- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell, Theater Column Contributor
School is about education, about learning and achieving. It’s also about eating. As Bertolt Brecht put it trenchantly: “Food first.”
So it is no surprise that Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children serves as the model for Lunch Lady Courage, the Cornerstone Theater’s look at one lunch lady and how important she thinks food is to her students.
Written by Peter Howard, one of Cornerstone’s founding members, directed by Chris Anthony, the play, at the Cocoanut Grove Theater of the Robert F. Kennedy Community School, uses the new lunch lady (Page Leong) to tell several stories at once.
Brecht uses his characters to tell stories outside the play, and Howard does the same. The Lunch Lady comes to a new school with her children, ready to fight for good nutrition, something many people forget in discussing education in the current century. And, in the didactic method used by Brecht, you are certain to get a lesson in food, in worker’s rights (all the lunch workers are in a union) and in the way students should respect the people who work to serve them nutritious food.
But if that were all the play were about: lessons you need, it wouldn’t work. The message is there, but this play is not only a lesson. It is sometimes a wonderful musical — in the style of West Side Story with exciting dance numbers — and a story of family and growing up. The play has 21 actors in all — mostly students from the Los Angeles High School for the Arts, which is one of several schools at the Kennedy complex (where the Ambassador Hotel once was) giving great ensemble performances.
The story begins in front of the Cocoanut Grove (the theater is a recreation of some of the Cocoanut Grove’s glamor, including reproductions of its famous doors). The Lunch Lady is serving breakfast in competition with donuts and candy bars that are being sold to make extra money for the school. Inside the theater it becomes apparent that nutrition is only part of the school’s problems and the problems of Lunch Lady’s children, who attend this school and who have their own ideas of what to do and where to do it.
The Cocoanut Grove is a showpiece. But the this show is more than just a chance to experience a little history. See it and you will come away with an appreciation of hos much more than just book-learning goes into the educational process, and of how acting presents students with new challenges and new opportunities. And you’ll have a good time, too.
Tickets are pay-what-you can. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, through April 13.
Details: (213) 613-1700; www.cornerstonetheater.org
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Community School’s Cocoanut Grove Theatre
Location: 701 Catalina S. St., Los Angeles