Urban Theater Movement’s Disturbing “Short Eyes”
by Angela Imperial
pLAywriting in the city
“Off the gates!”
So begins the whirlwind journey that is “Short Eyes”, a play written by Miguel Piñero, and now beginning its six week extension at Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC). The play is being presented by Urban Theater Movement (UTM), a hip and motivated, “multicultural collective of artists dedicated to producing original, contemporary and classical works.“ They do just that in “Short Eyes”, with director (and artistic director of UTM) Julian Acosta leading the way, the cast and crew deliver an honest adaptation of a play produced for decades. It’s a story not for the lighthearted; it deals with a subject that can turn anyone’s stomach. “Short Eyes” is a term given to pedophiles, whose crimes are not tolerated by other inmates.
Piñero’s haunting tale of eight men serving time for various crimes, was originally written while Piñero himself was incarcerated at Sing Sing prison for armed robbery. Presented for the first time in a church in 1974, it soon made its way to Broadway and has been telling these men’s stories since.UTM is the first West Coast theater company in ten years that was given permission to produce it. The audience finds themselves in the jail recreation room where men stick together by ethnicity and their need to survive. When the character “Short Eyes” aka Clark Davis enters the story, the men bond over a mutual hatred and need to “make him pay” for his alleged crime, thus beginning the demise of the jail floor as well as an increase in some of the men’s desire for blood. Piñero delivers a gritty tale of raw emotion that leaves the audience questioning just who exactly has a right to decide a person’s fate.
Urban Theater Movement’s version at LATC is one that starts even before the actors come out on stage. Upon entering the theater you are immediately hit with bright lights and a stage that makes you feel as if you are the one being locked up. With graffiti on the walls and a tile “bathroom” in the corner you feel as if you really are in jail. Set designer Geronimo Guzman does an impeccable job of creating an environment that takes the audience to a place where one never wants to be: a cold and dirty prison. Once the play begins, it is a rollercoaster ride that takes you from laughing to squirming in your seats.
The cast does a tremendous job of making you forget they are acting. I found myself intrigued yet disgusted when the “short eyes” character Clark Davis, played by the disturbingly convincing Sean Escalante, was describing his conquests of little girls and his need for their attention. It made my skin crawl and one audience member walked out mid-monologue, slamming the theater door as she made her exit. The actors have an intense script to work with and all make artistic choices that leave you wondering if they themselves have spent time in prison. David Santana (Juan) gives a compassionate performance as he battles to keep his ground with the other inmates as “short eyes” attempts to befriend him. The comedic relief in the play is provided by Carl Crudup who plays Ice a lifelong inmate; he turns masturbation into monologue gold. All in all, the cast is an ensemble whose timing, talent, and bravery shines through and makes you embrace the characters completely no matter what crimes they may have committed.
“Short Eyes” is a play that has been around for years, providing people with insight to life behind bars. Miguel Piñero’s play is a story that resonates with prisoners and their family members everywhere. Urban Theater Movement has given new life to a group of men whose stories we’ve heard before because perhaps we know some of them, men who we may know as our uncles, fathers, and cousins. These are men struggling to live with dignity and who find respect only inside prison walls. “Short Eyes” should not be missed and with the show’s most recent extension you have five more weeks to catch this show…. GO!
Angela Imperial began her love affair with the stage almost 20 years ago. She has worked with theater companies throughout L.A. & Orange County. Most recently: East LA Rep, Casa 0101, Watts Village Theater Company & Breath of Fire Latina Ensemble. Angela’s credits include: Frita Khalo in El Verde, Alma in Josefina Lopez’s When Nature Calls, Yolanda in Cherrie Moraga’s Heroes & Saints, Cecilia in Soldado Razo, Pvt. Lydia Jimenez and Angelica Rivera in Mel Nieves’ W.A.C. Iraq. Angela has written, directed and most recently produced “THE BOUT” for the 48 Hour Film Project-LA. She can also be seen in the webisode series No Kids No Cry and Police Chicks. Angela is very excited to begin a new chapter in her career with pLAywriting in the city!