As you enter the theatre, you see an image of Lester Holt on a television screen, with an inside look at California’s homeless situatio, rising every day. He meets with Mayor Garcetti, and states that 47% of Americans are living in their cars or on the street, with the number forever growing. They want to be seen, heard, understood, each with his/her own personal story; some drug addicts, some mentally ill, but mostly down on their luck and hungry for conversation, not just food. How truly relevant is “Human Interest Story,” written by Stephen Sachs, at the Fountain Theatre, which relays a most timely, topical narrative of what occurs when a devoted journalist, Andy Kramer (Rob Nagle), on the brink of losing his job at the City Chronicle, finds himself ‘too inside the story to be completely objective.” Andy credibly explains his predicament: “they want to toss me out like garbage. Every newsroom in this nation of greed is worse than Gordon Gecko.” Then, a lightbulb goes off and he fabricates a bombshell of a story about a homeless individual, whose plight and distraught has brought her to commit suicide publicly on the 4th of July. He insists no other paper could run the story he has in mind, on the current homeless crisis. Enters the scene, a walking miracle, Betty Frazier/Jane Doe (Tanya Alexander), with a glowing aura about her, despite the thundering outside, at her park habitat. Perhaps the clouds have a silver lining, as she offers to be the real life persona of Jane Doe, whom Andy has written will end her misery on July 4th. She brings the human component into homelessness, with a beautiful, powerful, poetic monologue: “I am not a nobody. I come to speak my truth. I come from the edge of the world,no control over storms and rain, or the sick, suffering, and dying amongst me. I’m the human face of this struggle, a heroic Trojan horse from within the fortress.” She promises to be the ghost writer for Andy’s story . Such is the premise of this theatrical docu-drama, where artistic productions sometimes are equally dark to our current reality. The audience, through the reporter’s dedicatio, comes to realize that home is a person, not just a place. Jane Doe, with her new image and identity, quickly takes the world by storm, with guest appearances on talk shows fro Good Morning St. Louis, and the like. She becomes a role model for the disenfranchised and displaced, a spokeswoman for social injustice and oppression of modern day. She empowers all walks of life, and brings nobility in compassion, grace in forgiveness through the media. These days, when so many are ordered to shelter at home, this play’s message takes on even deeper meaning to the tragic reality of homelessness and the precarious situation of displacement with no solid roots. The dialogue, by the brilliant playwright Sachs, contains gems of language, such as “you see me through white tinted glasses. Please give a voice to the voiceless.” Their very different worlds collide with a common agenda for the greater good.
“Human Interest Story” gives a picture of a stark reality, not only in Los Angeles, but worldwide. It is a story, not only of everyday heroes, such as devoted journalists, telling real news, but also a story of women’s rights, homelessness, social injustice, and racism. Frazier (Alexander) proudly asserts, “I’m not invisible, and this is your chance fo let the world know my story.” As with any compelling drama, there is always the threatening antagonist, ready and eager to foil the plot. In this case, it’s newspaper magnate Harold Cain (James Harper), who entices Jane Doe/Betty Frazier with a cozy home in a luxurious hotel, stating “you take care of the boss; the boss takes care of you, and gives you a place to call home.” She quickly learns the lesson that there is no such thing as a free ride. The empowering bittersweet message of this show is that we cannot edit yesterday’s papers, but we can rewrite our lives and our history, going forward. One could call this show a morality play of sorts, a modern day Pygmalion. But this is many a Jane Doe’s story, and Tanya Alexander is vibrant in her delivery. She gives a voice, loud and clear, to the voiceless and marginalized. Andy, as the dedicated reporter admits his job is sometimes “messy, contrary to his comfort zone, yet news, in the form of this human interest story, is the only useful tool in the control of our humanity,” ultimately our utmost priority.