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THEATER BEAT

'Windows': Art as a Social Service Project

April 30, 1993

Just as empathetic but nowhere near so accomplished is the revival of this Dwan Smith-Fortier grab-bag musical "Windows . . . Mama, Why Is L.A. Burning," which tries to make up in spirit what it lacks in stagecraft. The usual standards of professional theater aren't the right yardstick for this sprawling venture, which was first staged last summer in a Pacoima gym. Less a play than a community event, it exemplifies the kind of arts-as-social-service projects that have proliferated on the local scene in the past couple of years.

The plot focuses on four families (white, Latino, Korean-American and African-American) and their involvement with the events surrounding last year's riots. Spliced into this framework are a number of unrelated vignettes, ranging from gospel singing to hip-hop to monologues. And while there are some talented kids and adults involved--among them Scott Jenkins, Reggie Gillins and Cy'mone Hicks--as well as some poignant moments, such as a stylized recitation of Rodney G. King's plea "Can we get along?," the sparks get lost in the midst of an overly large cast on a hopelessly cluttered set at the New Ivar Theatre.

"Windows' " interpretation of the 1992 events is aimed at kids--which makes it all the more a shame that the show never gets around to answering its own titular question. Trimmed and tightened, it might be a decent production to tour to schools or churches. A red pencil would go a long way toward clarifying its commendable purpose.

* "Windows . . . Mama, Why Is L.A. Burning?," New Ivar Theatre, 1605 N. Ivar, Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 7 p.m.; May 9, 3 and 7 p.m. Ends May 16. $18.50. (213) 960-5222. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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