“Urban Rez” is the seventh installment in a nine play series presented by Cornerstone Theater Company called “The Hunger Cycle” exploring “hunger, justice and food equity issues” within the city of Los Angeles. It is an unconventional telling of the story of the displacement and hunger for acceptance and home of fifteen different tribal nations in collaboration with the Native American Indian Community of Los Angeles. Playwright Larissa FastHorse has created in her Play “Urban Rez” a unique Theatrical experience that incorporates the styles of the indigenous people of this continent in order to explore issues of tribal membership, acceptance of outsiders, cultural integrity, native language degradation, native property rights, ignorant stereotypes, and discriminatory representations of native culture and history.
“Urban Rez,” directed by Michael John Garcès is unlike any traditional “western” influenced theatrical experience. The story is not presented on stage, but rather is part stage, part Native American friendship circle, and part open market with the audience encouraged to sit, stand or walk around. According to the playwright , the intent is to ensure that the audience and actors have “to stand face to face and look at each other and interact with each other.” Unlike traditional black box theater, there is no fourth wall.
This is a piece that is meant to be seen multiple times as different members of the group of actors break into groups in the market to tell their stories not separately, but at the same time and the audience must choose which story they wish to hear. At times the group as a whole is encouraged to head the cry of one actor or group of actors over another, or two actors will shout out their story over other actors also telling theirs. It sounds like chaos, but there is a strange organic structure to it. Like reading a book where the reader chooses the ending. Yet in this case no matter what path one takes, it all leads back to a circle.
The cast involved in this production includes Danielle Aguilar, Frank Ayala, Clementine Bordeaux, Marcenus “M.C.” Earl, Sheri Foster, Peter Howard, Kinsale Hueston, Terri Jay, Jenny Marlowe, Leland Morrill, Maxine Napoleon, Cecelia Phoenix, Kenneth Ramos, Willie Sandoval and Arianna Taylor. No program is handed out until the final curtain. There is also a guest performer, this past Friday Dennis Garcia told the audience a story from the Chumash tribe of the birth of the red tail hawk.
The stories are interwoven and presented in a market place setting with part of the experience being with the audience in a room with a stage and one end but seating in a circle and part in an open area with booths. The effort is to be inclusive while also showing the divisions that are caused by a forced need for legal identification. It is a theatrical effort to unite all, Indian and non-Indian, in empathy and shared humanity.
Cornerstone Theater has partnered with local tribes, UCLA American Indian Studies Department, Red Circle project, Rancho Los Alamitos, California State Parks, and Gabrielino / Tongva Springs Foundation at University High School. “Urban Rez” is made possible by grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Dew Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The Lear Family, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, The Shubert Foundation, US Bank and Kathryn Caine Wanlass Charitable Foundation.
“Urban Rez” is being performed “exclusively outdoors” on the east side of Los Angeles and then the west side. First under the Viaduct at the Los Angeles State Historic Park until April 17 and from April 21 to May 1 at the Kuruvungna Springs at University High School. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m., only one performance per day. Tickets are pay what you can $5 to $30 and are available on line at http://cornerstonetheater.org/urbanrez