Actor-playwright John DiFusco first came to public notice with Tracers, based on his experiences in the Vietnam War, which he conceived and worked out with a cast of Vietnam vets. It scored a hit at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in 1980 and was later produced by Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, at New York's Public Theater, in London, and on tour in the United States.
Walk'n Thru the Fire began as a personal journal, recounting DiFusco's life from his childhood in Webster, Mass., to Vietnam; the creation of Tracers; and his more recent years in California. As the piece was workshopped at the LA Writers Center, under co-directors Che'Rae Adams and Janet Roston, it evolved from solo drama to a theatre piece, complete with supporting cast, and became a complex mosaic of DiFusco's life.
Framed as a spiritual quest involving ritual, poetry, music, and dance, the production is played out before a shrine containing a Buddha, an angel, the Virgin Mary, and an Indian prayer wheel. We're introduced to DiFusco's authoritarian Italian father, his self-effacing Scandinavian mother, his many siblings, and his wife, Lupe, all played impressionistically by Richard Azurdia, Michael T. Kachingwe, Kwana Martinez, and Eileen O'Connell (replaced by understudy Michelle Flowers at the performance reviewed).
DiFusco was traumatized by the deaths of his father and several of his siblings: Jilly, who was accidentally burned to death; Freddie, who was killed in a motorcycle accident; and the eldest sister, Pat, who died while the family was gathered for brother Mike's funeral. "Yes, that's right," one sibling says to the mortician, "two adult caskets." DiFusco suffered a breakdown, battles with alcohol, and struggles against personal demons. "If anyone learns anything from it," he says, "it's that grief is survivable."
DiFusco is an engaging performer, ably supported by the four actors, and he finds humor as well as tragedy in his stories. The elegantly sparse set by Sara Ryung Clement, lighting design by J. Kent Inasy, and sound design by Cricket S. Myers combine to produce rich theatrical imagery.
Presented by and at the Hayworth Theatre,
2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Jun. 22-Jul. 21.
(800) 838-3006. www.thehayworth.com.