When USC freshman Cynthia Gross asked professional director Anthony Barnao to mentor her new L'Chaim Theatre Ensemble, he was blunt.
"If you're interested in doing theater because you love it, call me back," he said. "If you're interested in doing theater to get discovered for a TV show, don't."
Gross gave him the right answer.
This weekend, L'Chaim, a multicultural company that espouses Jewish values, unites with Barnao's acclaimed Blue Sphere Alliance to present the ironically titled "The Wetback" at Hollywood's Lex Theatre. Directed by Barnao, the production stars members of both ensembles and tells of a migrant worker unjustly accused of murder. "The play explores the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger," Gross said.
The week she arrived at USC, Gross, once a precocious child actress, vowed to start her own professionally affiliated company. Her first stop was the campus Hillel. "When I was 13, I had to make the decision between doing a big theater production and having a bat mitzvah," lamented Gross, who chose the former. "In college, I hoped to combine my Judaism with theater."
Hillel soon agreed to offer start-up funds and house the group, and numerous students responded to the flyers that Gross, as artistic director, posted all over campus. Before long, she and two student collaborators (one Asian American, one Latino) were wading through script submissions. They had already selected "The Wetback," by Jewish author Myla Lichtman-Fields, when Blue Sphere agreed to offer hands-on training.
Between late-night rehearsals last week, Gross was working to establish an apprenticeship program with Blue Sphere that may become the first accredited undergraduate program of its kind. "Our goal will be to do plays by Jewish authors or with themes relevant to the Jewish community," she said.
For tickets to the April 27, 28 and 29 shows, call (818) 906-0675.