Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

« Previous Post | Culture Monster Home | Next Post »

Jon Lawrence Rivera's split personality

November 2, 2008 |  9:30 am

Jonlawrencerivera Jon Lawrence Rivera can be excused if his mind is wandering somewhere between a Chinese village and the barrio.

The veteran director is rehearsing two plays at once: "The Joy Luck Club," Susan Kim's adaptation of Amy Tan's mother-daughter saga, and Virginia Grise's new work, "blu," in which a Latino family confronts a violent, oppressive world.

Rivera was already committed to "blu," which opens in December at Cal Arts, when he got a call from Tim Dang, who runs East West Players. Dang had been trying to find a female director for a revival of "The Joy Luck Club," which opens Nov. 12. (You can read about this production in Sunday's Arts & Books section.) However Dang's initial choices were unavailable.

Rivera, who had already agreed to direct a musical for EWP next year, was happy to help. So, since early October, he's been driving from his home in Hollywood to Cal Arts in Valencia on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and downtown to East West on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. On Saturdays he spends the mornings at Cal Arts and the evenings at East West. To get himself in the right mood, Rivera listens to hip hop, Latino folk and pop as he heads toward "blu." On his way to "Joy" he switches to music written for his production by Hollywood composer Nathan Wang, as well as the score of the film "The Last Emperor."

Rivera, founding artistic director of L.A.'s Playwrights' Arena, is used to living with a bit of cultural confusion. Because of his surname and his association with such writers as Luis Alfaro and Edwin Sanchez, he frequently is presumed to be Mexican American. Actually, his family is from the Philippines.

"I oftentimes get phone calls saying they want me to direct a certain play because they wanted a Latino," Rivera says. "People make this assumption.... This doesn't bother me too much, but I do make it clear to them I am not Latino, but Filipino."

--Karen Wada

Caption: Actor Cici Lau works a scene with director Jon Lawrence Rivera during rehearsal of "The Joy Luck Club" at East West Players.

Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times