Cornerstone Theater Company’s latest venture, The Unrequited, uses the ancient story of The Dybbuk, a mysterious creature who can inhabit the lives of loved ones, to a pinnacle of effect. The community-based company united with local counterparts to create a well-rounded picture of the local needs of the people that serves as a backdrop to the classic tale.
This time, Cornerstone veteran Shirshir Kurup teamed with playwright Lynn Manning and the Watts Village Theater Company to develop a play that historicizes the economic struggle prevalent in such communities. Set in the 1930s, audiences can readily recognize their own challenges in the situation before them.
The effort might be straightforward propaganda but for the story of two afflicted lovers. You could describe it as “Romeo and Juliet finding solace in each other, at last.” Social strata and racial make-up separates Isela Sanchez (Lisa Jai) and Cris Holmes (Marcenus “MC” Earl). Isela’s father is determined to marry her off to a wealthy landowner’s son out of love for his daughter, who is afflicted with polio and cannot fend for herself. To compound matters, her childhood sweetheart, Cris, an introspective, poverty stricken young man, has decided to follow the religious teachings of his Haitian mother, much to the horror of the surrounding Catholic community.
Isela pines for Cris after he is killed. But his love is so strong that on her wedding day, Cris’ spirit inhabits her being. The community must find a way to free Isela of her lover’s spirit. All this is told in the context of the Depression. There are several really scary moments to be had in The Unrequited. Having the privilege of watching the play with an audience full of high schoolers on its opening weekend, I had the advantage of experiencing a lusty response to the suspense this superlative production elicited in them.
Traditionally, Cornerstone performances unite community actors with professional company members; this time out, the ensemble is seamless. Lisa Jai conveys a delicate quality that works perfectly for her ultimate possession and there are a number of excellent performances by Bahni Turpin, Juan E. Carrillo and Marjorie Jean among others. But my hands down favorite is Kabin Thomas’ tuba playing.
Cornerstone generally eschews elaborate special effects. But their ingenious solutions for depicting the supernatural aspects of Lynn Manning’s superb script are picture perfect, from the ingenious use of a billowing backdrop to the various puppets created by Lynn Jeffries. The setting (designed by Nephelie Andonyadis), consisting of a floor-to-ceiling, découpage newspaper treatment, gives the feel of a living newspaper while the young actors (Hannah Marieh Diaz and Sacorra McGaughy) calling out the Times headlines sets the time and place. Costuming by Meghan E. Healey conveys the time period and Cricket S. Myers’ sound unites the whole.
It’s indeed worth a drive out to the original Cornerstone location at Youth Opportunites High School. And bring the teens! They’ll love it too.
Cornerstone Theatre’s The Unrequited performs Thursday through Saturday at 8 P.M., Sunday at 2 P. M, and Wednesday, May 18th at Youth Opportunities High School (in the The Mafundi Auditorium), 1827 E. 103rd St., Los Angeles 90002, through May 22nd. Tickets are $5.00 to 20.00, or pay-what-you-can at the door. For information visit www.CornerstoneTheater.org. Or phone (213) 613-1700.