YEAR OF THE RABBIT
Gates McFadden’s Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A.’s new season kicks off with professional actors in a beautifully designed set by Hana S. Kim with mixed results. Playwright Keliher Walsh’s script is a heavy polemic that approaches wars past and present in a very personal way. Reminiscent of Megan Terry’s 1966 condemnation of the Viet Nam War, VIET ROCK, Welsh employs transformational characters, the stand out of whom is Elyse Dinh, playing many, including Lieu, a Vietnamese survivor of that war. This is the ever shifting story of love under pressure both in 1960’s Vietnam and Afghanistan, 2012. Terry’s play was facilitated by the cast as an ever changing ensemble, all in pretty much the same costumes, creating multiple characters on a bare stage: an open space. Year of the Rabbit is more specific with props, costumes and platforms. A fine use of projections and the well executed lighting of Pablo Santiago keep the action well centered.
Navy pilots, Lt. Brice Skinner (Will McFadden) and Lt. Kara Bridges (Ashanti Brown) are Navy pilots: flying partners and somewhat reluctant lovers as they carry out assignments to bomb ‘legitimate’ targets in the current war in Afghanistan. The use of navy lingo, especially in regard to the scattering of human beings during an air strike is shocking.
Meschach Taylor shines as Vietnam War Vet J.C. Bridges, who, it turns out has a vested interest in both Lieu and Kara. In a random scene at a pharmacy, Allie Skinner (playwright Walsh) has a run-in with Bridges in what later becomes an ironic connection that only the audience is privy to.
Allie and Spence Skinner (Peter Mackenzie) are bereft at the loss of their Navy pilot son. Walsh seems to be in a slightly different play than the rest of the cast with occasional over the top histrionics, but comes to earth in a final scene with Kara.
Running at just ninety minutes, Year of the Rabbit is an opportunity for the audience to compare the current US involvement in a foreign war to the ravages of the war in Vietnam and how on a personal level these conflicts touch individual human beings.
Director James Eckhouse guides his cast well. Artistic Director Gates McFadden hopes that this season’s provocative choices will awaken audiences and with Year of the Rabbit, questions may arise as to why we have allowed war to become the ‘status quo.’
On hand is a book of artwork by artist Luke Cheuh who has designed mailers for both shows: (Rabbit and The Belle of Belfast, the next show to run in repertory) the new EST/LA openers. It’s worth a look.
Year of the Rabbit
by Keliher Walsh
Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles
Atwater Village Theater
3269 Casitas Avenue
Atwater Village, CA 90039
(In Repertory with The Belle of Belfast Opening October 6, 2012)
Through October 28, 2012
Call theater for dates and times
323 644 1929