by Claire Moodey · August 18, 2015
Cherubim, written and directed by Tess R. Ornstein, tells the story of a family in the midst of trauma in LA on the eve of the Race Riots. While the nation is waiting for the verdict of the officers who attacked Rodney King, the Charmichael family finds their youngest daughter Kea has gone missing.
This missing daughter is the focal lens through which Ornstein explores racial tensions in LA in the early 1990s. While we never see Kea, she is adored by her white father, black mother, white half-sister, black uncle who are all torn apart when she goes unexpectedly missing. The family calls upon the aid of LAPD detectives in finding their missing daughter and tensions run high as the officers combat each other and the national image of the LAPD.
The production faced some technical difficulties in the first act of the performance, but after intermission the issues were taken care of and the television onstage became an almost constant anchor of national coverage of the trial of the officers who assaulted Rodney King including video footage of the beating, Stacey Koon explaining the power of the tazers used on King, and news-anchors covering the story.
The dangerous tensions within the city, the distrust of the police who are meant to be protecting the citizens, and the power of trauma to undermine the functional relationships we depend on are all coming to a head in Cherubim. And this setting, does not feel dated or foreign. As Ornstein notes in the program, the media coverage of violence reflecting the institutional racism this country continues to operate on enrages. It seems that like so many of us, Ornstein hopes each time there is a surge in media coverage that a greater political shift is at hand and works for that change.
While Ornstein bit off several huge mouthfuls with this production, she wrangled stunning actors and a good team. I think the concept has a great deal of potential and would be curious to see what another round of editing would do for the play. It currently clocks in at 2:20, and I suspect a more succinct Cherubim would be a more powerful piece of theater.