Review by Peter Foldy
It’s certainly no fault of the highly talented actors currently starring in Kim Davies’, SMOKE, that this play doesn’t quite catch fire. One would think a story set at a sadomasochistic sex party would be full of sizzle, but while it titillates it leaves a lot unanswered questions and ends up being not as compelling as it promised to be.
The story deals with John, (PATRICK STAFFORD) an intern for a highly regarded art photographer. We first meet him when he enters a kitchen at a sadomasochistic sex party to sneak a cigarette. Smoking as we know is banned almost everywhere. Seemingly, even at orgies.
Before long John is joined by Julie (EMILY JAMES), a giddy 20 year old who is sex party beginner. She quickly recognizes John as the guy who works for her father, Goeff, a controlling, manipulative art photographer. This and their need to chain smoke creates an early bond between the pair and the prospect of sex, like the smoke on stage, lingers in the air. But John and Julie are all talk. They flirt and share likes and dislikes. They reveal each others sexual war stories. We learn that John’s career has yet to ignite, that Julie’s father is a bit of a domineering prick and that John is his lap dog. Kind of sad for a 31 year old.
Eventually the conversation turns darker. John begins to reveal his sadomasochistic desires. Julie seems to play along, showing an interest, pushing back and challenging him when John taunts her as a spoiled little rich girl. They kiss a lot, and grope and a sexual encounter seems almost certain to happen.
When John runs out to buy a pack of cigarettes and to find a condom, Julie beings to rummage through his backpack,discovering several dangerous looking knives and ealizing she may be in over her head.
When John walks in he busts Julie for snooping, and this is when things turn dark and eventually sexually violent. But there are no happy endings here.
Smoke is well staged with powerful performances. Patrick Satafford is suitably understated as the insecure guy who threatens danger and gives pain as his preferred method of sexual fulfillment. The problem is we never quite understand why. Is it an inherent desire he was born with or is it the frustrations of his dead-end life that make him want to push the envelope, or in this case, his knives into places they don’t belong.
And why is Julie really at this party? Was it planned? Is she playing some cat and mouse game with John? Will she ultimately turn the tables on him? At times we think so, but really it’s anybody’s guess.
When Goeff calls John and asks him to run an errand in the middle of the night, John caves, totally losing what little respect Julie had for him, leaving both the couple and the audience unsatisfied.
Clocking in at 80 minutes, Smoke misses it’s chance to reveal meaningful characters but does manage to put a tear in your eyes. From the cigarette smoke on stage that is.
The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles. Street parking or lot at the Medical Center about a block and a half East of the theater (past the freeway) for $6.
June 30 through July 16 (Saturday)
Tickets: $20 at http://roguemachinetheatre.com