Struggling to find the right language

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It's inspiring what 24th Street Theatre is trying to do with their theatre and their community.

You can sense it from the moment you open their program… it’s bilingual. Right their below the English is the same text in Spanish.

That might not sound unusual for L.A., but sadly it is.

24th Street Theatre started out 20 years ago like a lot of other small theaters in LA: a couple of white folks with a desire to make art.

That's not unique. What is - is they took the time to look around their neighborhood and realize that the language of their community wasn't theirs. Most theater companies, faced with this fact would either try get their audience to come to them or they'd move.

24th Street didn't do that. Instead they held tight to their artistic language while learning the language of their community.They threw open their doors to serve those around them.

Their latest kids show "ICE" is a prime example of this dedication.

"ICE" is the story of an undocumented immigrant who comes in search of the American dream in the 1980's. We see him work a full day at a construction site only to be paid less than half of what was promised. When confronted the boss says basically "look you've got no papers, I can do what I want." We see this pattern repeat while he struggles to live his dream - converting an old ice cream truck into a gourmet taco truck.

The "ICE" of the title is both what's still visible under a shabby coat of paint on the old ice cream truck sign and the ever present threat of immigration agents that haunt our protagonist and his undocumented cousin.

That probably doesn’t strike you as the plot of a kid’s show, does it?

24th Street's children's theater is, at its best, complicated, challenging and unexpected. This is not the world of smiley, jazz-handed sunflowers. One of their best shows dealt with the death of a grandmother in rich poetic ways that didn't offer easy answers to grief. Their follow up show warned of the dangers of a soul-crushing job. Hardly typical children's theater.

While I’m deeply inspired by 24th Street’s mission and approach - “ICE” as a show is problematic.

Our protagonist is fighting against a rigged system at every turn. The play's ethos is bleak, all oppressive capitalism. While that's understandable, it's unclear what the politics of the play are really trying to explore. Our two most sympathetic characters are forced to return to their old, home countries and our protagonist ultimately succeeds in an oddly unearned way.

On one hand the play is advocating for staying true to yourself and your guiding principles in the face of great difficulty. Yet at the same time it rewards those who give up their dreams and punishes those that don't. The challenge with "ICE" isn't the complicated subject matter, it's the confused politics. Here's a bilingual play giving voice to immigrants, decrying the cost of capitalism, that ultimately has a happy ending because it's protagonist succeeds at capitalism.

I'm all for complicated theater for kids and adults but I'm not sure "ICE" has really found its own language.

"ICE" plays at 24th Street theater on the edge of downtown through June 10th.