Full transparency: this is a rather late theatre review for a show happening at the Echo Theater Company, but I am glad to have caught it with one more performance week left as How It’s Gon’ Be, a gorgeous coming-of-age play written by JuCoby Johnson and directed by Ahmed Best (yes, that fantastic Ahmed Best), is a terrific reminder of Los Angeles theatre at its absolute finest and that plays which are centered around underrepresented people does not have to revolve around trauma.
With adulthood looming in the distance, Jahaan and his friends are enjoying the last precious moments of summer vacation. When Jahaan’s father returns after a year away, the world stops spinning for a moment — and lines are drawn in the sand. How It’s Gon’ Be is a slice of one Black boy’s life during the summer he becomes a man — and an artist.
I am not a particular fan of underrepresented stories that center solely around trauma, especially when I take notice of who the company is that is putting out the story and the general audience members that tend to watch such material. While it most definitely has a place in the arts and in our society, there is a tendency for PWI theatre companies to only hire underrepresented actors for such stories. This, fortunately, was not the case with How’s It Gon’ Be and JuCoby Johnson does an equally important job in not ignoring the realities of the world either.
I love it when the entire ensemble cast meshes so well together and that was particularly the case with Donté Ashon Green as our immensely likeable lead Jahann, Karla Mosley as the compassionate mother Angela, Leve Ross as Kenny, a father & husband who tries his absolute best, Nona Johnson as the incredibly endearing Lady, and Yannick Haynes & Michael Howard-Dossett as Terry and Rashad respectively who come off as silly best friends but as the play goes on, these two characters become so much more than that. When I see such amazing actors grace the stage, I can only keep yelling out that we see them utilized in productions, films, TV shows, and anything that is not based only on their ethnicity.
I want to highlight Yannick Haynes and Leve Ross who were both utterly fantastic in their roles. Understudies are some of the most underappreciated cast members in theater and seeing Yannick Haynes bring so much vulnerability and heart to his role of Terry was such a delight to see. Also having actors be brought in for the last few weeks of performances and mesh together with the rest of the main cast is no easy feat and it is here that Leve Ross felt so natural with his incredibly conflicted role of Kenny, a man who tries his best to simply be a good father and husband for his family while constantly being shipped off to serve the U.S. army.
While the world knows Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks (and now as Jedi Master Kelleran Beq), we can now add theater director to his long and illustrious resume as an artist. Best moves the play with such crackling energy and bristling life, which perfectly captures the exciting uncertainty for this beautiful coming-of-age story. Along with Best is the wonderful Echo creative team that includes scenic designer Amanda Knehans; lighting designer Justin Huen; sound designer Alysha Grace Bermudez; co-costume designers Ann Closs-Farley and Sophia Grose; graphics designer Christopher Komuro; and casting director Tal Fox. The production stage manager is Jenny Park. Troy Leigh–Anne Johnson and Sam Morelos are associate producers, and Chris Fields and Kelly Beech produce for the Echo Theater Company.
For everyone in the Los Angeles area, you have one more performance weekend to watch this gem of a play. Be sure to catch it! Special attention to the October 20 performance, which will be a Black Out Night performance. A Black Out is the purposeful creation of an environment in which an all-Black-identifying audience can experience and discuss an event in the performing arts, film, athletic, and cultural spaces — free from the white gaze.
The Echo Theater Company presents the West Coast premiere of How It’s Gon’ Be, a poetic exploration of missed connections and feelings too great to speak aloud. With adulthood looming in the distance, Jahaan and his friends enjoy the last precious moments of summer vacation. When Jahaan’s father returns after a year away, the world stops spinning for a moment — and lines are drawn in the sand.
• Written by JuCoby Johnson
• Directed by Ahmed Best
• Starring Donté Ashon Green, Michael Howard–Dossett, Nona Parker Johnson, Durran Moreau, Karla Mosley, Sedale Threatt Jr.
• Presented by The Echo Theater Company, Chris Fields artistic director
October 20, Friday 8pm *Black Out Night* // Discount code: BLACKOUT
October 21, Saturday 8pm
October 22, Sunday 4pm
October 23, Monday 8pm
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
FREE in the Atwater Crossing (AXT) lot one block south of the theater