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Donna Simone Johnson, Christopher Rivas and Natalie Camunas in Pang! at the 24th Street Theatre. (Photo by John Pemble)
Donna Simone Johnson, Christopher Rivas and Natalie Camunas in Pang! at the 24th Street Theatre. (Photo by John Pemble)

Pang!

Reviewed by Terry Morgan
24th Street Theatre
Closed

A couple of years ago, looking to do a piece on socioeconomic disparity, Dan Froot & Company conducted a series of interviews with families suffering from food insecurity. From these interviews — in Los Angeles, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Miami — came three short pieces, designed as radio plays but meant to be produced as a theatre event with live performances, sound effects and music. This past weekend, the show was performed at the 24th Street Theatre, and the results were moving, entertaining and intellectually engaging.

The L.A. story revolves around septuagenarian Gregorio (Christopher Rivas) who is having difficulty paying his monthly bills on the house his family has been living in for 65 years. He’s desperately seeking to modify his loan when a man claiming to be a mortgage adjuster insinuates himself into his trust and deliberately gives him bad advice — causing him to lose his house. The Cedar Rapids story follows Burundi native Oscar (Donna Simone Johnson) and his difficulties after leaving a refugee settlement camp in Tanzania. Finally, the Miami story concerns an imaginative 7-year-old boy and his family as they deal with the shooting of his 10-year-old friend.

The three actors do superb work in multiple roles. Rivas shines as the proud Gregorio, but he’s also great as a manipulative podcast producer and hilarious as a boyfriend who leaves an embarrassing voicemail message. As Oscar, Johnson pulls off the tricky feat of delivering a strong memorable performance while depicting a character who speaks mostly in a foreign language — and she is equally good as Gregorio’s practical niece Beatrice. Natalie Camunas does fine, subtle work as Oscar’s daughter Naomi, who translates for the interviewer, but she is absolutely brilliant in the L.A. story, portraying a variety of phone personalities and recorded messages that hammer home the hopelessness of the family’s situation.

Froot’s direction is impressive; the ensemble seamlessly interact, switching characters without ever hitting a false note. One of the piece’s most striking moments comes when the actors read off the names of children murdered in Miami — dropping a sheet of paper to the floor with each name until the floor is covered in paper. It’s a simple yet powerful visual device. Cricket Myers’ dense sound design blends perfectly with the live sound effects to create multiple aural environments and moods.

Although these three stories are very different, the ensemble brings them together to create a funny and compassionate piece that bears witness to those who most deserve help yet often aren’t getting it.  This show had only two performances; we hope something of this quality will be produced here again for a longer run.

 

24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles; Tinyurl.com/pang-info; Running time: approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with an intermission.

 

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