Alternative LA
Eyes for Indie Theaters

The 68 Cent Crew’s latest is worth far more.

Theater in L.A. is a stone brick-hard sell. I’m not talking The Producers, starring big screen actors where you go with your grandparents for a graduation present. I’m talking theater—starring performers who are awkward in their day jobs just so that they can geek out in their free time on hole-in-the-wall stages, for little to no money, usually in front of friends and friends of friends. And yet, this theater world survives, like a blade of green grass defiantly growing through the cement of Los Angeles.

The 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company hunkers down in a sweet space on Sunset Boulevard, just east of Western, directly across from Food 4 Less and neighbor to The Hollywood Star Inn (which you’ll be glad to know is under new management). The latest project in their five-year existence is Eyes for Consuela, written by Sam Shepard and directed by Crystal Craft.

The stage is set with Gipsy Kings strumming through the theater, and rags of sea-green color draped throughout, transforming it into a beautiful shack in what seems to be a Mexican paradise of romanticized poverty. Renting this shack is Henry (played by Stephen Kline), a tormented whitey who’s trying to escape the troubles of his dying marriage. While out for a midnight gasp of fresh air, Henry is held up at knifepoint by Amado (played by Danny Cistone), a native who is near devastated by his own torment and guilt. Naturally, conversation ensues. The story is fairly simple, centering around the object of Amado’s torment, Consuela (Brenda Romero). She is of course the perfect, near drop dead gorgeous, ideal woman for all men alike (doubt it’s a coincidence that she barely speaks, but always looks innocent yet longing). Amado has wronged Consuela, and he must now—and presumably forever—repay his debt, which just happens to include gouging Henry’s eyes out…or so he’s always threatening. All this while, there is Viejo (Rick Almada), the old shack owner who sits just barely in the background, rocking in his chair.

I must admit the ending of this fantastical play is up for dime store interpretation, fully stocked with canned symbolism. My dime rests on the idea that it’s about finding peace and love and new beginnings by traveling outside our own little world, and relieving ourselves of the baggage we lug, filled with all that we mistakenly believe to be valuable. It’s to Craft’s credit that she doesn’t knock us over the head, what with all the romanticism in Shepard’s pen—but Craft’s no rookie.

The stage is beautifully designed, and the costumes only further complement what is the strength of this production: the acting. Kline, who is either breathlessly terrified, panicked, or tizzied for the entire length of the play, plays a manic Henry. If it was exhausting for him as an actor, it’s only more so for the audience, though I don’t see a way around it and credit Kline for maintaining such a high level of energy. Cistone, as Amado, at times didn’t seem comfortable being the aggressor, let alone with the burden of a knife. He’s careful, though, to maintain his balance as a grief stricken lover and a desperate criminal—it works. Romero, as Consuela, isn’t asked to be anything more than beautiful, and that she is. My personal favorite was Rick Almada’s performance of Viejo. Almada was always in the corner of my eye, his presence continually felt and appreciated. It’s a tall order to create and maintain a character in so few lines, and yet Almada shines distinctively, without forgetting to support the rest of his actors.

When I was rewarded for all my hard work in college, and received my congratulatory card filled with four tickets to The Producers, I slapped on my “oh golly gee” face and went with an open mind. I literally counted down each and every musical interlude on my fingers, waiting to escape. Not once did I check my watch during Eyes for Consuela. All in all, Eyes is a fine theater going experience, if not slightly forgettable. More important though, is that it exposes the bones of independent theater in Los Angeles, and judging by 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company, they’re chalked full of calcium, strong like bull, and good to go.

by Andria Regan