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Actor Slaying Rattles Local Theater Company

Darius Ever Truly, who played Bobby Seale in Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's stage production of The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, was fatally stabbed last Saturday morning after a Halloween party. Police have been frustrated by uncooperative witnesses.

On Friday night, October 26, following the performance of Frank Condon and Ron Sossi's docudrama, The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles, many in the cast were milling about at the opening night reception for Screwballs, a comedy playing at a different theater in the same building. 26-year-old Darius Ever Truly, who played co-defendant Bobby Seale in the docudrama, was asking members of the cast and theater staff to join him at a Halloween party 17 blocks south on Bentley Avenue. Truly asked house manager Tiffany Simms if she would go with him, but she had a bad feeling about the late-night party.

“I wanted to go, but something just said, no, don't go.” Simms told the Weekly.

About an hour before that Friday night performance of Chicaco Conspiracy Trial, Simms met Truly's 30-year-old female cousin (whose name has been withheld), who had come to see the play. She was the only person to accompany Truly to the party.

“That was the first time she had been to the theater,” Simms adds.

Truly left the theater with his cousin that night. He never returned.

The following day, nobody connected to the theater had any idea something was seriously wrong until shortly before Saturday's performance when Truly failed to show up, and the stage manager plus two cast members couldn't reach him. He was so reliable and invested in his role, the theater's concern gave way to dread. According to the theater's artistic director, Ron Sossi, the show was performed on Saturday night with an understudy, script in hand.

On Sunday, fears escalated when cast members found a number of MySpace pages containing the entry: “Darius Ever Truly: RIP”

More relialble intelligence then came from the LAPD Media Relations website, which reported that Truly and his cousin were both stabbed on Saturday morning at 3:20 a.m. on the 3700 block of Bentley Avenue. Truly's cousin had been hospitalized and released in stable condition. Partygoers found Truly dead at the scene with chest wounds. A man in dark clothes was seen fleeing south on Bentley after an argument.

The cast learned of this within an hour before the scheduled 2 p.m. matinee performance of Sunday, October 27.

The play's director, Frank Condon, explains the impact of that news.

“When we had our performance schedule on Sunday, I was going to rehearse one scene when one of the actors came in and said Darius had been killed. I quickly got everyone in a circle and tried to calm people down, but there were a couple of actors who were so beside themselves, they couldn't go on. We had to cancel that performance. It was like a bomb had gone off. Forty people, many sobbing, some on the floor, it looked like a war zone without the blood."

Veteran actor Kent Minault, who plays the lead defense attorney, William Kunstler says that in all his years in the theater, he's never experienced anything quite like it. “It was just devastating, people crying for two hours. I was appointed to be the one to collect the money for the flowers to be sent to his family. So people were stuffing cash in my pocket.”

Condon adds that some actors assembled in Truly's dressing room for a kind of vigil. “People didn't leave there until 5 p.m. It was shortly after that, the woman showed up.”

The woman Condon is referring to is Truly's cousin. The cast and crew had left the building when she arrived to explain what had happened on Bentley Avenue. A theater staff member who requested anonymity reported that one of the cousin's arms was in a sling, and she said that Truly “had died trying to save my life.”

On hearing this, LAPD homicide Detective Mike DePasquale scoffed in frustration by her reluctance to cooperate. “We find her covered in blood and she tells us she never saw or heard anything. I'd book her myself – if there was a witness.”

Actually, there was a witness, but that person is as uncooperative as Truly's cousin. DePasquale said he was working on “getting on their good side,” but he was clearly exasperated by their reticence, which many have speculated is based on fear of retribution by local gangs. As of this week, however, police were said to have found two “persons of interest.”

> After leaving Memphis to study theater at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, Truly came to Los Angeles in early 2006 to be an actor. His father, Larry Truly, says that as a child, his son was an avid reader with a kind, outgoing disposition -- “a good kid, he never got into trouble, outside of the usual ways kids get into trouble.”

The first of two plays he was cast in, while here, was The America Play at Pasadena's Theater @ Boston Court. Truly played Brazil, the tormented son of an African-American Lincoln-impersonator. Brazil winds up digging in the sand, searching for his heritage, which one could argue paved Truly's way for the role of Bobby Seale in The Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

After one matinee performance of The America Play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Suzan-Lori Parks participated in a post-play discussion, sharing the stage with the cast, including Truly.

“His Brazil was stunning,” Parks said, on learning of Truly's death. “What a beautiful and necessary talent. We so needed him.”

Condon was similarly impressed when Truly auditioned for the The Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

“He wasn't a seasoned actor, so I convinced [artistic director Ron Sossi] that it was a gut feeling that I wanted to cast him. He had this fiery nature and wonderful smile.”

It took Truly two attempts to audition. House Manager Tiffany Simms recalls how Truly turned up on the wrong day, and then left his cell phone behind.

“It was old school, one of the ugliest phones I'd ever seen,” Simms recalls. “When he came back on the right day, we started a beautiful friendship that included going out to a local bar with the cast. Simms says she's been tormented by her decision not to join him at the fatal Halloween party -- wondering if she'd been there, might things have turned out differently.

Truly was often seen riding around on a skateboard. Before every performance, he was the self-appointed leader in a prayer for all of the defendants as a warm up exercise, “to get the blood flowing,” explains John Pollono, who plays Tom Hayden. After some actors were put off by Truly's religiosity, he adjusted the exercise to draw not from “the spirit of God” but “from the strength of the defendants.”

David Mauer, who plays Jerry Rubin, also spent large chunks of time with Truly inside and outside of rehearsals. Mauer argues that the play's not the thing.

“He rode a bus from Echo Park to the Odyssey Theatre for no money at all – he did catering when he could, and lived on unemployment – not because he believed in the play, but because he believed in the ideals that the play stood for. What he could do to unite the black community so they weren't killing each other -- that's what he wanted more than anything else.”

Actor Marlon Ward warned Truly against going to the Halloween party, based on Ward's general uneasiness about house parties where there's no security and little control over what people bring in, or out. Ward plays the Custodian who, under the judge's order, shackles Seale to a courtroom chair and gags him. Through the course of rehearsals, the two men became friends. Sometimes Truly would stay over at Ward's Encino apartment so they could drive to the theater together.

“We were very close,” Ward says. “He was one of the few other African-Americans in the cast, and we clicked. We found we had a lot in common, like how we are dealt with by the police. This was more than a play to him, he was trying to get a message across about how African-Americans are treated in a lot of situations. He scared me sometimes. It's as though he was Bobby Seale. He wanted to be more than an actor. He wanted to make a difference in the world. He was a good man and a great actor.”

For the stage feature on The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, go to

http://www.laweekly.com/stage/theater/the-chicago-conspiracy-trial-boomer-town/17530/

For a review of The America Play, go to

http://www.laweekly.com/stage/theater/theater-reviews/14789/