass, they also were able to interact with and meet the playwrights and attend the shows.
I found the community members’ reactions and thoughtful reflections of both shows illuminating and energizing.
“When I read [Appropriate] I knew it was good,” said Jeanette Franco of Montebello. “I saw it as a dramatic piece; I didn’t find it even remotely funny.” Onstage, however, “It was hilarious,” she said. “Comedy is the best way to discuss issues, and the cast onstage and offstage did a wonderful job portraying the message.”
Lewa Pinkney of Leimert Park also noted a change from reading to watching the play. “I had my own connections with characters,” she said, noting that she felt something for Toni, the older sister, in particular on the page. “But watching her story unfold made me much less sympathetic to her because the actress breathes full life into her and made you see the demons that lie in each of us. It might have been the mirror that was held up to me that I didn’t like to see, but that I need to see.”
Last month, participants attended The Christians and then held a discussion session where they could not stop talking about the play for almost two hours. People brought in quotes from playwright Lucas Hnath’s visit, picked apart themes and underlying allusions, and most importantly, connected the play to their own personal experiences. A number of people said that the play made them reexamine their religious views.
And now it’s the community artists’ turn! Montebello and Leimert Park community members will be presenting their own written work, which Jerry Quickley has molded into a play, next month in both their communities and at our Kirk Douglas Theatre.