Sunday, April 24, 2011


Chinese Massacre [Annotated]

Take Ken Burns’ visual imagination, add an homage to Bertolt Brecht, fold in exquisite scenic design by Sibyl Wickersheimer, lighting by Tom Ontiveros and sound by Dennis Yen, all literally bursting on the stage and here you have a Los Angeles history lesson, a lesson in human behavior and an exciting evening of theatre. Tom Jacobson’s brilliant writing under the adept vision of director Jeff Liu’s innate sense of talent, humor and history bring these elements together beautifully. Chinese Massacre [Annotated] at Circle X Theatre Co. at the Atwater Village Theatre complex literally captures the audience.

When an actor agrees to become part of an ensemble, he may at once play a lead and in the next breath a supernumerary. The play’s the thing and when all of the performers are on the same page; in the same play, having a wonderful time (especially the annotators in this one), then the captured audience is in for a ride.

Director Jeff Liu’s vision breathes life into Jacobson’s play, animating the story, painstakingly researched thanks to the playwright’s fine attention to detail. Los Angeles, 1871, is, indeed a frontier town, inherently rough and tumble. Racial tensions and struggle for power bubble to the surface of the burgeoning City of the Angels. “Companies” (read gangs or Tongs) fight for ownership of unfortunate prostitutes as well as running other illegal activities. The Massacre of 1871 erupts from this cauldron of prejudice, anger and fear.

In his nod to playwright Bertolt Brecht, Jacobson casts his ensemble in multiple roles. Some step slightly outside the actual play as “annotators” who report the factual source of a speech or a particular situation to remind the audience that this is a true history for the intellect. Even though one may become emotionally involved with the goings on (and we certainly do), it’s the ‘stuff’ of the piece that Jacobson and the ensemble want us to remember. The talented cast often executes with precision a “Chinese Fire Drill” on stage, shifting from one character to another flawlessly with the quick change of a coat or a hat (or a queue) aided by precision lighting and sound, realistically bringing the audience directly to the heart of the matter.

The outstanding ensemble features Richard Azurdia, Warren Davis, Anna Douglas, Elizabeth Ho, Ross Kurt Le, Jully Lee, Alex Levin, West Liang, Johanna McKay, Silas Weir Mitchell, Gary Patent, Jack Sochet, Lisa Tharps, Marie-Françoise Theodore and Ryan Yu.

Dianne K. Graebner’s costumes are outstanding.

The Chinese Massacre [Annotated] is a must see, especially for Angelenos and those for whom a true theatrical experience has been rare.

By Tom Jacobson
Circle X Theatre Company at the Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM and 7PM
Runs April 22 through May 28, 2011
326 644 1929
$25.00 top
Sundays at 2PM Pay What You Can

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