Thespian Thoughts review of “The Chinese Massacre Annotated” by Jaime Kalman


Mobile version

The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) is a powerful depiction of the first race riot that took place in Los Angeles in 1871.

Written by Tom Jacobson and directed by Jeff Liu, and presented by the Circle X Theatre Company, this world premiere of The Chinese Massacre (Annotated), at the Atwater Village Theatre cleverly weaves a mixture of historical annotations and dramatic storytelling.

On October 24, 1871, 10% of the Chinese population of Los Angeles was brutally lynched and murdered by an angry mob of over 500 non-Asian residents. 18 Chinese men were killed, one in particular was noted to be missing a pinky finger – a historic fact that is highlighted as a key plot element in the play.

A wild-west town with a population of 6,000, Los Angeles was as culturally diverse and yet segregated then as it is today. The riots occurred mostly on Calle de Los Negros (Street of the Negroes), commonly referred to as “Nigger Alley” both in history and in the play, due to the darker complexions of the Mexicans who lived there. I didn’t know that Los Angeles had only 6 law enforcement officers at the time who were overwhelmed by the gun-toting, incensed mob whose anger and racism would forever scar the history of Los Angeles.

“The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)” is a riveting portrayal of how racism, with its lethal combination of ignorance and fear, can whip people into a frenzy of violent action.

Through a series of flashbacks over a 20-year period, “The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)” is told by nine actors, portraying a cast of 42 characters over six different ethnicities. Experience the tale of a beautiful Chinese woman who is abducted and forced into a marriage in order to transfer her ownership between two competing Chinese factions. Race relations are already unstable between the Chinese and the rest of the cultures in the city due to their reputation of stealing employment opportunities from American workers. When a white man is shot in the crossfire that occurs between two Chinese men, the race riot explodes in a manner that we have watched sadly repeat itself over the years.

The ensemble cast is expertly led by the visionary directing of Jeff Liu. Their collective talent carries the audience as the play vacillates between right brain emotionality and the rapid-fire delivery of historical dates and annotations designed to remove the viewer from the trauma of the events as they unfold. The cast delivers extraordinary performances, offering a wide range of dialects, perspectives, and emotions. There are surprisingly humorous moments that spring from the dialogue, and given the subject matter of the play, these moments of comedic delivery are very welcomed.

The set design is gorgeously simple and effective, with multiple areas of staging that are well used to move the action throughout various locations of Downtown Los Angeles.

The costumes bring the time period alive, and help us to distinguish between the different characters that each actor plays. The lighting and sound design are incredibly well done and along with the varying levels of the set, keep this detail-packed play moving forward like a locomotive straight out of the time period it depicts.

“The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)” CAST (abc order):
Richard Azurdia
Warren Davis
Anna Douglas
Elizabeth Ho
Ross Kurt Le
Jully Lee
Alex Levin
West Liang
Johanna McKay
Silas Weir Mitchell
Gary Patent
Jack Sochet
Lisa Tharps
Marie-­Françoise Theodore
Ryun Yu

Written by: Tom Jacobson
Directed by Jeff Liu

Set design: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Lighting design: Tom Ontiveros
Costume design: Dianne K. Graebner
Sound design: Dennis Yen
Dialect coach: Tracy Winters, assisted by Tuffet Schmelzle
Production stage manager: Katherine E. Haan.

The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) is well worth the ticket price of $25 for both the education it offers to Los Angelenos, and the theatrical punch it packs.
The new beautifully designed Atwater Village Theatre is a wonderful venue, and the courage and mission of the Circle X Theatre Company to bring compelling, original, live theatre to the community is well received.

“The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)” through May 28, 2011.

Location of all productions:
Circle X Theatre Co. @ Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Atwater Village, CA 90039
Parking: FREE on-site.

Thespian Thoughts in on Actors Entertainment, a site of the Actors Podcast Network, a Pepper Jay Production.

Leave a Comment