Crusading for Justice at Bimini Baths

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Play portrays Nisei’s efforts to break the color barrier.

Jully Lee as Hisaye Yamamoto and Donathan Walters as Bayard Rustin in “Mexican Day.”  (Photo by John Perrin Flynn)

Rogue Machine Theatre presents the world premiere of “Mexican Day” by Tom Jacobson, directed by Jeff Liu, through July 1 at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave. in Los Angeles.

Showtimes are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m., Sundays at 8 p.m.

Los Angeles, 1948. The soldiers are home, Japanese Americans are freed from internment, but the city remains stuck in its divided past. Enter famed civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who enlists Los Angeles Tribune reporter Hisaye Yamamoto in a campaign to break the color line at the celebrated Bimini Baths. Admission of non-whites is permitted only on “Mexican Day,” i.e., the day before the pools are to be emptied and cleaned.

Hisaye Yamamoto and Los Angeles Tribune founder Almena Lomax in 1948.

Blocking their entry is Zenobio Remedios, a war veteran who must weigh his conscience against job security. Rustin, believing he needs a white ally to break the standoff, tries to seduce disgraced art historian-turned-screenwriter Everett Maxwell to the cause. But Maxwell has his own history with Bimini Baths — and Zenobio — that will test the boundaries of change and forgiveness.

The play stars Darrell Larson, Jully Lee, Jonathan Medina and Donathan Walters.

“Tom Jacobson’s insightful script intimately, intricately interweaves ethnicity, class, sexuality and more in his story depicting a landmark civil rights struggle in late 1940s Los Angeles,” Hollywood Progressive said in its review.

For reservations, call (855) 585-5185 or visit www.roguemachinetheatre.net.

Hisaye Yamamoto DeSoto (1921-2011), who was incarcerated with her family in Poston, Ariz., worked for The Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly, upon her return to California and became familiar with issues facing communities of color. She later recounted that experience in an essay, “A Fire in Fontana.” Her best-known short stories and essays were published in “Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories.”

Author and Nichi Bei Weekly columnist Greg Robinson writes, “In early 1948, Yamamoto organized a set of pickets at the Bimini Baths, a popular swimming resort that restricted both black and Asian patrons. The campaign lasted several weeks and ended inconclusively.”

“Mexican Day” is part of Jacobson’s trilogy “The Ballad of Bimini Baths,” which follows the ripples of hushed-up crime across 32 years of L.A. history. Inspired by real people and events, he centers his story on the celebrated/notorious bath house that once stood on Bimini Place, just off Vermont Avenue at the end of the Heliotrope streetcar line, to illustrate larger themes of race and identity, individual failings and communal reconciliation. Each play has its own unique style and self-contained narrative, so you can see just one or enjoy them all.

In “Plunge,” which closes June 24, dark secrets bubble to the surface as two strangers — a priest and a noted art historian — share a surreal confession at the “exclusive” Bimini Baths, circa 1918. Years before a young immigrant drowned under mysterious circumstances. At Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (www.sonofsemele.org)

In “Tar,” which closes July 2, on the night in 1939 when Count Basie is to be the first black performer at the Palomar Ballroom next door, a pair of Bimini Baths attendants are tasked with cleaning up a stranger fished out of the La Brea Tar Pits. Presented by Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. (http://playwrightsarena.org/theater/tar)

June 17 and 24 are marathon days when the plays can be seen in chronological order. For more information, visit www.biminitrilogy.com.

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