Rarely does a play move an audience from laughing to crying to laughing to crying with such Tilt-a-Whirl force as “Walking the Tightrope,” produced by the 24th Street Theatre in South Los Angeles.
The text is a 28-page poem written by the inspired Mike Kenny and cut to size and shape by director Debbie Devine. Devine’s work here is as finely effected as a contortionist’s. Devine addresses themes of grief and loss and cross-generational coping with such fluidity and vision. She stuffs so much humanity into one small black box.
Furthermore, Devine infuses this once two-character piece with the same kind of humor and power, comedy and tragedy as a circus clown, which is likely why she added to the mix a circus clown.
Adult actress Paige Lindsey White is breathtaking as child Esme. Her skill in bringing to the role of child adult depth and detail is astounding. If the play doesn’t open your heart tenfold, then at least White’s performance surely will. Mark Bramhall, as Esme’s grandfather, is equally as stunning. And then, there’s the clown, Tony Duran, who, in his constant silent presence, says so much.
Accolades are due, also, to pianist Michael Redfield, whose live performance adds a certain immediacy to the distance of the third-person poetry; costume designer, Ela Jo Erwin, who adds to the dream-logic just the right pinch of realism; video designer Matthew G. Hill, scenic designer Keith Mitchell, sound designer John Zalewski and lighting designer Dan Weingarten, who collectively create an ambiance that is both surreal and authentic.
The play is just over an hour long, but provides for its audience an emotional journey and catharsis worth many more hours of life. Nowhere will you acquire more time equity.
The vision of the 24th Street Theatre has always included using “art as a tool with which to positively impact the world,” and the theater has oft provided plays and educational programs for artists of all ages and levels of experience.
Typically, the 24th Street Theatre has produced distinct shows for its distinct audiences -- kid shows for kids and adult shows for adults; however, this year, which is the theater’s 15th year, and following the example of South American theater, which is historically multigenerational, the 24th Street Theatre has set out to merge youth and adult audiences and bring to all ages plays that are both universally accessible and sophisticated.
Rather than offer to children some sort of watered down or schmaltzy caricature of life, this theater, or specifically, its new resident experimental theater wing, Lab24, has chosen to engage in death-defying honesty and place into the hands of all finely rendered art.
Executive Director Jay McAdams, at the opening of the show, called this new experimental theater wing “Redcat Junior” and “Pixar live” respectively. Perhaps.
But perhaps, also, the 24th Street Theater and its Lab24 are more special. They are certainly not pretentious, nor are they overly commercial; and they are absolutely rooted in the live and breathing -- and all-age -- neighboring community.
This theater, and in particular this play, will awaken in your child a lifelong love of theater, and it will reawaken in you the desire to create and/or otherwise involve yourself in meaningful art that moves and inspires.
The 24th Street Theatre and its new Lab24 are nothing short of exalting, and “Walking the Tightrope” is not a single step shy of beautiful.
“Walking the Tightrope” plays at the 24th Street Theatre Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm and Saturday nights at 7:30 through March 30.