This one’s from James:
I was a little worried there.
It had been a while since I’d seen anything that really had me by the nerve, that made me constantly shift, that kept me guessing and tilting my head and catching my breath. A play where while watching I had to turn my head and look away from what was happening onstage, not because of the quality of the content but because of it’s subject matter. I’m positive the country is not in short supply of these kinds of plays. That’s not what I was worried about. Rather, I was concerned with my ability to catch these plays, to select these needles from out of the NY/PHI/LA haystack I’ve been picking through for the last 5 years. The last play to raise my theatrical bar was Theatre Exile‘s production of Sheila Callaghan’s “That Pretty Pretty,” before that was SoHo Rep‘s “Lear” by Young Jean-Lee. Both of those plays had a part in informing what I look for in a play, they’re what Mo and I designate as Angry Patron plays.
Now I get to add another to the list.
I admitted in my last wePLAYdifferent entry that I was guilty I hadn’t seen any LA theater outside of Boston Court’s “Heavier than…” which doesn’t count because I worked on it. That’s why I was excited to drive all the way to Rogue Machine‘s Theatre/Theater venue on Pico near La Brea to see this “Blackbird” play I had seen get 100% on Bitter-Lemons.com. Not to say I think Bitter-Lemons is a flawless rating system, but I trusted it this time and boy did it pay off. I’d like to thank Rogue Machine’s front of house staff. They were supremely welcoming and gracious. I donated $8 for one Blue Moon when I got there and when I went to recycle my bottle before the play started they insisted I “restock” and have another just because. It’s true what they say, the key to a man’s heart is through his beer belly. Even before I got to theater I tweeted @RogueMachineLA about ticket discounts. They replied so quickly that I decided to pay full price (a reasonable $25). All the same, Rogue Machine, your hospitality is not forgotten, and I laud it.
Let me say what I will about the production without giving plot points away first. I went into the play with no preconception of what it would be or what the plot was and I think that’s the best way to go. I went blindly trusting all the praise Rogue Machine has received that I hadn’t been privy to until recently. All the same, as I stepped into the small 60′ish-seater, I was immediately intrigued by the floor level set. Simple yet realistic and immensely effective. Set dressing was just as effective and mesmerizing with trash strewn across what appeared to be an unkempt break-room in an office complex of some kind. You could tell everything had it’s place. Lights went on and off as necessary, the director smartly kept it fluorescent and simple and let the actors shine on their own. While I’m on the subject, what can I say about the performances that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just say this. As you may know because I expressed this on Rant&Banter (#…?), I make it a point to sit in the front row if I can in general admission intimate spaces. What I saw by being so close to the stage in the eyes of those actors made me produce tears of my own as theirs spilled, controlled yet organic. Each character was looking for something desperately and it made you look for the same thing, even if you didn’t know what that thing was. What more can you ask for in a performance? Before I get into spoiler land, I want to strongly recommend this play to everyone. There are so many sickly beautiful and dark portraits created by Robin Larsen in this production. Everything clicks. Don’t read the reviews, just go, and get ready to learn something about yourself.
Since I hadn’t read a synopsis it took me a little while to figure out what the relationship between “Peter” and Una was. They shuffled about the break room trying to get a sense of each other. Eventually the information starts to build and the scenario becomes a bit clearer. Una has confronted this “Peter” about something. I didn’t want to blindly assume they were lovers but more and more it seemed likely. Past or present lovers, who knows? Una appeared to be in her 20′s, “Peter,” or I guess Ray, which was his name before he had to change it, appeared to be in his 50′s. The performers rarely took their eyes off of each other, but really where else could they look. There was tension and tip-toeing and interestingly paced dialogue. But then the gut punch. Ray tries to convince himself that Una isn’t who she says she is. Then Una stabs him with the dagger they toss around the room for the next 90 minutes, “How many other 12 year olds have you fucked?”
I’m still trying to collect all of my thoughts and emotions about this play. I can say declaratively that I was never bored, I was always listening and observing. There is one moment in particular that stuck with me. Ray and Una have for the most part said their peace. Ray becomes incensed about they trash lying around the break room because after a struggle he fell onto the floor an stained his shirt. He goes to the overflowing trashcan and dumps it all over the room. He tosses away the loud tin can and starts kicking the trash about, blowing off steam. Una, with no other answers for Ray or herself, joins him and kicks the trash about as well. What I took from this was the image of two people locked in a past mistake together, physically assaulting the litter as if it were their guilt, or whatever destructive self loathing existed after the fact. Both parties are helpless to change what has already transpired, but there is hope for Ray and Una that the trash can still be picked up, maybe even together.
It’s a rough play, it really is. Rogue Machine really did justice to such a haunting “romance.” It’s a testament to what I believe theater needs to be more of. We need to create theater environments where 18-40 year olds feel they are participating in the evolution of something, whether it be an idea, a preconceived notion, a prejudice, hell, the over-turning of a fucking society. Our youth today think they know everything because they can “Google it.” They need to be drawn into theaters and experience these kinds of plays. They need to abandon the idea that they’ve seen everything. We need to bring more purpose to art, we need to give it some kick. We need more plays that assault. We need to produce plays that can cause riots. Because what’s the point otherwise? A comedy is a comedy, a musical is a musical. Human stories are fine, they get told and get old and people go home and their lives don’t change at all. Art needs to rip heads off, and tear nerves, and eat at bone, and call into question our existence. Theater should be a call to action, a battle cry. Theater can destroy former selves, I know from experience. Theater can create realization, and I walk out of theaters FUCKING ANGRY when I haven’t learned anything new.
So thank you Rogue Machine, for giving me just what I needed. My resolve is stronger and my mission is clearer.
Angry Patrons is it.