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Cornerstone Boldly Goes Where Few Dare

July 22, 1994|PHILIP BRANDES

Faced with the unique accomplishments of Cornerstone Theatre Company's "L.A. Building," which is traveling to various venues in the area, the traditional criteria of dramatic criticism prove largely irrelevant.

Not that the work fails to measure up--far from it. But the usual yardsticks miss the real significance in this profoundly affecting theatrical experience.

Cornerstone's mission is to venture where the pros dare not tread--into communities lacking an established theater life, where through workshops, classes and volunteer efforts the company creates and performs original works integrating the skills of troupe regulars with the emerging talents of local non-professionals.

Having successfully completed a round of three community-based projects incorporating primarily black, Latino, Arabic and elderly populations, Cornerstone has initiated the second phase of its program with "L.A. Building," which combines the three previous casts in a story centered on an ethnically diverse apartment complex.

Living in the same place but sharing little else, the tenants' interwoven stories compose an allegory of life in L.A., bridging cultural divides in the process.

In one apartment, a white ESL teacher (Benajah Cobb) tries to care for his two children and mother-in-law after his wife's death. In another, the black apartment manager (Angelia Fowler) wrestles with conflicting loyalties to the husband (Shishir Kurup) who once deserted her and her present Latino boyfriend (Armando Molina, alternating with Richard Miro). A young actress (Pauline Guld) tries to extricate herself from her seedy porn flick manager (Christopher Liam Moore). Next door, a proud Lebanese couple (Tamadhur Al Aqeel and Ismael Kanater) conceal their poverty from the husband's visiting father (George Haddad).

Amid the backdrop of gunshots, aftershocks and scams (like the fruit vendor selling oranges in "L.A. dozens"--11 to a bag), these stories of hardship, struggle and undefeatable humanity resonate with the kind of authenticity beside which more conventionally polished staging seems pale and artificial.

* "L.A. Building," Today-Sunday , Druze Cultural Center, 2239 Merton Ave., Eagle Rock; July 28-31 at Stage 2, Culver Studios, 9336 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; Aug. 4-7 at Robert Pitts-Westminster Neighborhood Center, 1827 East 103rd St., Los Angeles. At all locations curtain times are: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; $7 or pay-what-you-can. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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