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THEATER : All the World's on Stage in 'Immigrant Project'

August 03, 1995|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They come from Cuba and Slovenia, China, Bolivia, Latvia, South Africa and so many other places. They're all too often the voices of the "other," a roster of numbers on the nightly news, the undocumented, the invisible.

And yet when those voices come together--as they do in "The Immigrant Project" at Deaf West Theatre in Hollywood--it can be a powerful statement.

The program, a poignant and often funny collection of poetry and scenes, is produced by the 4-year-old theater group Words Across Cultures (WAC), whose last offering, "Beyond the Ashes," was a compilation of reflections on the 1992 L.A. riots.

"What I hope audiences come away with is the richness and complexity of the immigrant experience--and something they can relate to," said Chilean-born playwright Guillermo Reyes.

Reyes contributed two comic vignettes to the evening, "Dead Bolivians on a Raft" and "Self-Esteem for Immigrants," which is part of his next play, "Deporting the Divas." The play, he said, "deals with a lot of taboos: illegal immigrants, gay identity."

The evening of short pieces is a stylistic grab bag that runs the gamut from an energetic laundry list of American consumerism ("I'll buy a TV! I'll buy a bigger TV!") to an impromptu off-road Islamic prayer session, how-to sessions on making strudel and shopping for fresh fish, plus oral histories from a 19th-Century Chinese indentured servant and a contemporary pair of boat people--one woman from Haiti, the other from Vietnam.

Charles Lu, who came on board as co-artistic director with Sandy Kenyon of WAC at the beginning of this year, is well-acquainted with the immigrant experience. French-born, the son of a Chinese stage actor and a career diplomat, he spent his growing-up years in a succession of schools all over the world.

"I've been fortunate," said Lu, who teaches computer classes to L.A. County employees by day. "Although I was exposed to various cultures, I was also shielded to a lot of racial discrimination. I really haven't experienced any of that."

Lu, who settled in the United States in 1981, was finishing his doctoral dissertation in theater at UCLA last year when he got word that WAC was looking for cultural advisers. In addition to helping run the group, he's also directing two pieces in this program: "Polly Bemis" and "After the Funeral of Assam Hamady"--neither experience mirroring his own. "I'd like to explore some of those issues in the future," he said, "the marginalization of Chinese immigrants, the distinction between those who just came here and those who were born here."

Lu also has a brand-new experience to reflect upon: Exactly 21 days ago, he became a U.S. citizen.

"The Immigrant Project" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. at Deaf West Theatre, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood. Closes Aug. 13. American Sign Language performance Aug. 11. Tickets: $10 general admission; $8 students. Reservations: (213) 466-1767.

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