The Pasadena Playhouse To Host This Year’s Drama Critics Circle Awards

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) has begun the celebration of its 50th anniversary by announcing its nominations for the year 2018 (Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018). The Awards will take place on Monday, April 8, 2019, at the historic Pasadena Playhouse, in Pasadena’s Playhouse District.

Although the Pasadena Playhouse will be hosting the LADCC Awards for the very first time, returning once again is onstage host Wenzel Jones of IMRU, the LGBTQI Radio News Magazine on KPFK 90.7, as well as local composer-conductor Christopher Raymond as musical director for his second consecutive year. The entire production will be in the hands of stage manager Heatherlynn Gonzalez, veteran of more than a decade’s worth of LADCC service.

One or more plaques will be presented in each of 18 categories and seven special awards will also be presented. Topping the nominations, the Antaeus Theatre Company has a total of 12 in various categories, including for the McCulloh Award for Revival (plays written between 1920 and 1993) for their productions of both “The Hothouse” and “The Little Foxes.”A Noise Within has 10 nominations, including for Production for “A Picture of Dorian Gray.” The Center Theatre Group has a total of nine nominations, including for Production of “Come From Away.” Both the South Coast Repertory and East WestPlayers have seven nominations each. And the Celebration Theatre and the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, each with seven and six nominations, respectively, are uniquely both up for the McCulloh Award for Revival for their individual productions of “Cabaret.”

Sergio Trujillo, is nominated for Choreography for both “Ain’t Too Proud,” Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre and “On Your Feet,” Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Allison Dillard, is nominated for her work in Costume Design for both “Bliss, Or Emily Post Is Dead,” Moving Arts and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” Celebration Theatre. Set Designer John Iacovelli, a winner of multiple LADCC awards for Scene Design, is nominated for “The Little Foxes”, Antaeus Theatre Company.

The LADCC special award recipients are as follows:

  • The Polly Warfield Award for an excellent season in a small to mid-size theatre will be awarded to Echo Theater Company.
  • The Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play goes to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band, originally produced by South Coast Repertory.
  • The Kinetic Lighting Award for distinguished achievement in theatrical design goes to sound designer Robert Oriol.
  • The Milton Katselas Award for distinguished achievement in direction goes to Cameron Watson.
  • The Gordon Davidson Award for distinguished contribution to the Los Angeles theatrical community will be presented to Native Voices at the Autry.

More of the complete list of nominees for the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for theatrical excellence in 2018 is here.

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle was founded in 1969. It is dedicated to excellence in theatrical criticism, and to the encouragement and improvement of theatre in Greater Los Angeles.

The Pasadena Playhouse is at 39 S El Molino Ave, in Pasadena. Standard general admission tickets (a small service fee applies) are $40 and are now available. All purchased tickets will be held at Will Call and tickets are also available at the door. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-show reception in the courtyard. The show will commence at 7:30 p.m. and nominees will receive instructions via email regarding how to claim complimentary tickets.

For all other inquiries, email: criticsawards2019@gmail.com.


JOAN OF ART: Coming Up a Weekend of Laughs, Sweets and Art

I love to laugh but at the same time I love when I see something that not only makes me laugh but also makes me think. The Joy Wheel directed by Jason Alexander (yep that one) and written by Ian McRae definitely does both.

Life is changing for Frank and Stella (the wonderful Dann Florek and Gina Hecht) and on the day of Frank’s retirement party, this once loving and simple couple find themselves pulled in different directions as the winds of change blow through their town of Joy, Illinois. The world is not what it was. Stella is shaken but inspired by her best friend, Marge (the hysterically funny Lee Garlington) becoming a liberated, sexualized independent woman, while Frank decides to emulate his doomsday pepper carrying friend, Stew (the brilliant Maury Sterling) by building an underground bunker that once was the family swimming pool.

The play starts out as extremely funny but soon becomes dark and menacing making a very powerful ‘must see.’ theatre event. ‘The Joy Wheel‘ opened on Friday February 15th and runs Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 2pm through March 24, 2019. The Ruskin Group Theatre is located at 3000 Airport Avenue in Santa Monica. Tickets are $30-$35 and can be purchased in advance by calling 310-397-3244 or online at RuskinGroupTheatre.com.

Now there’s also another kind of comedy taking place – and that’s ‘stand up comedy at the iconic Comedy Store in Hollywood.

This Friday The ShinDig Show, will be performing including (see above) Jeff Ross, Neal Brennan, Jodi Miller, Argus Hamilton, Yakov Smirnoff, Justin Martindale, Owen Smith, Pauly Shore and Esther Povitsky. They write on their event page “Join the Party with Jimmy Shin and the top comedians in the country! The ShinDig Show is one of The Comedy Store’s best shows and we’ve cherry picked some of the funniest comedians around for this one. Don’t miss this Ultimate Comedy Party with the biggest headliners and rising talent in the same room Dave Chappelle shot his last Netflix Special! Plus the biggest star Pop-ins…Last show Bill Burr and Judd Apatow popped in for a set…” The show starts at 7:30pm and runs till 9:45pm.

The show is at the Main Room and doors open at 7:00. There’s a two drink minimum per person. The Comedy Store is located at 8433 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. To purchase tickets go to ComedyStore.com.

Now after all these laughs, I think something sweet as well as artistic would be just the thing. The Chocolate and Art Show is where I’ll be this weekend. It takes place this Friday, February 22nd and Saturday, February 23rd.

This event is a celebrated gathering to showcase the talents of local artists, vendors and musicians complimented by artisan chocolatiers. With regard to art’s range of expression and subject matter everyone over the age of 21 is invited to join for a night or two of dancing, chocolate and cultural indulgence.

Chocolate and Art serves as a platform for emerging and established artists of many mediums to get to know their own art community, network, showcase their works and profit from their creativity. In support of their cause, the Chocolate and Art show benefits Artists for Trauma, a non-profit that aims to aid in recovery through artistic expression and human connection.

The show is located at the Vortex, 2341 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles. To purchase tickets go to ChocolateAndArtShow.com. The show starts at 7pm and goes on until 2am.

Whatever you choose to do this weekend, have a great one!


Five Questions for Actor Michael Manuel

A Noise Within is producing the Bard’s Othello as part of their 2018-2019 Season: Let Me In. I called upon actor Michael Manuel, who is playing theatre’s favorite miscreant Iago, to learn more about this Jessica Kubzansky-helmed presentation of the play.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Othello. Everyone has produced it. Why now at A Noise Within?

Michael Manuel (MM): I don’t know why ANW decided to produce Othello this season—that is really a question for Geoff and Julia. But I imagine the reason anyone produces Shakespeare is that the themes are universal and resonate in every age. The things that people worried about, suffered over and struggled with, have been and will continue to be, universal to the end of time. Shakespeare writes the human condition.

RQM: Reading about the production, I understand the Jessica Kubzansky is setting it in the modern military. Tell me more. In what ways are you updating the story? Is it just setting or are there reference/line changes?

MM: This question is better directed to Jessica. But I will say, I think she’s cast the parts with a sensitivity to how our culture is represented today. In our production women are playing roles that are traditionally played by men. And while that may change, to some degree, how certain moments are interpreted, it also points out and highlights the universal feelings that we all share – protecting our children, or overprotecting as the case may be; unintended or intended racism, which, of course, knows no gender. Another aspect of our production is placing it in Afghanistan. We are faithful to Shakespeare’s text and use Cyprus – but we are imagining that we are on a base in Afghanistan. We’ve discussed the idea of taking over a piece of land and the effect that it has on the people who live there. The Venetians made Cyprus worse for using it as a military outpost, in the same way we are using Afghanistan.

RQM: What I loved about the description of this production was the idea that Iago and Othello were friends until one felt looked over by the other. Considering our current cultural climate, part of which is being attributed to the “silencing” of a certain “majority culture,” this interpretation is entirely relevant. Was Iago’s being overlooked for the promotion really the beginning of his hate for the Moor?

MM: I don’t know if it was the beginning of the hate—but it certainly was the last straw. In my imagining of our relationship, Iago and Othello have been friends for years. Our friendship precedes our joining the military. I imagine we grew up together, have been friends and brothers since we were kids. And one of the things that we shared was our “otherness.” He was the black guy. I was the Latino. Everyone else was white. When he rose to prominence, and had the ability to help his brother out, he chose rather to do the more political thing—he chose the guy that had all the right breeding. Cassio looks the part. Iago does not. That pisses Iago off. It offends Iago’s sense of justice. What is is right. Iago feels like, “of course, he picks the fucking white guy.” Not to mention the fact that Iago thinks that Othello slept with his wife. Not cool.

People think Othello is the face of jealousy. But in my mind, Othello’s jealousy pales in comparison to Iago’s. Iago’s sickness is that everything that he says about other people lives inside him constantly. He notices “triffles light as air” every second of his life. Every tiny unnoticeable thing he adds to the list of personal grievances against him. And like a ticking time bomb – eventually it goes off. And this play is about what happens when that evil is unleashed. The bottom line for me is that there is no answer to your question. There is no one reason for Iago’s motivation, because there are a million reasons.

RQM: I understand you trained under the legendary Earle Gister. What are a few things you’ll always remember from your time with him?

MM: Earle didn’t let you get away with your crap, your tricks—even the tricks you might have used to get into the drama school in the first place. He forced you to be specific, about every single moment. Being specific about the beats of a scene, and the micro beats. He was a master of human behavior – why people do the things they do. He had such respect for actors, and he taught actors how to have respect for people. All people. And that every character in a play was a real person with a full life.

Here’s an example: Our first year we did scene work from Chekhov. I was fascinated by the characters in Chekhov that had almost no lines. How do you figure those people out, make them interesting to watch? We asked Earle. Firs is an 80 year-old servant in The Cherry Orchard, and in the last scene of the play, Firs is alone on stage. All the house has been packed up and everyone else is gone. Firs has been locked in and forgotten in the empty house. He only has a couple of lines. And this is the last image of the play. Earle—who had had his voice box removed because of throat cancer, used an electrolarynx (but he could make that thing talk), anyway, Earle walked slowly over to the chair, said his couple of lines and sat. And the way he just sat there. You saw his whole life. The entire class was weeping.

RQM: What’s next for you, Michael Manuel?

MM: I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me. I’d like to just keep working. Growing. Learning. Why? You hear about a job?

For tickets and more info on OTHELLO, click here.


Audio Interview: The cast of “MAN OF GOD” at the David Henry Hwang Theater

A hidden discovery in a hotel bathroom changes the lives of four Korean American Christian girls on a mission trip to Thailand. Amid the neon lights and go-go bars in Bangkok, the girls plot revenge in this funny, feminist thriller.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “MAN OF GOD” at David Henry Hwang Theater, playing through Feb 24th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.


*taken from the website


Five Questions for Joana Knezevic

Rising star Joana Knezevic is pounding the pavement in the City of Angels, forging a path for herself as an actor in theatre, television and film. When we last checked in with Joana, she had just graduated from Cal Arts’ MFA Acting Program. Let’s see what she’s gotten herself into since then.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Since we last spoke, you were working on your first
theatre production in Los Angeles. What was it like making theatre in Los
Angeles for the first time?

Joana Knezevic (JK): My first role after the graduation was in Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’.
Technically we started rehearsing just one month before my graduation and that show
was kind of my bridge to the real world in LA. I was lucky to present my work in front of the Hollywood Fringe audience and received good feedback.

Making theater in Los Angeles is quite different then in Europe. It seems to me that in LA everything is faster. A lot of work you have to do on your own, before and after the rehearsals. It is very exciting because it always keeps you in shape and you have to make quick and smart acting choices. That said it is important to nourish your instincts and listen to your inner voices. That requires constant work physically and mentally. I’m in love with the LA artist community. They are very supportive and they really want to help you and navigate you into the right direction. I feel I am growing here as an actress and that’s the most important thing for me right now.

RQM: Have you done any plays since then?  What were those experiences like?

JK: Last November artist Edgar Arceneaux and Hauser & Wirth gallery invited me to be part of the project called ‘In response: Zoe Leonard’s I want A President’. Edgar directed my solo show that we called ‘Rasputin for president’, where I played a Russian monk Gregory Rasputin who came to the States to be a new president. I was fully in drag and we talked about gender issues, what does that mean being a female foreigner in the States, and problems about immigration. That day I had a chance to perform and show my work with fantastic and notable artists in LA. Some of them are Lita Albuquerque, Neo Bustamante, Patric Stuff performance Artist and co funder of Black Lives Matter, Edgar Heap of Birds, Patrisse Cullors… That day was very special because we share our deepest thoughts, concerns and feelings about our society and it was cathartic. I’m thankful to Russel Salmon from Hauser & Wirth who was there all the time helping and supporting us.

RQM: I did a little Instagram spying.  You have done some film work.  Tell me about some of your recent film roles.

JK: Yes, I did some short films, one music video and TV. The short film ‘One of Many’ directed by Mikel Dever was part of his final exam at UCLA. It was nice experience because it reminds me how little you need to tell the story. The budget was not high and the time for filming was limited. So, again in a short period of time you have to create your character, tell the story and allow yourself to trust a young director. Working on the music video for the Danish band called ‘Idimish’ was quite different. Director Inka Rusi had time to prepare the locations, story and the script. She really knows what she wants and how to direct actors. The last work that I did for TV is a short episode in the new TV show ‘In Ice Cold Blood’ for Oxygen TV. Big production and huge team. It was a pleasure working on those projects.

RQM: What differences did you notice between film and theatre acting?  How did you change or alter your artistic process?

JK: In terms of acting no matter which medium you use you are oblige to tell the truth.

Through the lens of camera everything looks bigger. I am a very expressive actress and that means I have to be more focused on the details of the movements, and follow the rule ‘less is more’. (laugh) Film forces you to be very intimate with the camera when everything else around you is quite the opposite. You must stay grounded and focused in the world of your character no matter what’s happening on set. You can make mistakes on camera and try another take  but theater will never allow you to do the same scene twice in front of the audience. That’s one of the reasons why my heart belongs to theater. The stakes are higher with the live audience.

RQM: What is your current project?

JK: Currently I am working on a new show directed by Edgar Arceneaux called ‘Boney Manilly’. In this production I get to portray two men: Frank and Rasputin. I enjoy a lot in this process because this is my first time playing men in the disco world.

We have three more weeks of rehearsals before our tour to Nigeria to present a preview of this project as part of the Lagos Theater Festival in March. This is such a great opportunity to meet artists from all around the world and potentially collaborate with them. Our Los Angeles premiere is coming soon, so stay tuned!

In May I will be traveling to New York where I will be doing a workshop for the show ‘Medea’ directed by Michael Alvarez and written by Peter Gray. Michael and I know each other very well from CalArts and this will be our first professional project together. I trust him fully and I can’t wait to start.

Also, NY based choreographer and dancer Sophie Bortolussi is directing her new show
and I’m very lucky that she cast me to be part of her magic. It’s very early in the process so that’s all I can say for now.

Two Trains Running

Two Trains Running

www.better-lemons.com /Jan 26 – Mar 3
It’s 1969 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where the regulars of Memphis Lee’s restaurant struggle to cope with the turbulence of a world that is rapidly changing around them.
taken from the website

Man Of God

Man Of God

www.better-lemons.com /Jan 31 – Feb 24
A hidden discovery in a hotel bathroom changes the lives of four Korean American Christian girls on a mission trip to Thailand. Amid the neon lights and go-go bars in Bangkok, the girls plot revenge in this funny, feminist thriller.
taken from the website


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – February 11 – 17, 2019

Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

Accidental Death Of An Anarchist

“In this piece of classic international theatre from 1970, Fo writes of a madman, who invades a police station interrogation room where an anarchist accused of bombing a railway station has recently “accidentally” fallen out of a window. Donning various disguises and voices, the madman manipulates policemen into a truth-inducing hysteria. This world-renowned farce is produced in honor of one of The Actors’ Gang inspirations and mentors, Dario Fo. Famed artist Ralph Steadman, known for his iconic images a lifetime of illustration, magazine and other work, including his longtime collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson, has created a logo that helps to bring this production context. Also, a Dario Fo – Ralph Steadman exhibition will be on view throughout the run of Accidental Death of an Anarchist.”

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Anderson Lena and the Things That Don’t Matter

“In 2012, researchers at Northwestern University concluded that when we recall a memory, we’re not actually the recalling the memory, but rather the memory of the last time we remembered it, thus irreparably distorting our perception of the past. This is a play about that. With an offbeat yet authentic voice (and a structure to match), “Anderson Lena and the Things That Don’t Matter” explores the unsettlingly distinct possibility that objective truth is about as real as a fluffy pink unicorn. It starts off simply enough: a girl dancing alone in her bedroom. But, much like life, this story is nowhere near as simple as it should be. Three characters, two timelines, and one room later, you’ll leave questioning every memory you ever held dear. But, you know, in a cool way.”

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RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL

“The great American musical has returned to LA for its first major production in 20 years. Nominated for 13 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Ragtime tells the story of three families at the turn of the 20th Century in pursuit of the American dream. The award-winning score uses ragtime rhythms to paint a portrait of the people who built this country with the hopes for a brighter tomorrow.”

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Ohad Naharin/Batsheva Dance Company: Venezuela

“Batsheva returns with Venezuela, a new work which explores the dialogue and conflict between movement and the content it represents. Venezuela is a multifaceted piece where the endless possibilities of a choreographer’s craft are at play and compel the audience to challenge their own notion of freedom of choice.”

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Attack of the Second Bananas

“Who killed beloved stage stars Ruby Moss and Andrea Hammond? Find out as the LAPD detective on the case pieces together the clues. Attack of the Second Bananas is a comedy noir about the ultimate price of fame. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. WORLD PREMIERE.”

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Fifty Words

“Adam (Eric Larson) and Jan (Olga Konstantulakis) are alone together for the first time in almost 10 years. Without the buffer of their nine-year-old son (who is away at his first-ever sleepover), this smoothly scripted multi-layered play reveals how closely love and hate can be linked in marriage … how with each problem experienced as parents, each subsequent layer that’s revealed shows yet another problem in their marriage. The play is an incisive close-up of the emotional battleground of contemporary relationships and the lengths to which a couple will go to save it.”

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How We’re Different from Animals

“Over three years in the making, ÉLAN Ensemble’s inaugural production is the culmination of the company’s work, adapting Miranda July’s book of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You. The show breathes life into July’s quirky, lonely, odd, lovable characters in an oddly hilarious tapestry that reflects the complexity, isolation, and unexpected connectivity of life in Los Angeles.”

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Home

“Writer/performer Nancy Ma’s coming-of-age tale about growing up sandwiched between two cultures. Desperately seeking approval from her Chinese Toisan immigrant family, Nancy journeys away from her home in New York City’s Chinatown in search of the American dream — only to learn that you can only find “home” when you accept where you come from. Feb. 28 – March 24 at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013; $24- $38; For reservations and information, call (866) 811-4111 or go to http://thelatc.org.”

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The Joy Wheel

“Life is changing for Frank and Stella. On the day of Frank’s retirement party, this once loving and simple couple find themselves pulled in different directions as the winds of change blow through Joy, Illinois. The world is not what it was. Joy is not what it was. Stella is shaken, but inspired, by her best friend becoming a liberated, sexualized, independent woman, while Frank decides to emulate his doomsday prepper friend by building an underground bunker that once was the family swimming pool. It’s as if all of them are riding the Joy Wheel, hanging on to someone else so they can stay their ground.”

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Church Basement Ladies

“The Glendale Centre Theatre is America’s longest-running continuously family-owned theatre in the round. Now in its 72nd year, GCT has just opened its second show of the 2019 season: Church Basement Ladies!”

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The Pack at The Pico

“The Pico will be presenting a monthly reading series of original short comedies by Emmy® nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning writer Eugene Pack. Every month, The Pack at the Pico will feature a new evening of material and a revolving noteworthy cast.”

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Geronimo: Life on the Reservation

“Return engagement of the critically acclaimed seldom told story of Geronimo’s life as a POW on the Fort Sill Indian Reservation. Starring veteran performer Rudy Ramos (Yellowstone, Ironsides, The High Chaparral, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Movie, The Enforcer, Defiance, Colors), helmed by respected actor/director Steve Railsback (The Visitors – dir. Elia Kazan; Helter Skelter, From Here to Eternity, The X-Files), and written by award-winning novelist Janelle Meraz Hooper (As Brown As I Want: The Indianhead Diaries, Custer and His Naked Ladies), GERONIMO focuses on the resiliency, humor, and genius of the great Apache leader, bringing his final years to life on the stage in a dramatic recounting of a fascinating, largely forgotten chapter in American history. Two shows only!”

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Pirates of Penzance

“The Gilbert and Sullivan classic Pirates of Penzance sails into Glendale Centre Theatre March 15!”

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Rex & Bob’s Excellent Misadventure

“Rex & Bob’s Excellent Misadventure is the story of The Music Man’s and My Fair Lady’s two leading men. What happens when they switch lives?”

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Nunsence

“The mega musical returns to the Glendale Centre Theatre! Pure nunsense!”

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Four Weddings and an Elvis

“Come enjoy four weddings in Las Vegas with the King himself! This musical comedy is a treat for the whole family.”

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More Guns! A Musical Comedy about the NRA s

“The National Rifle Association is here to save the day – through song and dance! Praise the lord and NRA-men! Ron Barkley is the head lobbyist for the NRA, and his life is real tough — his daughter is a liberal socialist with a penchant for protests, and for some reason, the entire country is up in arms about gun control. But when Ron prays to God for divine intervention, he receives a magical gun that turns people – into guns. Because after all, if you’ve got problems, the solution is always More Guns! With songs like “Semi-Automatically”, “Everybody Do The Lobby!” and “Liberal Love”, MORE GUNS! is a satire of the NRA, the “woke” left, and all those boring moderates in between. This is a show for the whole family, and by whole family we mean adults only (16+)”

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Birdland Blue

“At Broadway and 52nd Street in New York City, the nightclub Birdland was the legendary center of the jazz world, where the glitterati of Broadway, Hollywood and the sports world regularly filled its 500 seats. In August, 1959, the biggest star in jazz was Miles Davis, who earlier that year recorded Kind of Blue, regarded then and now as the most innovative and best jazz album of all time. The Miles Davis Sextet, as constituted that summer, was regarded as the best jazz combo ever. Birdland Blue is a behind-the-scenes look at Miles on one evening that August. He flirts with a beautiful reporter for a jazz magazine. He copes with division within his ranks, as two of his musicians (Julius “Cannonball” Adderley and John Coltrane) are on the verge of leaving the Sextet to start their own groups. He deals with substance abuse problems, his own and that of one of his musicians. He argues with the club owner/manager over proper compensation. His biggest challenge may be coming from a violent, crooked, racist cop.”

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Julius Caesar

“From the presenters of the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, join us indoors at the ISC Studio at Atwater Crossing.
Beware the Ides of March! Rome teeters on the brink of civil war as Caesar’s ambition for a crown threatens the stability of the Republic. Part ghost story, part political murder thriller, ancient Rome comes to vivid life in ISC’s first ever mounting of one of the greatest hits of the Elizabethan stage. Inspired by Orson Welles’s 1937 Mercury Theater production, this pared down version of the text immerses the audience in the multiplicities of the conspiracy to save Rome and even gives the spectators a voice in the action. Audience participation encouraged (but not enforced!)”

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The Apple Tree

“When the Winslow sisters are forced to return home to confront their past, they must choose either to hold tight to anger or open their arms to change. ‘In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.’-Deepak Chopra. This is the world premiere of The Apple Tree and the inaugural production of Firefly Theatre Group.”

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🍋


Free Los Tres! Free Los Tres! – Part 2

COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program,) the program run by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI tracked, harassed and disrupted or destroyed political organizations considered subversive, and the Chicano movement was one of their biggest targets. Momentum was lost, people gave up, got burned out, and with the passage of time, the story of Free Los Tres was largely forgotten.

The play doesn’t try to turn Los Tres into larger than life legends, or some kind of barrio superheroes blasting away at The Man, riddling him with bullets. That would be silly, not to mention propaganda instead of storytelling. They are flawed characters, and the play lets you decide whether their intentions or actions were appropriate.

Carmelo tells me about a saying women used in the barrio – me puta ni santa, I am not a saint, but I’m not a whore either. “We’re not saying we are saints or holier than thou, but that we’re normal,” Carmelo says. “We have temptations, we are human beings, and that nobody is 100 percent good or evil.” On one hand, the authorities called Los Tres vigilantes and criminals. But on the other hand, and there are thousand shades of grey in between these two extremes, Los Tres believed they were protecting a neighborhood that was under assault. Carmelo says the shooting was not premeditated, and Los Tres carried weapons because they were dealing with a drug dealer – and that shortly after Los Tres got busted, the gates to the drugs opened.

“The neighborhood I grew up in – Pico Gardens and Aliso Village – after they squashed the movement and locked us up and things kind of died down—-that area became known as 31 Flavors. You could get anything there, from drugs to guns,”Beto says. The gangs became more powerful and the violence in Boyle Heights got out of control, with cliques from 1st to 4th Street killing each other.

The drug problem today is overwhelming. The so-called “War on Drugs” failed because arresting dealers didn’t work as long as the demand was so high and another replacement was willing to step up. Small towns across America, but particularly in Rust Belt states like Ohio and West Virginia, are being decimated by an epidemic of opioid abuse. Drugs overdoses killed more than 72,000 people in 2017, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, the worst year ever. That’s nearly 200 people a day (there was a decline of overdose deaths in 2018, perhaps a sign the epidemic has peaked.)

When I asked Carmelo if the drug epidemic could have been stopped by a few men protecting their neighborhood, he said the idea was never that they could stop the entire drug problem. If Los Tres and others took care of their own barrio, and if other communities began to do the same, they could start a movement and slow if not stop the influx of drugs.

“When you give power to the people, when you let them handle it, the community can take control of the neighborhood and make it better,” Carmelo says.

Photo courtesy Alberto Ortiz

Before the bust, this was already happening: Boyle Heights activists were educating people in the projects, circulating petitions and bridging divisions, and Rudy thinks this sense of purpose may have attracted the attention of the authorities. “Also at that time, a lot of barrios were coming together – there was unity, there was even unity with theAmerican Indian movement, we were beginning to work with other organizations, the hippies, whatever–” and he believes this very unity was seen as a threat.

Rudy says an article called Strange Rumbling in Aztlan by Hunter S. Thompson(HST) also may have brought the Feds attention around to the neighborhood. It was published in Rolling Stone on April 29, 1971, just eight months after L.A. Times reporter Ruben Salazar was killed during the Moratorium march and rally against the Vietnam War.

Salazar was only tangentially involved with the Chicano Movement, but he became a martyr for it after a Sheriff’s deputy blew his head off with a tear gas canister fired through the door of the Silver Dollar Cafe in East L.A., the now defunct spot located a little less than four miles from where Casa 0101 is today. Tensions in the community were very high as evidence emerged that contradicted the official version of Salazar’s death, suggesting a cover-up.

Rudy is mentioned and quoted in Strange Rumblings, which like all of Thomson’s best work, mixes strong reporting and novelistic attention to detail with tales of his crazy but always entertaining antics. Rudy is not the center of that particular story, however.

He came from a pro-Union family and says he was politically conscious from an early age. His parents joined protests against unsafe working conditions and unequal wages at the Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico; they are featured in the 1954 film Salt of the Earth, which recreated the strike using real participants as actors in the movie. Rudy grew up in Estrada Courts, a low-income housing project in Boyle Heights.

He had been in juvenile hall and in the prison system; he knew La Eme (the Mexican Mafia) and they knew him, and he had a drug problem. He started reading in prison and had an awakening. He sobered up, got out of jail and got involved in the Chicano Movement after he met Oscar Zeta Acosta, an attorney who defended scores of activists from East L.A.

Acosta was also the inspiration for Dr. Gonzo, HST’s partner in crime through the drug-fueled odyssey depicted in Fear and Loathing in Law Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. HST met Acosta when he was writing “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan” and they took that Vegas road-trip partly to escape the pressure surrounding the Salazar case.

Rudy became Acosta’s bodyguard. He met Free Los Tres through Acosta and some of his associates, gradually seeing the Chicano organization as more serious and his political involvement deepened. The set-up came soon after. “They weren’t interested in me when I was running around the hood, but they sure came after me this time,” Rudy says.

The trial of Los Tres may not have attracted as much notice outside of Boyle Heights and in the Anglo world because it didn’t have the mystique, and the depraved glamour of the Manson trial. East Los Angeles even today is not paid its due. Most stories about Los Angeles are set on the Westside (after covering Boyle Heights, HST writes of his discomfort at ordering a drink at the Beverly Hills Hotel because he was “oriented to a completely different world – 15 miles away.)

Outside of some coverage by the Herald Examiner, the case didn’t get noticed by a mainstream media obsessed with a celebrity serial killer. Manson is a legend, but Free Los Tres were three guys from the barrio, and they were not civil rights icons like Bert Corona or Cesar Chavez. They never wanted the story to be about them. We were just soldiers for the movement they might say.

It was a time of different values in places like Boyle Heights – people didn’t necessarily aspire to be famous or gaudily rich, and there was of course no social media. These were working class people who wanted to make their communities safer and gain access for their people, achieve equality. Even now Beto says he is hesitant to be in the limelight – but Carmelo told him that you need to embrace your origins.

The trial itself was a farce. “Let me tell you, it was a goddamn Kangaroo court, that’s the way I saw it at the time,” Rudy says. His mentality then was that he was a political prisoner and the cops, prosecutors and the judge were the enemy.

“What I remember from the trial is that the judge, out of 27 motions we had, he denied all of them. He allowed like 5 of our witnesses out of twenty (we wanted to bring to the stand.)” says Beto. They were silenced at every step. “We never had a chance to tell our story. And we knew we were doomed,” Beto says. “It got to the point where when the bailiff came and out said all rise, we wouldn’t rise cause he (the judge) wasn’t respecting us, so we turned around and didn’t give him respect either.”

They were released on bail after two years, pending the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals review. One year later they were rearrested. Their sentences were eventually reduced by 25 years after a charge of violating the Federal Law known as the Jesse James Act was dropped. Each served about eight years in prison before finally being freed.

When I see Free Los Tres on preview night it is a small crowd, and there are the usual glitches in performance and technical quality of a show going through last-minute tunings before its opening. The play begins with the actors playing Los Tres entering in chains, and there are many potent images throughout the show, but I do have some reservations. I don’t believe this play has quite gotten the story down to its essence – but my qualms about the productions are terribly unimportant compared to what people from the neighborhood have said about Free Los Tres.

When I talk to a few people leaving the preview, they are all beaming, and yes of course some of that is because they are friends or family of the cast, but this is something more I think. One family I spoke with were excited to see a story about people from their own neighborhood, and they’d never heard of Free Los Tres before attending the play. They’d been to Casa 0101 only once before, but many of their friends already had tickets to see the show. Sold-out houses followed throughout the run, and a standing ovation ended each performance. Activists from the era reunited in the lobby, and their families came too: Beto, Rudy and Johnny’s sons, all juniors, were there, and they were taken aback by how close the actors portrayals matched their memories of their fathers. This is a testament to the power of storytelling.

Casa 0101 has been telling the stories of this neighborhood for nearly 19 years. Located on East 1st Street just across the street from a police station, the interior has an inviting warmth, the gallery in the lobby displaying images from local artists. You begin to get a sense of all the history found in this neighborhood, and realize that this is not just a theater, it’s a community resource.

Casa 0101’s existence unfortunately has been tenuous of late – as what is unique about Boyle Heights is threatened by another wave of white gentrification, and the theater has suffered financial setbacks and the loss of its 99-seat theater waiver. So far they are surviving–they have created theater on a low budget for years, mostly relying on volunteers from the community, but costs have gone up They have come up with a novel solution that has kept them going so far–they are seeking 350 donors to give them $25 a month, and so far they have found just over half.

Neither Rudy nor Beto live in Boyle Heights anymore, and the area has changed so much. Beto says when he grew up everybody knew each other in the projects. During Halloween, they used to have bonfires at the 4th Street gym, and everyone would come out. There were games too, like putting $50 at the top of a greased up pole and seeing if anyone could climb far enough without slipping to grab the cash. Now Beto is still leery of going there alone, although violence in the projects is down since the 80’s and 90’s. “I’m kind of scared to go in there now because one day I was driving thru there, coming home from work and reminiscing, and about ten guys tried to stop my car, but since I knew the area, I got out of there right away.”

“One of my grandkids told her grandpa that he didn’t know grandpa was a legend in the chicano movement,” Beto says, laughing at the memory. “We didn’t seek to be legends in the Chicano movement, it was an incident that happened and the organizations we were working with stepped up and supported us and defended us and created this whole movement behind Los Tres,” he says. For his part, Rudy finds it wonderful to see the story come alive for him and his children, as well as people from the neighborhood who haven’t heard about Los Tres before – lamenting only that his mother has already passed away and didn’t live to see the story reborn in this play.

The story isn’t over quite yet. Carmelo has already talked about turning the Free Los Tres into a film and Beto has begun working on a book with Professor Victor Viesca of Cal State Los Angeles. It’s almost, to steal a line from Beto, like they can’t quite get rid of Los Tres del Barrio. Maybe no one outside of Boyle Heights will notice Free Los Tres, or maybe it will become an inspiration for a new generation of activists, perhaps both. “If we can throw another yell, let’s throw another yell out there,” Rudy says, and for a story that has been asleep for 47 years, it’s the telling that matters.


Audio Interview: The cast of “Last Call” at Atwater Village Theatre

In Kenney’s semi-autobiographical dramedy, the Vaughn family’s go-to defense mechanism of sarcasm and mordant humor falls short when the aging parents hatch a not-so-funny way to avoid the retirement home.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Last Call” at Atwater Village Theatre, extended through Mar 2nd. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.


*taken from the website


Lemon Butter: The Third Annual Oscar® Film Week Returns to ‘Culina’ at ‘The Four Seasons’ to Benefit the ‘Lollipop Theater Network’

Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills will once again feature a Dinner and a Movie or a Pronto Market Lunch and Matinee of the eight 2019 “Best Picture” Oscar®-nominated films in their Third Annual Oscar® Film Week,  from Tuesday, February 19, 2019, through Saturday, February 23, 2019.

Photo by Monique A. LeBleu
The 3rd Annual Oscar Film Week at Culina at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills, California, Saturday, February 9, 2019.

The package includes a very special Culina Three-Course Prix-Fixe Dinner by Chef de Cuisine Luca Moriconi, or the Culina Pronto Market Lunch and matinee, leading up to this year’s 91st Academy Awards. Dinner is served in their dining room, where an adjacent private off-patio screening room awaits for the day’s scheduled Oscar®-nominated film screening.

The 3rd Annual Oscar Film Week at Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills will partially benefit the Lollipop Theater Network, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to bringing the magic of movies to children confined to hospitals nationwide due to chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

“Working with leading motion picture studios, the Lollipop Theater Network delivers the season’s biggest blockbusters while they are still in theaters directly to those children and their families at the hospital, bringing the joy, magic, and momentary escape of the movies to those who need it most.”

Photo by Monique A. LeBleu
The Polpo Grigliato of tender charred octopus, smoked potatoes, green beans, watercress, and cauliflower purée frisée Culina at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills, California, Saturday, February 9, 2019.

With thirty-seven-seats, the unique dining and intimate movie experience combine the luxury of fully reclining leather chairs with a side table for cocktails and snacks, a plush blanket, and old-time fresh machine-popped complimentary popcorn which guests can customize with specialty seasonings. Themed cocktails and wine by the glass or bottle can be ordered from the bar service and movie theater boxed candy is also available for purchase.

The adjacent cozy cocktail patio just outside the theater and dining room, surrounded by lush greens, water wall fountain and warm lamps, or the cocktail bar and lounge of warm woods, red lounge chairs, and gold appointments and wine cellar, make for perfect après film conversation.

Chef Moriconi has created a three-course prix-fixe menu that includes a chose of an Antipasti, such as the Burrata Invernale prepared with beets, mustard greens, red wine vinegar, and duck prosciutto, the Zuppa Ribollita made of Tuscan vegetables, Borlotti beans, garlic, and roasted ciabatta, or the Polpo Grigliato of tender charred octopus, smoked potatoes, green beans, watercress, and cauliflower purée frisée. There is the Secondi course as well, which includes three choices starting with the Nastri al Cinghiale, a rich dish featuring handmade pappardelle, braised wild boar sugo, and pecorino, the Pollo al Marsala accompanied by white asparagus, celery root, potato purée, and marsala jus, or the Branzino Alla Matin-Ara with roasted branzino, fingerling potatoes, artichoke Taggiasca olives, cherry tomatoes, and asparagus. For Dolci, a choice of the Crème Caramel served with citrus lemon sorbet and coconut meringue or the Tiramisu prepared with espresso meringue and chocolate crisp.  The three-course prix-fixe menu is $59 per person, which includes the screening.

Photo by Monique A. LeBleu
The Nastri al Cinghiale, of handmade pappardelle, braised wild boar sugo, and pecorino at Culina at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills, California, Saturday, February 9, 2019.

Guests attending either of the Saturday Matinee Screenings will enjoy the Culina Pronto Market Lunch which is a specially curated Farmers Market inspired buffet including a selection of salads, cheese, and charcuterie with a choice of protein, along with specialty desserts, fresh fruit and other delectable treats.  The Culina Pronto Market Lunch is $35 per person, which includes the screening.

Notable highlights from the dinner menu, off-prix-fixe, menu items is the Pappardelle Ripiene. Chef Moriconi’s own creation of Pappardelle pasta–wide, flat pasta filled with Tuscan Kale and ricotta encased ravioli-style–then tossed in fresh sage butter and topped with a saffron sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano, and crispy Tuscan Kale. The Risotto is served table-side, hot from a cheese wheel with scrapes of cheese from within the wheel. Two of the dishes–the Tortelli Lucchesi of roasted beef with prosciutto stuffed pasta, thyme, braised beef sugo, and the Nastri al Cinghiale, featuring handmade pappardelle, braised wild boar sugo, and Pecorino cheese (the latter included as part of prix-fixe)–are both dishes close to Chef Moriconi’s heart and home based on local and family dishes from his native Tuscany. Both of the meat dishes paired beautifully with the 2015 Tenuta di Valgiano Palistorti Colline Lucchesi, Tuscany, suggested.

A crowd-pleaser with its toasted meringue and popular for special occasions for Dolci is the Mango Vanilla Baked Alaska with Grand Marnier Flambé which bursts with the fruit and richness of the liquor. But the “Coconado,” with its creamy, light avocado ice cream, vegan brownie, and chocolate avocado mousse, is a star! For the chocolate avocado mousse, bananas are added to create a smooth, truffle-like texture combined with avocado. This vibrantly decorated “Coconado” boasts a mere 295 calories for the entire shareable dessert! Both desserts are also off-prix-fixe menu and on the standard dessert menu.

The 3rd Annual Four Seasons Culina Oscar Film Week Schedule:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019: “A STAR IS BORN

Dinner at 6:00 pm followed by Movie at 8:00 pm

“In “A Star Is Born,” Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga fuse their considerable talents to depict the raw and passionate tale of Jack and Ally, two artistic souls coming together, on stage and in life. Theirs is a complex journey through the beauty and the heartbreak of a relationship struggling to survive.” – A Star is Born

Wednesday, February 20, 2019: “THE FAVOURITE

Dinner at 6:00 pm followed by Movie at 8:00 pm

“Early 18th century England is at war with the French.  Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving.  A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper.  When a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.  Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at return to her aristocratic roots.  As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion.  Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfill her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way. ” – The Favourite

Thursday, February 21, 2019: “VICE

Dinner at 6:00 pm followed by Movie at 8:00 pm

“The story of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), the most powerful Vice President in history, and how his policies changed the world as we know it. VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.”  – Vice

Friday, February 22, 2019: “BLACKKKLANSMAN

Movie at 5:30 pm followed by Dinner at 8:00 pm

“It’s the early 1970s, a time of great social upheaval as the struggle for civil rights rages on. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) becomes the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department, but his arrival is greeted with skepticism and open hostility by the department’s rank and file. Undaunted, Stallworth resolves to make a name for himself and a difference in his community. He bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. Posing as a racist extremist, Stallworth contacts the group and soon finds himself invited into its inner circle…cultivates a relationship with the Klan’s Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace) embarking on an “undercover investigation growing ever more complex.” – BlacKkKlansman

Friday, February 22, 2019: “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Dinner at 6:30 pm followed by Movie at 8:30 pm

“Bohemian Rhapsody is an enthralling celebration of Queen, their music, and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), who defied stereotypes and convention to become one of history’s most beloved entertainers. Following Queen’s meteoric rise, their revolutionary sound and Freddie’s solo career, the film also chronicles the band’s reunion, and one of the greatest performances in rock history.” – Bohemian Rhapsody

Saturday Matinee, February 23, 2019: “BLACK PANTHER

Lunch at 10:30 am followed by Movie at 12:00 noon

“Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda (T’Chaka; John Kani) returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.” – Black Panther

Saturday Matinee, February 23, 2019: “ROMA

Lunch at 1:30 pm followed by Movie at 3:00 pm

“The most personal project to date from Academy Award®-winning director and writer Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien), ROMA follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) a young domestic worker for a family in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City. Cuarón draws on his own childhood to create a vivid and emotional portrait of domestic strife and social hierarchy amidst political turmoil of the 1970s.” – Roma

Saturday, February 23, 2019: “GREEN BOOK

Dinner at 6:00 pm followed by Movie at 8:00 pm

“When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger as well as unexpected humanity and humor—they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime. ” – Green Book

The 3rd Annual Oscar Film Week at Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is February 19, 2019, through Sunday, February 23, 2019. The 3rd Annual Oscar Film Week Dinner and a Movie is $59 per person and The 3rd Annual Oscar Film Week Pronto Market Lunch and Matinee Movie is $35 per person. For more information and to make reservations, please call Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills directly at 310-860-4000.

Featured photo by Monique A. LeBleu
The “Coconado” with chocolate avocado mousse, vegan brownie, and avocado ice cream at Culina at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills, California, Saturday, February 9, 2019.


Free Los Tres! Free Los Tres! – Part 1

“The people in their quest for a better life have the right to destroy the forces that threaten their survival.” Origin unknown.

There are some stories that become legends, and we tell them over and over again. But there are other stories that are just as moving and powerful that we forget to tell. Sometimes those stories are found again, and in the telling we may wonder why we forgot them at all.

Free Los Tres! is a shout of defiance. It is also the name of a new play, and it is a powerful and sometimes flawed reminder of an essential moment in the history of Boyle Heights and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. The story is very complex, spanning years and taking some of its dialogue directly from thousands of pages of court transcripts.

The play has already triggered a new reckoning of the events it depicts. It ran for only four weeks at CASA 0101 in Boyle Heights, but Free Los Tres! has been embraced by a community hungry for stories about their culture and history. The show sold-out every night of its run.

Rudolfo “Rudy” Sanchez, Alberto “Beto” Ortiz and Juan “Johnny” Fernandez – Los Tres del Barrio– were Chicano activists, and members of a community organization called La Casa de Carnalismo that wanted to drive drug dealers out of East Los Angeles. They were convicted of assaulting an undercover federal narcotics officer posing as a drug dealer in 1971. Los Tres became a rallying point for a community and a movement.

Photo courtesy Alberto Ortiz

We are living in a time that doesn’t allow us to entertain any sentimentality about how far we have come; instead, with the reemergence of white supremacy, and the scapegoating of immigrants who are called criminals and thugs, Free Los Tres! confronts how far backwards we have actually gone. Those times are our times.

“It’s not that I don’t want people to forget it, it’s that I want them to identify it with what is happening today,” says Carmelo Alvarez, who directed and co-wrote the project with Beto and Miguel Lopez Vigil. He is an eclectic man, and a natural storyteller perhaps best known for founding Radiotron, the iconic hip hop venue and youth center that was located near MacArthur Park. He has also worked as a youth advocate for more than 40 years, creating a dozen spaces where kids can learn about culture and art, and find shelter from the gangs, violence and drugs out on the streets. He lives simply, completely devoted to making his art: Free Los Tres is his passion project.

I met Carmelo when I was researching a script dense with thehistory of downtown Los Angeles and cultural issues like homelessness. A mutual friend introduced us because Carmelo is an aficionado of local history, and during our first meeting, we spoke for more than two hours. Somewhere along the way, between being peppered with my questions and barely pausing while I frantically scribbled notes, he told me about Free Los Tres.

The script was still too long – about 170 pages – and he was cutting and cutting material. He seemed inundated with information, still sorting the piece out, which would in the end take about 18 months.

He had been looking for the story for years.

He became aware of Free Los Tres when he was 14 and catching the bus to school. The bus stop was near the courthouse where the Charles Manson trial was concluding, and he saw young women with shaved heads and X’s carved in their forehead – Manson girls protesting his death sentence (later overturned.) The trial for Los Tres began just as the Manson’s ended, and when Carmelo looked across the street, he saw another group of people holding signs and heard cries of “Free Los Tres!”. The image stayed with him, and he wanted to know more.

Other stories about the Chicano movement have become celebrated, even iconic. Long before they became part of Los Tres, Johnny and Beto joined the high school walkouts of 1968. Thousands of students from Theodore Roosevelt High and other East L.A. schools protested against inequality in the Los Angeles Unified School District: classrooms were overcrowded and understaffed, and activists charged that the curriculum ignored their experience entirely.

A year later they the also joined the Chicano Moratorium, an Anti-Vietnam War movement which organized several protests, the largest of which drew more than 30,000 protestors on August 29, 1970– an essential date in Los Angeles history, and the same day LA Times reporter Ruben Salazar was killed. The war was placing a heavy burden on East L.A. communities like Boyle Heights as Chicanos were being drafted and killed at higher rates than other ethnic groups. The Moratorium was a continuation of what started with the walkouts; young activists taking to the streets to rally against injustice.

Moises Rodriguez (Rudy), Joshua Nicholas (Johnny) and Alex Anthony Correa (Beto) as Los Tres del Barrio. Photo by Rosa Navarrete

“They made a movie about the walkouts and the moratorium is celebrated every year, but this story has been hidden for 47 years,” says Carmelo. He wanted to know why. Little has been written about Los Tres. An internet search finds only an excerpt from a book which mentioned Los Tres very briefly, and also a few pictures and flyers from the era– but nothing cohesive, only fragments that hinted at the story he knew was there.

He kept looking, but the play might never have happened but for a chance encounter in 2017. Carmelo was at a funeral paying his respects to a relative who’d been a Chicano activist. He was talking to his cousin, who’d also been involved in the movement, and mentioned he was writing a play about Los Tres. Do you know where I can find them? “Do I know them, his cousin said, Dude, I know those guys, I was on the Committee to Free Los Tres!” An introduction was arranged. 

Shortly thereafter, Carmelo met Beto and Rudy, and they gave him permission to write the script. Beto collaborated closely on the script with Carmelo – he had saved pictures and letters from members of the Committee to Free Los Tres, still in their envelopes more than 40 years later. Beto spent months getting the trial transcripts, nearly 3000 pages. He painstakingly copied them one page at a time. Those pages were very delicate, sometimes stuck together. Beto’s memories of that time had grown fuzzy he says, but as Carmelo picked at his brain they began to resurface. First they worked from memory, then they began interviewing committee members. They wanted the play to become something beyond a history lesson– Free Los Tres is a call to action.

“We’re kind of hoping that this will inspire the youths of today because I see the play being for this generation now, for those who didn’t know or never heard about it, and we want to let them know how the conditions were back then and hopefully it will inspire them to get involved,” Beto said when interviewed with Rudy at Casa 0101 just before rehearsals began late last year. “The issues have multiplied instead of diminished,” Rudy said, in no small part, he believes, because of the current president.

Los Tres were very young when the confrontation took place, Rudy being the oldest of them at just 26. Beto and Rudy are the two surviving members of Los Tres (Johnny passed away in 2012) and they remain politically committed: attending rallies and marches, and still consider themselves pro-immigrant and pro-undocumented. “We’re native born here,” Beto says, “and it gets me upset that people are saying go back to Mexico because we never crossed the border. Our people didn’t cross it and the Indians never did – the border crossed us.”

Photo courtesy Alberto Ortiz

Every play has its premise, its own life as Carmelo says, and Free Los Tres asks, do the ends justify the means, and when is it okay to take the law into your own hands. And what actions are ethical if the guys carrying badges are committing illicit acts themselves? The authorities were infiltrating the community, trying to disrupt the movement, beating suspects, and intimidating witnesses – but their actions were considered legal, at least at the time.

“That’s not justice, that’s not legal, so they’re breaking the law,” Carmelo says. “And they send in informants and infiltrators – is this legal? Why is it legal to infiltrate into a community and bring in arms, and tell them you need to fight them, you need to shoot the pigs, we need to have an armed revolution? Informants were paid to tell the movement these things. So in this case, the government was doing things under the color of law, but they’re not ethical, they’re right in the law of true justice, or true humanity.”

There is another message to this story: drugs have been been used as a tool of suppression to, as Beto says, “keep our people drugged up and killing each other.” Los Tres had already helped circulate a petition asking local shops to stop selling glue to kids in the neighborhood, and were working to get rid of the heavier stuff too – angel dust, reds and heroin. The movement believed the cops were at worst abetting the problem and at best doing nothing to stop it.

Carmelo takes this from an abstract idea to something more personal, an analogy that puts the question on what you might do to protect your own family. “If someone takes drugs into the community and you do something about it, you say, hey, don’t be selling that shit to my sister, get the fuck out of here, and then somebody moves into your neighborhood, and befriends you, and says I’ll take care of your sister, but he starts giving her drugs, and he’s doing it under the color of the law, is that legal?”

Los Tres began chasing drug dealers out of the neighborhood and for awhile Beto says it was working. They were partly inspired by the film Battle of Algiers, the 1966 film showing the guerrilla resistance against French colonizers. Rudy saw it when he was in prison, and it transformed his life and inspired his actions. The group would approach a drug dealer, tell them we don’t want you selling your junk here, and then intimidate them into leaving.

They did not initiate the meeting with the undercover agent. Rudy was contacted by a man who wanted to sell him drugs. In the play we see this exchange as two backlit figures behind a scrim, two shadows arranging to meet for a drug deal. “We didn’t go there to shoot the guy or kill the guy or anything like that, we went there to run him out of the neighborhood,” said Beto, but the transaction turned into a confrontation.

We see this incident several times during the play, reminiscent of Rashomon, the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film that demonstrated the slippery nature of truth. The shooting is dramatized from several different perspectives, especially during the court scenes when the actors rearrange themselves as the testimony continues behind them. This is a bit awkwardly staged, but it’s very funny when we see the actor playing the undercover agent enter on a moving cart with giant handlebars representing a lowrider motorcycle.

There is controversy about how many shots were fired, was it three or was it two. We do know that the officer did not identify himself as a federal agent or show his badge before reaching for his weapon (“if he’d shown one we wouldn’t be sitting here talking,” Carmelo told me.) Get of the neighborhood, Los Tres told him, and they demanded he give up his drug money. The cop, perhaps panicking, dropped his wallet to the ground, the money scattering, and reached for his weapon. Carmelo believes the agent expected Los Tres to go for the money. Seeing his weapon, they opened fire on him, and from there the incident gets even murkier.

There were four backup agents waiting in a car, and when they heard the gunshots they came running to the scene, the first of them arriving maybe 10 seconds later. Three claimed they didn’t have weapons with them – they said they had left them in the car – one of them using the rationale he didn’t have his weapon because he had taken off his shirt to blend in within the community (his exact words taken from the transcripts.)

“You’re the backup agent, but yet you leave your gun in the car?” Carmelo asks me incredulously, wondering if there might be a motive for this, if it wasn’t really an accident. We do not know the answer to that question, but even more mysterious is who fired the shot that hit the agent. Beto and Johnny each fired once, but there was a third shot that isn’t clear what weapon it came from, and no ballistics tests were done, except on Johnny’s weapon, and the results were inconclusive.

“Why didn’t anyone question that,” Carmelo says, “if you go up to anyone on the street, and you say three backup cops didn’t have their gun, they’d say…what??”

Photo courtesy Alberto Ortiz

The shooting, this one brief incident, lasting maybe 30 seconds or so according to Alvarez, had long reverberations. “That one minute transformed their life,” Carmelo says. “That one split second incident unraveled a lot of things.” Chicano activists considered Los Tres political prisoners, and believed they that had been set up by the Federal government and other authorities intent on dismantling the movement (and indeed anyone considered subversive or radical.) The National Committee to Free Los Tres eventually merged with a community center called CASA (Centro De Accion Social Autonomo) and fought for the release of the three activists. They were triumphant, but so much had already been lost in the long, slow struggle in the courts and on the streets.

Los Tres were arrested when the Chicano Civil Rights movement was at its height, but by the time they were released in in the late 70’s, it was badly weakened, it’s many factions beginning to splinter apart, its fragile unity having been wounded by years of governmental intimidation as much as ideological differences.

…to be continued


Audio Interview: The cast of “Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone” at Theatre 40

Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone. Two classic tales from a master storyteller.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone” at Theatre 40, running until Feb 17th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.


*taken from the website