Every once in a while a play comes along that reminds me why I love theatre and John DiFusco’s Walk’n Thru the Fire is such a play. It is an autobiographical drama that explores, in a very theatrically stylized performance, the almost Shakespearean family tragedies that have befallen DiFusco’s life. The play is the story of his life-long spiritual quest to find meaning to the heartrending events that dogged his life, including his stint in Vietnam resulting in his very successful play Tracers, which received worldwide acclaim.
What could have easily become an exercise in self-indulgence, thanks to an exquisitely written script, coupled with the imaginative, tight direction of Che’Rae Adams and Janet Roston incorporating poetry, humor, music and movement, we witness a riveting journey through the life and times of DiFusco, beginning with his childhood roots in New England. We get to know his tightly knit family consisting of an Italian father, Swedish mother and 10 siblings, five of whom have died. It is very poignant to watch DiFusco trying to come to terms with the death of his brothers and sisters through a ritualistic candle and cymbal ceremony each time one of them dies.
DiFusco plays himself – acting both as a Greek chorus of one and then transitioning into the action of each scene with seamless ease. He is an intense actor who brings you inside his pain as he struggles with his problems, from recurring dreams of his days in Vietnam to alcoholism to his difficulty in accepting the success of Tracers.
Dedicated to his deceased siblings, Pat, Dolly, Matty, Freddie, Jacque, Jilly, Mike, Sue, and Terri, DiFusco’s writing is pure poetry and with so much of what we hear and see today falling into mass, monosyllabic mediocre, it is a pleasure to hear beautiful words brought to life by DiFusco and his very talented supporting cast consisting of Richard Azurdia, Michael T. Kachingwe, Kwana Martinez and Eileen O’Connell, each of whom plays multiple roles quite skillfully. At this performance, understudies Michelle Flowers, and Michael Hampton filled in for Martinez and Azurdia.
The sparse, but very effective set designed by Sara Ryung Clement is a simple alter with two movable set pieces that function as everything from coffins to cars to benches. The lighting design by J. Kent Inasy nicely enhances the action as did the sound design by Cricket S. Myers.
It’s been over twenty years since DiFusco wrote the multiple award- winning play Tracers, and Walk’n Thru the Fire tells us that this important playwright and gifted actor has a lot more to say and we’re happy to listen.
Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Boulevard, LA, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, runs through July 21, $20, 800.838.3006.