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LA Theater Review

Farewell Miss Cotton

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To the three generations of an African-American family in Cincinnati, urban renewal--seemingly funded in part by Wal-Mart--is a process devoutly to be wished--or vehemently denounced. For teenagers Robin (Arnell Powell) and David (Ryan Johnston), it's about saving their lives, giving them jobs, getting them off drugs--even, in a comedic stretch, converting them to an organic lifestyle.

To Dezzie (a fiery Juanita Jennings), Robin's angry lesbian mother, it means getting out from under an abusive lifestyle and finding love for the first time. For Theo (Hugh Dane in a superbly realized characterization)-the destitute, long-absent grandfather taken into the household out of dire necessity-it means the end of his dreams and the destruction of his memories. Theo's proudest moment happened 60 years ago when he was chosen by "Miss Cotton" to play his trumpet for her introduction at the local Cotton Club. Unfortunately he's the only one who remembers this, until he starts getting instant messages from "the cybernet" from someone e-monickered Imani-Lives. When Imani-Lives (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) shows up in person, she turns out to be the spitting image of Miss Cotton, exactly as she looked 60 years earlier. The two conspirators team up with old buddy A.W. (a finely tuned Jeris Lee Poindexter) to overthrow the uppity endeavors of the gentrification team and save the old Cotton Club, which is destined to be renovated as a Cheesecake Factory. Splendid performances and a series of hilarious and heartbreaking geriatric sketches combine to make this a "now you see it, now you don't" vision of old age as a shipwreck and reality as a thing called hope.

Magical realism--sometimes described as natural, inexplicable, and uncontrollable--is classically exploited here under the highly detailed and creative direction of Larry Biederman, with a handy assist from Craig Siebels' simple but effective set design, Mike Durst's lighting, Karen Murk's costumes, and Jonathan Snipes' sound. I was waiting for a ghostly trumpet solo at the end, but that may have been too much of a cliché.

Presented by and at the Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 11-Mar. 26. (866) 468-3399.

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