We as a society are inherently tied to our past, and those ties that bind us from birth affect our future in surprising ways. “This Land,” written by Evangeline Ordaz and directed by Armando Molina, follows four families over the course of 150 years and how they relate and are drawn to the land of Los Angeles, specifically the neighborhood Watts. It tackles issues of race relations, gentrification, the potentially erasing nature of assimilation, and the beauty in sharing and mixing cultures and histories together.
Ordaz was commissioned by Center Theatre Group to write this play, and spent a great deal of time researching the history of Los Angeles’s land and the many people who have lived on it. The results of her research are very clear. The play is as emotional as it is educational, which results in a very rich and fulfilling theatrical experience. Despite being a rather thorough and historically accurate portrayal of Los Angeles’s history, it feels as though every ethnic group is mentioned except for Asian Americans. As Ordaz said in an interview with Latin Heat Entertainment, “One’s tendency is to want to include everything- Which can become boring and unwieldy.” It is understandably impossible to include everything, and the play already covers a breadth of race relations and issues, however, it would have been nice to see a little about such a large population, filled with many different specific ethnic groups, of Los Angeles included in the conversations of race and race relations in the play.
“This Land” is an ambitious play that lives up to the standards it sets up for itself. It manages to jump between timelines and plots with ease, despite certain transitions feeling jarring at times, and manages to tell a cohesive story while actors are jumping between time periods and characters. The set (Justine Huen) is able to adapt in time alongside these changes thanks to the projections (Benjamin Durham) on the white walls built around them. Each projection also helps the audience keep track of each location after the scenes stop announcing what specific time the scenes take place in.
The actors do an incredible job of inhabiting each of their characters with life and truth, as if almost shapeshifting before the audience in the blink of an eye. The play does a beautiful job of using language to both unify and divide the characters in the play. For instance, Toya (Cheryl Umaña) and Enrique (Jeff Torres), a Native American woman and a Spanish man, cannot understand each other until she learns Spanish. This is shown by having the beginning of their interactions in each of their native tongues, with English translations projected onto the wall behind them. I thought that this was an amazing device that highlighted the complications in communicating with someone who speaks a different language, and the potential for miscommunication it creates. It was a little confusing, however, when they drop the languages and both speak English, yet both still misunderstand each other because they are technically still speaking their own languages. Although the idea of entire scenes in different languages might seem alienating, I think that, combined with the on-screen translations and physicality of the actors, that it would have been interesting for the audience to really experience the verbal and cultural distance between the characters. This theme of miscommunication is touched upon again when the English speaking soldier enters their lives. It is also confusing here because they were speaking English for the audience’s sake then say they don’t know English to the soldier and don’t understand him. I wish that they would have stayed speaking in their native tongue the entire time. It also would have been interesting to hear Toya speak Spanish after learning it from Enrique, highlighting another way her assimilation takes her further away from her Native American culture.
Overall, “This Land” combines modern technology in their set design and the timelessness of good storytelling to create a wonderful emotional and educational journey into the ecosystem of Los Angeles and helps us realize how we all are connected to each other and our land.
"This Land" is playing at Company of Angels at Legacy LA (1350 San Pablo Street, Los Angeles) now until November 20th. Tickets from $12-$25. For more information, visit Company of Angel's Website.