Bienvenidos a Beachtown
April 11, 2018
Beachtown, a timely play at the San Diego Repertory Theater in the Lyceum Space in downtown, shows how a community of opposing voices can talk to one another.
This play may have its flaws, but it also brings hope and a message of community communication.
Beachtown is a fictional community, not unlike Imperial or Ocean Beach, where every 10 years, the mayor and town council hold a public meeting to open a time capsule and determine which artifact is taken out and which artifact is put in to replace it, to better represent “who we are now.” This Time Capsule was started in 1918, so Beachtown is celebrating its 100th year.
This play is interactive and from the very start, both the audience and actors participate. Patrons are encouraged to arrive at least a half an hour before and bring a dessert. There is a “potluck” table with various sweets for everyone to nibble on while they mingle with the actors and each other.
The audience also participates with the actors in the town council meeting and votes on which artifacts to keep in and take out. There are 10 items, three of them are eternal and seven are ephemeral. This is where the play may get a little tedious for some, as the town council explains what the eternal artifacts are and why they were put in the capsule. Introverts may feel a little uncomfortable with all the audience participation, even though that participation is voluntary.
Fortunately, the actors are all terrific and throughout the play both liberal and conservative viewpoints have their say. Voting on which artifact stays and which one goes out is also more interesting as everyone discusses the value or importance of each artifact. Depending on the performance, the Christmas ornament might get voted out of the time capsule and the Purple Heart Medal of Honor was might be voted in. The audience participation can lead to interesting results and it is interesting to know how the results change for each show.
This play must also be fun for the actors as each performance varies slightly depending on the audience. When I arrived, I was greeted by “Damon Haynes,” played by Antonio T.J. Johnson. He is the African American Vietnam veteran and conservative in the play that plays devil’s advocate to the liberal and “groovy surfer dude” mayor, Steven Novak, played amiably by Jason Heil.
The rest of the cast is also excellent. Salomon Maya plays a straight laced Mexican-American Jew who is like the council secretary and counts the votes. Maya’s seriousness is belied by the twinkle in his eye and great bright turquoise socks to go with his conservative dark suit. The three women are also very appealing. Lee Ann Kim drew me in as the prim and proper archivist, a fiery Sandra Ruiz as the Latina activist, and a bubbly Marci Anne Wuebben as another resident. Last, but not least is the talented and charismatic William B.J. Robinson.
The night I was there, many members in the audience participated and debated. One woman took the debate so seriously that she began to cry as she spoke. The good part was that everyone listened to each other, no matter what their viewpoint was.
This play was co-written by Rep Playwright-in-residence Herbert Siguenza and Rachel Grossman. Although the play could use a little fine tuning from a critical perspective, it is a play that everyone should see and then open up a dialogue in their community.