The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Building (AKA the John Ferraro Building) stands there looking like a cool embodiment of the inevitable: solidly rooted, complacent if guilty at the tail end of a severe heat wave. Coincidence? I wonder as I stare up at the building from the hardscape between the Opera house and the Taper theater. I was waiting to enter the Taper to see Culture Clash’s new play “Water & Power,” by Richard Montoya, and now in previews. In a calculated step out on a limb, the Taper actually commissioned “Water & Power” and promised the piece in brochures before it was written, according to the Weekly. Granted, it was a sturdy limb onto which the Taper ventured -- pre-tested by Culture Clash’s “Chavez Ravine” and taking into account that in the world of comedy troupes Culture Clash are a kind of landmark edifice themselves.
In the play, Water and Power are twins, named after the city agency where their father is an employee.
So, my friend Kay and I are waiting for chimes to sound. The DWP building looms – a monument to the dark side of LA: guilty and judgmental all at once.
The preview crowd is buzzing, literally. Chic, a little groovier than usual. Milling in front of the theater, I see a number of faces of the type that you view through the one-way, magic mirror, the kind where you don’t see your own reflection. After 16 years in Los Angeles I have mostly lost the impulse to say, “Hi! You look familiar!” Except sometimes I forget. The nerd in me is quite at home.
The play – which is hilarious and riveting, if a bit overwritten – is set at a motel (clearly the Paradise Motel) that happens to be on the outer edge of Echo Park.
“The loneliest mile of Sunset,” says Power of the dive he has made his final headquarters, waiting to be shot by LAPD sharp (or dull) shooters.
On my way home to Echo Park I drive past the Paradise Motel. It's about a half mile from the Taper. The motel has one of the best neon signs in the city. Glowing purple, a single line from end to end. In daylight the following afternoon it looks more prosaic. It’s clean and tidy, with fresh paint and doors about five feet from the parking spots in front of them. There is a sign that says “24 Hours,” another sign promises color TV, and there is a bare, steep hillside rising behind the attached rooms. Behind the hillside is a set of tan apartment blocks. It looks like Tijuana.
Now that the play is opening, Paradise is a landmark, too.