Wednesday, February 13, 2013

24th STreet Theatre: Walking the Tightrope

Walking the Tightrope is sophisticated children's theater that recently opened at the 24th STreet Theatre in the West Adams community near USC that will run on Saturdays through March 30, 2013.  The reasonably priced play is just over an hour, and one can catch a 2 pm or 7:30 pm performance.  According to the nonprofit theater's Executive Director, Jay McAdams, it is very rare to find this quality of children's theater in the Los Angeles area; in fact the British playwright, Mike Kenny, was quite surprised to learn that the 24th STreet Theatre had decided to fully produce his play. Even though the play is intended for children, dealing with a subject that all of us, unfortunately, are forced to confront at various stages of life, it works for both young children and adults alike.  The play brought tears to all of the adults in the small theater.  When I went to see the play, I had no idea as to the theme, but it became apparent within the first 10 minutes.  Do I need a spoiler alert?

The use of live piano music (sometimes evoking a circus), played by musician Michael Redfield, and a projected backdrop video that is simulated to look like old 8 mm or an even older format, creates the feel of a  late 1950s coastal town that could be anywhere in England. The set is very simple, and the stage directions are almost non-existent within the context of the script according to Jay McAdams.  With the play opening with a clown on a swing, you very quickly realize that the title of the play has a circus element, and that scene fades away with the arrival of Esme (played by Paige Lindsay White) on the train for her annual summer visit with her Granddad Stan played by Mark Bramhall (who has an extensive IMDB list of film credits as a  character actor and many local theater productions, including a reoccurring role back in the TV series Alias).

In order for this play to work, the audience has to believe that Paige Lindsay White, who is a young adult can project herself as a child of maybe 10 (plus or minus 2 years) and create an emotional bond between a grandchild and grandfather.  Trying to guess the age of Esme is a function of figuring out, at what age would parents be comfortable putting their child alone on a train to a seaside resort to visit their grandparents.  The actor playing the clown has no lines, and has to show emotions through movement.  Credit needs to be given to the director of the play, Debbie Devine, who has also been the long serving drama director of the Colburn Performing Arts School in Downtown Los Angeles.


What really works in Walking the Tightrope is the interaction between Esme and her granddad.  Esme has been coming to visit for many years, but this time something is different. Watching the play, it brought back my own memories of my interaction with my grandfather when I was also about the same age.  Ironically, this circus theme for an adult, will also bring to mind the brilliant book, Water for Elephants, as the main character in that play, wanted to return to the circus as a senior citizen.  At the end of the play, Esme asks her Granddad Stan whether he is ever going to run off to the circus, he says no, but rather he would go off and do....but I won't give this line away.  See the play.  You won't be sorry.  With or without kids in tow.

The 24th STreet Theatre has been operating in the West Adams neighborhood for 15 years now and was recently recognized for its community service by the Mayor and LA City Council. As a family, one could easily attend the theater on a Saturday afternoon and then check out one of the many museums in Exposition Park.  For the families living in the downtown area, this would be a great afternoon excursion.  Then adults looking to try something new, going to the 24th STreet Theatre, is a great opportunity to visit, before or after, one of the many new downtown Los Angeles restaurants.


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