BWW Review: WEST ADAMS at Skylight Theatre WEST ADAMS Smartly Takes on Privilege, Race, and Status
Penelope Lowder's WEST ADAMS is a keenly observed look at race, class, and privilege seen through a magnifying glass that elevates it to an over-the-top state, for both better and worse. The timely show focuses on two interracial married couples: pregnant Caucasian Sarah (Allison Blaize) and Latin Edward (Andrés M. Bagg), and Asian Julie (Jenny Soo) and Caucasian Michael (Clayton Farris). They live in the burgeoning West Adams district of Los Angeles, thrilled to be part of the community's gentrification. But when a very wealthy black family moves in across the street, they struggle to even pretend they can keep up with the Jones', and the pressure devolves them into a spiral of resentment, racism, and, ultimately, revenge.
While many liberals champion equal rights, whether it involves racial, LGBTQ, or socioeconomic issues, Skylight resident playwright Lowder pushes through the well-meaning (and wildly un-self-aware) lip service these couples spout once they actually have to compete with something more important than block-party auditions (with a frenzied take on the "Star-Spangled Banner"). Racism bubbles to the top in insidious ways no matter your race or your intent. Things become very dark, and that's what saves this project. Prior to that dark turn, the couples don't have much depth, which, of course, is Lowder's point.
It's fascinating to see the couples reveal their true selves in vicious, fractious ways, especially after the opening focuses on their plastic, sunny veneers (which bordered on strident as opposed to simply elevated). None of them are likable. They're petty and mean and so, so lost. But the actors fare better once things turn serious and their characters become more grounded.
The set is beautiful and multi-functional, with a bar, dining room, living room, and two bay windows, the last of which allows the couples access to every coming and going of their new neighbors. Overseeing them as they oversee their neighbors is an enormous wooden American Flag, clearly representing the values they claim to embody and yet fail to actually put into motion.
The 85-minute show moves at a fair clip under Michael A. Shepperd's (ROTTERDAM) direction, though he might consider reining his performers in once in a while. While WEST ADAMS starts off a little uneven, Lowder and Shepperd help it find balance, and in the end is quietly and disconcertingly powerful.
WEST ADAMS runs through March 8 with performances Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $20 (Thursdays) to $41 (all other dates) and can be purchased at SkylightTheatre.org. The Skylight Theatre is located at 1816½ N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027.