By Maria Gonzalez
“Personal Messages,” directed by James Buglewicz, is a new play where art imitates life using environmental theater and social media interaction, creating a puzzle that the audience needs to solve. The play, sponsored by the East Los Angeles College Department of Speech, Theatre Arts and Broadcasting, opened Friday night at the Proscenium Theater in the Performing & Fine Arts Complex.
“Personal Messages” delivers a cautionary story about how technology has invaded the privacy of people and how money has influenced democracy in this country.Unlike at other plays, the audience is asked before it starts to turn on their cellphones in order to interact with the play.
The audience is placed in groups and placed with a cast member who will serve as a tour guide within each scene. They receive a text message that one character sends to another, leading each group to another scene from the play. The actors performed each scene three times for the three different groups.
Prior to the scavenger-hunt-like experience, the audience watched a short video that set the theme of the play. It shows billionaire, libertarian and patron of the arts, Richard Crowne, played by Adam Chacon, creating a plan to blackmail and bribe Congressman Javier Grijalva, played by Vincent Mata. Chacon delivers an overall good performance, as his acting skills seemed to be at a higher level than the rest of the cast.
Grijalva’s head of security Antonio Gonzalez, played by Anthony Monterreso, has a past that connects him to gang activity, something that could hurt his boss’s clean-cut image. Crowne also finds out that Grijalva’s daughter, Marisol, played by Cinthia Montes De Oca, is engaged to Gonzalez.
Marisol has a secret past herself that Crowne threatens to expose if Grijalva is not supportive of his interests. Marisol’s character is an artist who is allowed to display her art at Crowne’s art gallery. When she finds out that the same person who has been helping her in her professional life is about to ruin her personal life, she decides to take matters into her own hands and avenge her family’s tormentor.
The play offers experimental storytelling. Involving the audience by having them walk to different parts of the theater to experience a scene as if they were bystanders. The intimacy this play delivers to the audience blurs the lines between audience and performer. They become part of the play by participating in the background of the scenes such as when investigative reporter Andy Richardson, played by Armando Flores Jr., invites the audience to look at the camera and enthusiastically say his network’s name, “CNA.”
“It was difficult doing scenes right next to the audience, as they are able to hear everything,” said Montes De Oca. She further explains how the whole cast put all their trust on Buglewicz because it was their first time doing an environmental play and they did not really know what to expect.
The closing scenes wrap up the story beautifully as it reiterates the problem of invasion of privacy and corruption among the powerful and wealthy. Each scene is a different frame for the audience, and gives more of a variety than a traditional play where the audience knows where to focus the attention. This play will run through Nov. 20. More information can be found contacting the Theater Department (323) 415-5333.
[Editor’s note: The printed version read Anthony Mpnterreso’s, whose last name was spelled wrong. The correct spelling of his last name is Monterreso.]