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THE HILLS ABOVE THE HOOD

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In a spirit of joy, overlapped with some insight and a couple of lighthearted but important messages, actor/ writer/director/producer/choreographer Julia Pace Mitchell has gathered some of her college graduate friends and created a black woman's dreamscape that doesn't flinch at the sometimes nightmarish aspects of being young, black, and a little bit over 21. Mitchell titles her play in full, Dark Dreaming Thoughts of Twisted Truths and Tales About "The Hills Above the Hood," Recalling Rumors, Sharing Silly and Sad Stories by a Girl in Baldwin Hills.

All this and more are packed into a fast-paced package, delivered in bitchin' style by Julanne Hill, Regan Metoyer, Yu-Chun Chu, Lisa Simmons, and Mitchell, who assume the personae of their mothers, their fathers, their role models, their dates, the ubiquitous church ladies, their teachers, and those sour-assed sisters who are infected with Angry Black Women's Syndrome. The problems with black hair, black talk, racism, sexism, male chauvinism, and the ins-and-outs of black class distinction, which often dwells in the too-white or too-black, are the meat of this experience.

Mitchell does a compelling piece as a teacher, whose language skills and devotion to education are considered uncool by her young charges, and Metoyer is moving as a victim of date rape, then equally effective as a Bible thumper in a ladylike dress and veiled Sunday go-to-church hat. Simmons is sultry and in fine voice as she sings the blues of her experience. What becomes abundantly clear is that there are multiple divisions within black culture that create a circle of impenetrable in-ness that's almost unbroachable.

Some ethnically challenged immigrants who pass through Lazarus' golden door find themselves outsiders; the bonding of the "sisters" in Mitchell's collection of stories, monologues, and poems spills from a different experience, and a seemingly happier one, if the energy and spirit of Hills is an adequate yardstick. Mena Lei is cute as an extremely participatory DJ who spins platters that range from hip-hop to gospel. Four other women (irritatingly uncredited) provide excellent backup and chorus for the five primary players.

Mitchell's talent is bursting at its seams in a very infectious, fun outpouring that's as intellectual as it's rhythmic, as passionate as it's poetic, but maybe she needs to hand over one of her hats to a director or producer who can be a tad more objective. Nevertheless, this is a fabulous first for these fired-up sisters.

"The Hills Above the Hood," presented by J.A.M. Theater Projects at Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Mon.-Wed. 8 p.m. Aug. 20-Sept. 12. $20. (323) 610-6853.

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