TAR Begins and Ends Tom Jacobson's Tryptich on Bimini Baths

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

Tom Jacobson’s trilogy of productions concludes with Playwright Arena’s TAR, the most straightforward of his three plays. Situated in the middle of the trajectory of stories (1915, 1939 and 1948), if given the opportunity, this may be the first play you should see.

Much of the trilogy depends upon information shared in this installment, which may account for the high degree of exposition that we hear. Nevertheless, Jacobson uses his playwriting skills to keep suspense going almost to the very end. That we are seeing Zenobio (Adrian Gonzalez), who figures so prominently in the other two plays, take a bit of a back seat to the issues of race represented by Amen (Noel Arthur), makes this stand apart from the other two. I believe it will best serve to start one’s journey into this absorbing fact-based set of plays with TAR.

On the eve of Count Basie’s landmark engagement at the Palomar Ballroom, the police bring to Bimini Baths a white man, Donald (Tim Meinelschmidt), who was found unconscious and covered head to toe in tar at the La Brea tar pits. Zenobio, now a young man, teams with his fellow porter, Amen, to begin removing the tar.  As they work, they speculate how the cadaver got into the tar pit. But, surprisingly, the corpse comes to life and proves to be someone of German descent with definite views about the two non-whites who are helping him recover.

Playwrights Arena’s director Edgar Landa joins Son of Semele and Rogue Machine in crafting a balanced trio of actors to further Jacobson’s story. Gonzalez and Arthur play well together, but Meinelschmidt has trouble reaching the meanness of the more distasteful character, Donald. I don’t blame him. Who wants to commit to being an unspeakable bigot?

Scene Designer Justin Huen makes the best use of Playwrights Arena’s tiny Atwater Village space, utilizing every inch for the clean-up operation. Mylette Nora’s costumes (and especially, the make-up) beautifully set the scene, while Derek Jones’ lighting keeps our sense of distance from the action intact. All-important sound – the wonderful Basie and juke-box music – sets the tone. If you haven’t seen this yet, hurry!  The show closes on Monday, July 2!

TAR will continue Saturdays and Mondays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 4:00 PM through July 2nd at Playwrights Arena, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village 90039. Reservations and tickets online: $25 at www.playwrightsarena.org, or call (800) 838-3006 ($30 at the door).