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Firehouse strongly delivers at the Whitefire Theatre

Posted By Karen Young On March 9, 2011 @ 12:21 am In Arts & Culture,Gallery,Theater | No Comments

BY TOM WALDMAN

Going back to at least the 1965 Watts riots, it’s typically the actions of police officers that trigger demonstrations or widespread violence in minority communities. But in Pedro Antonio Garcia’s solid new play,  Firehouse, currently at the Whitefire Theatre, the decision of a white firefighter in the Bronx to save a white colleague before rescuing a 12-year-old Puerto Rican girl (based on a true story) leads to anger and protests.

Bryan Rasmussen, Kamar de los Reyes, Jon Southwell, Ed Morrone. Photos Jason Bonzon.

The firefighter, Brian Boyle (Gerald Downey), maintains that he couldn’t really see the girl, who subsequently died, through thick smoke. Most of the plot of “Firehouse” concerns attempts from various parties to find out what actually happened inside that burning building.

Yet Garcia is not so much interested in solving a mystery, as he is depicting the impact of the event on Boyle’s three co-workers in Firehouse #61, especially Robert Miranda (Kamar de los Reyes). The playwright’s examination of the moral dilemma and conflicting loyalties that confront Miranda effectively sustain “Firehouse” to the end.

Miranda’s deep connection to the case borders on the comical. Not only is he a firefighter of Puerto Rican descent; his girlfriend, Aida Rojas (Jossara Jinaro) is an activist lawyer committed to fighting institutional racism, and his homeless brother Pito (Elvis Nolasco) happens to have witnessed the tragically delayed rescue of the deceased girl. That detail, which comes to light midway through the second and final act, enables the characters and audience to finally learn the truth.

Jossara Jinaro, Kamar de los Reyes

The politics of “Firehouse” are slightly left-of-center. While Garcia clearly sympathizes with the community, two of the four firefighters – including Miranda – are willing to hear the other side, and a third, who is comfortable making racist remarks, eventually comes around. Boyle is the lone bad guy, although even he gets to explain if not justify his actions in a lengthy monologue late in the play. The final scene is an unashamed tribute to firefighters everywhere.

“Firehouse” only sagged during its first 15 minutes, when Garcia expends too much time showing the male bonding and adolescent teasing – much of it sexual – that takes place inside a typical firehouse. Fortunately, the next 15 minutes and beyond allayed my fear that the audience was in for a slow evening.

In the role of Miranda, de los Reyes conveys anguish and strength, although he has a disconcerting tendency to stare off into space, as if posing for a publicity shot. Portraying Aida Rojas, Jinaro tries too hard at times to persuade us that her character cares deeply about the fate of inner-city Puerto Ricans.

Downey’s Boyle is clean-cut, handsome, and built like a strong safety. He embodies the classic features of the all-American male, which must surely be Garcia’s intent. Nolasco’s Pito is the crowd-pleaser; a street person with hip hop moves and hip hop patter.

Bryan Rasmussen’s direction captures the tension and shifting alliances among the firefighters as they confront the real possibility that one of their own has committed an unforgivable offense.

The world premiere of  Firehouse runs at the Whitefire Theatre Fridays only at 8 p.m. through April 29th. Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatermania.com or by calling (323) 822-7898. The Whitefire Theater is located at 13500 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

Tom Waldman is co-author of “Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock and Roll From Southern California”, which had its second printing in 2009, and author of “the Best Guide to American Politics, “We All Want to Change the World: Rock and Politics From Elvis to Eminem” and “Not Much Left: The Decline of Liberalism in America”. He currently serves as chief of staff to LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan.

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