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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 397-399
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Broken Hearts: A B.H. Mystery
Broken Hearts: A B.H. Mystery. By Lisa Loomer. Cornerstone Theater Company, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Los Angeles, California. 20 November, 1999.
At their best, Cornerstone Theater's community-based projects combine provocative social commentary with imaginative playfulness. One of Cornerstone's first productions, a Wild West musical adaptation of Hamlet, presented in Marmarth, North Dakota in 1986, was prompted by the company's interest in engaging small towns in theatre-making and an urge to travel to the state the East Coast-based company knew least about. Following a move to Los Angeles in 1992, Cornerstone's mission evolved to embrace bridge-building within and between communities. In Los Angeles, these "Bridge Shows" have included collaborations among citizens of Pacoima, a senior center, and Arab Americans citywide; an adaptation of Candide (Candude) performed in the city library, featuring police officers, library workers, and postal employees; and The Central Ave. Chalk Circle, bridging fragmented communities in the city of Watts. Cornerstone's most recent performance, "B.H. Residency," brought together participants from Boyle Heights, Baldwin Hills, Broadway and Hill streets, and Beverly Hills. The resultant bridge production, Lisa Loomer's original play, Broken Hearts: A B.H. Mystery, exemplifies Cornerstone's social and artistic mission, while standing on its own as an imaginative journey through seventy years of Los Angeles history and four ethnically distinct resident communities.
The B.H. Residency arose in part from the company's desire to expand beyond the theatre's focus on lower-income communities. Cornerstone thus hoped to develop a project with both higher and lower income areas in Los Angeles. Beverly Hills had sprung to mind, and many Cornerstone ensemble members had connections with the Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights. When the idea arose of combining these residency projects with the largely African American community of Baldwin Hills, it was left only to stretch the boundaries of community-labeling to note that Broadway and Hill marked a major intersection in Chinatown. The residency ultimately focused on ethnicity, income, and the initials B.H., and culminated in Loomer's bridge show, which brought together participants from each of the individual communities. While Cornerstone members acknowledge that the B.H. project as a whole proved artistically challenging, Broken Hearts: A B.H. Mystery transcended these difficulties.
Loomer's comic sensibility, interest in storytelling, and visits to the B.H. neighborhoods resulted in a complexly plotted neo-noir script. Broken Hearts unfolds in the office of Private Detective Joaquin Garcia. As we soon discover, however, the office actually belongs to his girlfriend, Nancy, a lawyer. Through this kind of revised troping, Loomer invokes and subverts noir clichés to comic and critical effect. Garcia drinks Sprite out of a flask, has a dark story (his brother was killed in a drive-by shooting), and speaks in imagistic similes ("I remember the Santa Anas [winds] were blowing like a drug addicted hooker five bucks short of a nickel bag.") The ensuing plot proceeds in a similar self-consciously noir vein. Garcia has been hired by the lovely and mysterious cigarette-smoking Joy Chow ("she didn't heed the Surgeon General or any man") to uncover the origins of a Chinese jade ring. A search for the ring's previous owners leads Garcia throughout greater Los Angeles: to a senior center and real estate office in Beverly Hills, an African dance class and church in Baldwin Hills, a tamale joint in Boyle Heights, and a social club in Chinatown. The play also sets up a contextual history of Los Angeles, traveling through time via flashbacks to visit a 1960s jazz club, a 1950s bowling alley, and 1920s gambling spot, as well as referencing the Zoot Suit riots, Japanese internment, the Watts Riots, and the 1992 Los Angeles uprising. [End Page 397]
As its settings and references suggest, Broken Hearts engages each of the resident communities, while marking the darker side of Los Angeles history. In its production as well as its plotting the play allows for...