by Nicole Collins | LA Splash.com: April 27, 2009
Bronzeville by Sarah Happel | SoCal Magazine: Spring 2009
Presented by the Robey Theatre Company, Bronzeville reignites the conflict and social disorder of the West Coast events surrounding Pearl Harbor with insight, dignity, and a touch of charm. In a time of political uncertainty, the play exposes the controversial and now shameful behavior of the US Government. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order requiring all West Coast Japanese Americans to immediately be transported to “relocation” camps. With the war’s boom-time economy, Blacks from the Deep South came in flocks seeking high-paying jobs in Los Angeles. With this influx of Black people, landlords ignored the previous racial restrictions and allowed them to move into vacated Little Tokyo. Bronzeville centers on the Goodwin family who move into a large and beautiful home in Little Tokyo. This three-generational family discovers a young Japanese man, Henry, who has refused to be relocated and hence has been living in his family’s home attic. The Goodwin’s face the difficult decision whether to help Henry or be at risk of breaking the law.
With Mama Janie in charge, her sons follow orders to help Henry and keep him safe like the people who helped Blacks in the Underground Railroad. Henry is nursed back to health with good food and care. Son Felix helps Henry pose as a Chinese to get a job at the local Jazz club. Romance sparks between the young Princess and Henry. Family conflict comes to a head as Henry’s relationship with Princess is revealed and his secret exposed. He is arrested and during a series of events finds himself fighting for the U.S. army overseas.
Bronzeville is well written and seemingly authentic. One scene in the nightclub is excellent in slow motion with jazzy music playing in dim lights. Robert Clements as Tubby, the rowdy charismatic club owner, is brilliant. Writers Tim Toyama and Aaron Woolfolk insert just enough humor in this heavily emotional plathey. They bravely bring to light history that the history books ignore. Their characters dialect is natural and authentic. The use of real, historic projected pictures help bring the gravity of the turmoil home. The music (Dave Iwataki) and lighting (Luke Moyer) work in perfect conjunction with the overall feel. J.P. Luckenbach’s set design is masterfully unique and functional. The cast is electric, seamlessly living in their relationships and pacing the scenes with precision, although the play does feel too long. Larry Powell as Felix Goodwin is a joy to watch. Under the expert direction of Ben Guillory, the actors bring to life an authentic environment and the high stakes consequences of doing the “right thing” in a time of war. Bronzeville is entertaining and moving.
Commissioned by the Robey Theatre Company, The New LATC is a fabulous building for the arts. With a magnificent glass ceiling and distressed walls, this gem is a theater lover’s dream. The theaters are well equipped with extensive lighting, excellent sound, and digital capabilities. The New LATC, Theatre 4, at 514 South Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013. April 17 – May 17, Fri. & Sat. at 8 pm and Sun. at 3 pm. Tickets $30. Students and seniors, $20. Previews, $10. (213) 489 – 0994 ext. 107. www.thenewlatc.com.