THE Q&A: Play takes another view of L.A.’s 1992 uprising

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The year 1992 was a volatile one for the city of Los Angeles.

That was the year four white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted on charges of using excessive force in the arrest and savage beating of Rodney King, an African American.

Following that verdict, riots and civil disturbances broke out all over the city.

Tracey A. Leigh wasn’t living in Los Angeles at the time, but she remembers the uprising very well, enough for her to have a good grasp on directing a play called “Two Stop,” which revisits the drama of that year.

In “Two Stop,” it’s the verge of the ’92 LA Uprising. The focus is the Korean market and a murder scene. A store owner named Jong and a neighborhood teenage girl named G.G. face off. When her wild card mother arrives, secrets from the past explode in this tiny store. History and histories go head-to-head as L.A. starts to burn. Together they reach back decades and across the globe through war, strife, love and life, finding connection and even hope.

 The show, currently running through June 9, at the Atwater Village Theatre from Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles, is being presented during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and is part of a collaboration with Chalk Repertory Theatre’s world premiere production of “Pang Spa” directed by Reena Dutt, which opens on May 19. 

“Two Stop” stars Suzen Baraka (Sunny, a 39-year-old half-Black, half-Korean woman who is a laid-off factory worker and destitute), as well as G.G.’s mother. Sharing the role of G.G. are Iyanna Jennaé and Tristina Lee. The show, directed by David Johann Kim, also stars JuneSoo Ham.

Leigh, the artistic director for Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles, is an Obie Award and NAACP Theatre Award-winning actor. She has an extensive career in theatre making and new work development.

A military brat who was born in Massachusetts, but grew up on military bases around the U.S., Leigh attended William & Mary for theater and Spanish and received her master’s in fine arts degree in acting from UC San Diego.

A member of Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles since 2011, Leigh became associate artistic director in 2012, then served as co-artistic director with Gates McFadden from 2013-2014. During that time, she produced and directed numerous projects and festivals for the company while working at USC as a dramaturg for second-year master’s of fine arts students studying playwrighting.

I recently spoke to Leigh, who has been acting since she was a child, about “Two Stop.”

DD: Tell me about the play “Two Stop.” Why is it called “Two Stop?”

TL: The show takes place on the night of the uprising in 1992. It takes place in a small Korean market. It’s called “Two Stop” because the previous owners had a shop called One Stop. When they took over this one, it was called Two Stop.

DD: How did you and the director, David Johann Kim, collaborate on this show? 

TL: One of the things that was important to me was to have someone play the role who had a close, lived experience in the role. David is a lovely playwright. What I would say is  some things had to be considered that were necessarily different than he had imagined them. 

It starts with a lot of conversations. Through conversations, we talk about how is it possible to get the same feeling, to create the same kind of feeling as he imagined in his head.  David is half Korean and half white. I thought it was important to have a Black woman on this. I’m Black, the two women are Black. To have a multiplicity of voices in the creative process is important. Our support team, designers and stage manager are a Black, Asian team.

DD: What perspective did/do you bring to the table?

TL: As a military brat, I have seen firsthand the relationships. I have lived on a military base, one in South Korea, and seen the relationship and power dynamics of the military and the public. That’s a unique experience that a lot of other people don’t have.

DD: How did the collaboration come about?

TL: It came about because the plays are thematically related. It seemed like a good idea to present them together.

DD: Why a play around the 1992 L.A. uprising at this time?

TL: History has a way of continuing to repeat itself. One of the things that struck me, I became the artistic director of the Ensemble in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and others murdered by police and police brutality. At the same time, artistic institutions were speaking out about the inequities in the arts. 

It was formed at a time when it (Ensemble) probably was not the most inclusive. If someone’s voice is not being heard. This story and this production presented a perfect opportunity for me. This is the first show we’re doing since the pandemic and my first as the artistic director.

DD: Why did you want to be the artistic director?

TL: I joined the company in 2011. Gates McFadden brought me in. She saw the company needed to grow. It needed a diverse voice and shared experiences. I was the associate artist director for two years. Change is hard for people. Sometimes they feel threatened. They think they will be left out. 

I stepped away from the company for six years. Everyone was feeling not listened to and not heard. I’m a mediator person. A group of people asked if I would be part of a group to make the company better, grow, and become more functional. They asked if I would run for the position. I had nothing to do at the time (laughter). Be careful what you say yes to in the middle of a pandemic.

DD: Were you in L.A. when the uprising occurred?

TL: No. What I remember is the Reginald Denny beating and the Rodney King beating. That was the first time those of us in the Black and brown community knew that what was happening all along was finally being made visible to everybody. We thought we would have repercussions. There were none. There was a deep pain. You see it with your eyes, but you still don’t hold people accountable.

DD: What is your favorite play of all time and why?

TL: I don’t have a favorite of all time. I have seen a lot of amazing things. The first Broadway show I ever saw was “The Wiz.” I sat on the edge of my seat. Whatever they were doing, I wanted to do it with my life.

“Two Stop” is being staged at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., in Northeast Los Angeles, through June 9. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. on May 19 and June 2; and Sundays at 7 p.m. on May 26 and June 9. There is a Hapa Night performance on May 17 and an AAPI Day celebration performance on May 26. There is no late seating. Running time is 75 minutes without an intermission.

Parking is free in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) parking lot one block south of the theater.

General admission to all performances is $35, with $25 tickets available to seniors, veterans,and students. There are three special double-feature performance days for those who would like to attend both Pamg Spa and “Two Stop” on one day with a discount of $25 per performance on either May 26, June 2 or June 9, by using Code 2spa at checkout. To purchase tickets and for more information please visit  https://www.estlosangeles.org/

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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