By: Mar. 13, 2010
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You heard it here, folks. The Fountain Theatre is by the far the best and the brightest that Los Angeles has to offer. Local and tourist alike will be hard-pressed to find a more inviting, entertaining, or all-around enjoyable experience anywhere else in the City of Angels. First timers, it is highly recommended that you get to the theatre early and go upstairs to the charming little café and grab a table, relax, and settle in for a fantastic night (or afternoon) of entertainment.

As you pass through the lobby to take your seats, take assurance in the massive display of Ovation Awards on the wall, a signifier that you are in very experienced, capable hands. The Fountain Family takes both painstaking care and joy in the shows they put on. Everything carries that intricate, personal touch that is so essential to good regional theatre...but perhaps no production has ever been more personal or emotionally invested than their most recent play, The Ballad of Emmett Till.

On January 2nd of this year, beloved Fountain Family member and original director of Emmett Till, Ben Bradley was murdered in his home. Director Shirley Jo Finney and the rest of the cast and crew proceeded to mount the production as a loving testament to Bradley and his work. The poignancy of his loss looms over the show in a way that is both inspired, blessed, and poignantly relevant.

For those unfamiliar with the plight of the historical figure Emmett Till, he was a 14 year-old black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman while visiting his uncle in Mississippi. America's outrage at his murder is thought to be the spark that fueled the Civil Rights Movement.

But playwright Ifa Bayeza's Ballad of Emmett Till, reworked and tailored with a smaller cast specifically to fit the Fountain space, is by no means some monument to a historical martyr. It is an intimate, vivacious portrait of Emmett Till, the boy, and the character he was. Lorenz Arnell is priceless in the title role, presenting the audience with a character that is so easy to adore and difficult to lose. Using a swagger to cover a limp caused from a battle with polio; a loudmouthed comic who fought to suppress a debilitating stutter-Arnell breathes a fighting spirit and vivacious energy into the body of a boy known only for his gruesome death. This show is a marvelous celebration of life, making it a triumph on so many levels.

Bayeza's writing is both fluid and lyrical, a ballad in the truest sense. And director Finney makes marvelous use of the space and sounds to create a work that is very much the song of an unsung hero. The cast is, in a word, brilliant. With everyone except Arnell as Emmett playing multiple roles, each and every actor has truly sparkling and wonderful moments. Karen Malina White, in particular, gives a standout performance as Emmett's mother, as well as a pugnacious little boy cousin of Emmett's. She is impudent and hysterical one moment, and completely devastating the next. The heralding trademark of a remarkable and talented actress.

Extended through April 25th, be sure to catch Emmett Till and the amazing Fountain Theatre, for it really is the best ticket in Los Angeles to be found. No doubt the Fountain will be adding more tiers to their wall of accolades next fall.

The Ballad of Emmett Till runs Thurs-Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm through April 25th at the Fountain Theatre (5060 Fountain Ave.) Tickets can be purchased by calling (323) 663-1525 or visiting Ticket prices range from $28-18.


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