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THEATER REVIEW : Anti-Gun Rap Drama Targets Youths, Adults

August 12, 1993|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He tamed the West. Still puts countries on the map. Facilitates genocide. And loves it.

"I bring death quicker than disease . . . I've dusted babies, mothers, sisters and brothers. . . ."

An anthropomorphized gun is the personification of evil in "Thugun and Natasha," an intense "message" play intended for youth and adults at the Little Burbank Theatre.

Based on the 1991 shooting of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du, the rap drama by African-American playwright Mary Mann blames not the Korean grocer, but a gun-tolerant society for allowing fear, anger and suspicion to escalate into easy death.

Until theatrical integrity slips at the end and the show becomes a passionate exhortation to the audience to "boycott the gun," the play is involving and challenging, thanks to an effective adult cast, director Sherron Welden's spare but tight staging and Mann's clearly heartfelt eloquence.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 13, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 23 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Playwright's nationality--Playwright Mary Mann, author of the rap drama "Thugun and Natasha" at the Burbank Little Theatre, is a white Australian. Her nationality was misidentified in a review of the play in Thursday's Calendar.

Before their tragic encounter, we meet teen-age Natasha (Mychelle Dangerfield) and Sookee (Ria Satsuki), the grocer. (The names of the real people have been slightly changed.) Natasha is defensive and smart, mapping out her life for a better future. She doesn't understand why so many people have a problem "with a black face." Sookee is unsure of her English and terrified of the people she serves. She expects the worst of them, as does her husband (Giovanni Cuarez).

Meanwhile, Danny (Cuarez again) and Joseph (M. Douglas Brown), high school drop-outs, are ripe for trouble; Joseph, a teen father, has few hopes of landing a job to support his child.

For each, Thugun ("the gun," played by Joseph Wright) is a presence impossible to ignore--sneering and arrogant, easily available to exploit ignorance, poverty and fear.

Two of Mann's characters, both played by Rose Marie Johnson, serve as the play's conscience. The device works well when Johnson is Mother Earth grieving over her errant children who learn hatred and play with toys that kill.

But as the judge who tries Sookee and Thugun for the shooting of Natasha, and then delivers a direct anti-gun appeal to the audience, Johnson is less successful--and so is Mann.

Neither's sincerity is in question. Tears track Johnson's cheeks at the conclusion of her plea for a gun-less society, but her extended solo turn loosens the dramatic tension between the characters and abruptly changes the nature of the audience's involvement.

One thing's sure, however. After the show, the pro-gun slogan, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," doesn't play the same.

* "Thugun and Natasha," Burbank Little Theatre, George Izay Park, 1111 W. Olive Ave., Saturdays, 2 and 4 p.m. through Sept. 25. $4-$6; (818) 954-9858. Runs 45 minutes.

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