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LA Theater Review

Touch the Water

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Touch the Water
Photo Source: John Luker
Cornerstone Theater Company certainly knows who it is and what it's doing, particularly in its pieces developed out of community collaboration: Los Angeles–centric plays that are all about intention. The fourth play of the company's Justice Cycle heads down to the banks of the L.A. River to shed light on the history and possibilities that lie within the (mostly) concrete channel, and it does this with an egalitarian aesthetic and all-inclusive energy that's signature Cornerstone. So if the result at times feels like summer school camp, well, Touch the Water yields a few lovely surprises and fantastic images along with its requisite lectures and earnest lyricism.

Smartly staged along the river at a park parcel that is actually—gasp!—green, the found-art production elements in Julie Hébert's play spell fun from the start. Danny Moynahan fronts a welcoming live band. Actors portraying ducks, birds, fish, turtles, and trash-picking raccoons roam around, looking scrappy and picture-perfect thanks to Soojin Lee's remarkable costumes. Darcy Scanlin's scenic design highlights the natural elements of the location, adding a sweet theatricality and cleverly commenting on human "improvements"—a house made of beer cans, anyone? Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz rises to the difficult challenge of lighting the outdoor space. Director Juliette Carrillo moves the action along nicely, inventing ways to weave together the many elements represented by a range of often-humorous characters. We've got pretentious activists (Lewis MacAdams), starry-eyed students (Gezel Remy and Jennifer Villalobos), people with plans (Terry Young and Joe Linton), men with badges (Matt Borel), homeless women (Cici Dominguez), spirits of the river (Laural Meade), and "Frogtown" locals raised along the river (the wonderful Page Leong and Shishir Kurup), onetime friends who are truly products of their environment, torn apart and now hardened by an act of violence and inaction.

Connected themes bubble up unabashedly throughout Hébert's piece, and the lessons of the past, present, and future are liberally interspersed, all of which can get a bit relentless—particularly when sitting on bleachers on a cold night, so adventurous theatergoers should bundle up. But all in all, Touch the Water is what it is. And it's an excuse to head out to the river and get a new perspective on our strange, meandering, and pridefully inaccessible city.

Presented by Cornerstone Theater Company at Bowtie Parcel in the Rio de Los Angeles State Park. Entrance adjacent to 2800 Casitas Ave., L.A. May 28–June 21. Wed.–Sun., 8 p.m. (213) 613-1700, ext. 37. www.cornerstonetheater.org.

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