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BWW Review: UNDERNEATH THE FREEWAYS OF LOS ANGELES at The Echo Theatre Company

A Virtual Interactive Experience - Now streaming through April 26th

BWW Review: UNDERNEATH THE FREEWAYS OF LOS ANGELES at The Echo Theatre Company

"We hope you can help us understand what happened here so it never repeats itself and justice can be served."

Trying to understand minds and motives in a criminal investigation is difficult enough for a seasoned police officer. A group of ordinary citizens, (ticket holders) has been brought into the discovery process of a possible double homicide, in the belief and hope that somehow, they'll do it better. At least that is the set up in Echo Theater Company's commissioned, online production of UNDERNEATH THE FREEWAYS OF LOS ANGELES written by, Matthew Paul Olmos and directed by Michael Alvarez. This interactive murder mystery experience is inspired by a true 1960s historical event that followed the displacement of over 15,000 residents in Boyle Heights for the sake of creating LA's freeway interchange.

Five Persons of Interest (POI) have been implicated in the deaths and possible murders of a young multiracial couple, whose bodies have been found in the lake at East L.A.'s Hollenbeck Park, right below the newly-built section of the Golden State Freeway that runs directly overhead. The young Latina woman is noted to be from the local neighborhood. The young white man, apparently her boyfriend, is not.

There is substantial history regarding the freeway masterplan project, the players who spearheaded it, and the pushback by the affected communities which was all but ignored throughout the planning and construction. Echo supplies you with in-depth historic materials on the website. For instance, how the original subway plan that served LA's growing urban sprawl was suddenly pushed out for a mechanism that more favorably advantaged the growing automobile industry. There are also articles and other references about the past and present residents of the Boyle Heights neighborhood and the effect this project continues to have on the community overall. But almost none of that ever gets addressed - except through TV reporter Ellie Kovner (Amy K. Harmon) who gives us some context at the top of the show and who attempts to emotionally lead us into the story and again out of it at the finale. However, there isn't a real narrative within the virtual production itself, apart from case notes on all the POIs, as well as an interrogation sheet of the characters and their whereabouts on the morning in question. We are otherwise, essentially handed a blank slate by the writer and it's all speculative point of view from there.

In this medium of talking heads on a screen, it's difficult to discern truth from lie, fact from fiction. And it's a bit odd that community members are being asked to question the POIs in the first place. Although certainly, the breakout room sessions are intriguing.

In real life, this murder was never solved. And although this event presents an opportunity to consider how yesterday's politics is an antecedent of what is happening in the affected communities today, the production ultimately doesn't have the kind of impact it needs to allow us to understand its true importance.

We rely on the actors here, whose respective jobs are enormous and extremely vital, in that they are constantly dropping clues - when they can. The actors dole out some very important information but are often interrupted and have to work overtime, in their attempts to deliver full monologues to overenthusiastic questioners trying to be too clever by half. They also have to navigate, in character, all the pain points in the moment and figure out a way to improvise everyone in and out of these tangled situations created in a bubble. The story, therefore, takes on its own life with tangents and dead ends, as there aren't any parameters in how the interrogation is supposed to work.

Each actor, however, does this heroically. Not kidding. Performances are stunning by POI cast Mia Ando, Morgan Danielle Day, Gloria Ines, Roland Ruiz, and Darrett Sanders who are absolutely sharp and quick in dealing with multiple questioners - sometimes all at once.

Overall, it is a fun night. Fun and satisfying in the way a game of Clue might be. But I don't think it accomplishes what they were hoping: to understand what happened. I can't say that I understood it any better by the time the interrogation ended. All we know is that two murders were committed and a person did it. Justice, however, for the couple or justice for a displaced community - well - that may never happen. Definitely not here.


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