The 24th STreet Theatre, located in the historical North University Park neighborhood, is unique among L.A.’s stage venues for its sustained effort to reach out to the surrounding community through various programs, and for their effort they have been embraced by it. Other theatres could benefit by their example.

One of their programs is the “Teatro del Pueblo” project.

Theatre of the Village” is a workshop where residents of the neighborhood, mainly new arrivals to the city and first-generation immigrants, gather together in order to share stories of their lives in America, and discover ways of framing those tales for the stage.

“LadyBird” is their first effort to be presented to audiences.

Director Laurie Woolery, along with Victor Vazquez, has taken the stories which emerged from the workshop and woven them into a simple yet touching tale. Norma (Ivonne Rodriguez) is a mother who has lost a child, and like so many who suffer that unimaginably cruel fate, she has become lost within her loss.

“LadyBird” is the story of how a persistent pigeon, a mysterious stranger (Jesús Castaños Chima), and an assortment of bizarre and caring neighbors from clowns to toy makers try to convince her to join in the neighborhood’s posada, the celebratory procession of song and music which has been a tradition in Mexico since the 16th century. Finally, through her interaction with others Norma gains the strength and encouragement to find her way free of the dank swamp which is grief.

The tale is straight forward and basic, the staging minimal, and of the twenty-four actors only two are professionals. It is theatre at its “roughest”, as well as a reminder that the essence of theatre is community. It is people coming together to share laughter or sorrow, who, through the experience, will leave the theatre happier, wiser, sadder – better – than when they entered.

Theatre is therapy.

It is, and always has been, how we confront the chaos and pain of existence.

The ensemble courageously brings their personal tragedies and triumphs into the show.

It is hardly “professional” theatre, which actually is one of its strengths. For while it lacks polish, it overflows with humanity. It isn’t commercial, it is community. And that point is brought home as both cast and audience join together for a posada about the area with the small, tidy Craftsman/Shingle homes, and then back to the theatre for tasty treats, villancicos (Christmas carols) and good old fashion camaraderie.

(Hey, you’re not getting that at the Pantages Theatre!)

The whole cast deserves praise not only for the success of their premiere effort, but also for accomplishing that most challenging of all human endeavors: daring to do something new.

Kudos to you all – Yolanda F. Baza, Charlton Brio, Earl I. Briones, Lorena Bustillo, Dalia Canche, Jesus Castaños-Chima, Maria de Lourdes Conde, Angelica Diaz, Tony Duran, Abel Flores, Veronica C. Flores, Nicolas P. Garcia, Madelou Gonzalez, Deisy Gutierrez, Jacques Hurtado, Gabriela Martinez, Maria Ortiz, Ismael Ramirez, Aurora Rodriguez, Isabella Rodriguez, Ivonne Rodriguez, Luis A. Valentan, Carolina Vargas, Liliana Vasquez and Carlos Hernandez-Meta.

Excellent work one and all, I look forward to the next venture.