“Oppenheimer” Is Rogue Machine Solid

Review by Peter Foldy

OPPENHEIMER by Tom Morton-Smith is a sweeping and complex play that examines the moral issues and personalities surrounding the invention of the nuclear weapon that was used to devastate Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII.

Boasting a cast of 24, the production stars James Liebman as the multi-faceted J. Robert Oppenheimer, a man who is best remembered as the father of the atomic bomb.

When we first meet him, Oppenheimer and his youthful cohorts share a common hatred for fascism and lean toward communism as an acceptable political stance.

With the war raging and the German’s making strides in developing a powerful bomb, Oppenheimer is recruited by the military to lead the work on the Manhattan Project. Before long he distances himself from his communist past and dives into the task at hand. He struggles with the rigors of army life, is challanged by an alcoholic wife and tries to be supportive to his mentally unstable mistress. Causing further problems are Oppenheimer’s brother and sister-in-law who refuse to step back from their communist leanings.

Michael Redfield, Dan Via, Rachel Avery, James Liebman, Jennifer Pollono, and Mark Jacobson

The competative political climate at Los Alamos ultimately finds Oppenheimer under the U.S. Army’s, and perhaps the FBI’s, microscope–but the military need him as much as they are confounded by him. Oppenheimer and his young scientists, who come to be known as “Oppie’s boys” eventually manage to split the atom. They send the bombs, “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” to be dropped on Japan, and while they win the war for America, Oppenheimer and his team change the dynamics for the survival of mankind.

Realizing the full impact of his accomplishments, Oppenheimer feels like “he has dropped a loaded gun in a playground.” He understands that the bomb he has created could wipe humanity off the face of the earth.

Its a heavy burden to carry.

Mark Jacobson, Kenney Selvey, James Liebman, Brewster Parsons, and Zachary Grant

Liebman cleverly balances Oppenheimer’s social unease, his brilliant mind and his sexual appetite. He is supported by a talented, hard-working cast who all deliver impressive performances. There are no slouches on stage. Every actor has a moment to shine. Particularly impressive are Zachary Grant as Robert Wilson, Ron Bottitta as General Grove, Ryan Brophy as Oppenheimer’s brother, Frank, Miranda Wynne as Jackie Oppenheimer, Landon Tavernier as Peer de Silva and Kenney Selvey as Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz.

Special mention also needs to go to 14 year old Sophie Pollono, who in a brief but memorable turn delivers some powerful dialogue with the ease of a seasoned professional.

Ron Bottitta, Landon Tavernier, Brendan Farrell

John Perrin Flynn’s fluid direction keeps the lengthy piece moving at a good clip. I especially welcomed the staging of a wild, ritualistic dance number in the second act, based on the Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman’s bongo playing. It’s a climactic, tension busting moment that celebrates the success of the Manhattan Project, allowing the cast to cut loose while also giving the audience a moment of much needed levity.

Other cast members include Jason Chiumento, Mark Jacobson, Kirsten Kollander, Brewster Parsons, Scott Victor Nelson, Jen Pollono, Rachel Avery, Michael Redfield, Dan Via, Brendon Farrel, Brady Richards, Daniel Shawn Miller, Rick Garrison and Marwa Bernstein.

Scenic design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, sound by Christopher Moscatiello and lighting design by Matt Richter and Tom Brown are all solid, as are the 1940s costumes by Dianne K. Graebner. It’s clear that a lot of thought and hard work went into making Rogue Machine’s first production in their new space at the Electric Lodge in Venice a memorable one.

Oppenheimer is absorbing and powerful. It should not be misssed.

Oppenheimer runs at 8pm on Saturdays and Mondays, 3pm Sundays through December 30, 2018 (no performances on 11/12, 11/17, 11/26, 12/1, 12/2, 12/8, 12/9, 12/10, 12/24).

It runs in rep with Finks by Joe Gilford, son of parents who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both plays look at America in the 30s, 40s and 50s. The characters are dreamers who became activists. These plays are not about politics but about the universal ideal that we could be better than we are.

Rogue Machine is located in the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue in Venice, CA 90291.

Tickets are $40.

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com

 

“Cock” – A Review

by Peter Foldy

An impressive cast and a talented director bring the provocative, award winning playCock” to life at the Rogue Machine Theatre on Pico Blvd in Los Angeles.

Written by Mike Bartlett, “Cock” tells the story of a young man named John who has been living with his male lover, “M” for the past seven years.  Their relationship is passionate and comfortable, though “M” often belittles John and they ultimately break up, though neither expects the separation to be permanent.

The Cast of "Cock"

The Cast of “Cock”

During their time apart, John meets a young woman named “W” and much to his surprise, they become lovers.  The fact that he is able to perform sexually and even enjoy this new relationship with “W” puzzles but pleases John and before long he realizes that what he has with his new female companion is perhaps more gratifying than his life with “M.”

“W” also falls hard for John and the couple soon starts planning a life together, despite the fact that John is not entirely sure this is what he really wants.  Though he has enjoyed his flirtation with heterosexuality, he seems to be missing “M” and their life together.

“M” feels great pain at having lost John and invites him and “W” to dinner, surprising them with the fact that “M’s” devoted father, “F” will also be joining them.  “F” is a traditionalist who initially had trouble accepting his son’s sexuality. In his day men were put in prison for being homosexual but he has had to come to terms with “M’s” lifestyle, and now “F” wants only one thing.  For his son to be happy.  He has shown up at the dinner with a low-keyed determination to keep John and “M” together.

Rebecca Mozo and Patrick Stafford in "Cock"

Rebecca Mozo and Patrick Stafford in “Cock”

There are no sets or props used in “Cock.”  The production utilizes only a small, circular stage where the action unfolds.  The audience sits looking down at the performers, much as they would at a boxing match—or a cockfight. This tight environment creates considerable intimacy.  The actors pose, prance and spar, circling each other as they face off, the words, all delivered with a UK accent, roll out of their mouths like kicks to the groin or stabs to the heart.

As the often humorous dialogue drives the action forward, the emotional stakes keep mounting.  At times “W” seems to have the upper hand, calling “M” and “F” out on their hypocrisy, all the while John’s confusion growing deeper.

The question is can we blame John?  Does a successful sexual encounter with the opposite sex make a person one thing or another?  Does one really need to choose a lifestyle based on that encounter?  Should anyone even care?   The characters in “Cock” certainly do, and for ninety minutes on opening night, so did the audience.

Only a highly talented group of actors could deliver the play’s potent message, and the cast at the Rogue Machine is all of that and more.  They manage to bring heart and pathos to this psychodrama, making the audience relate to their struggle–perhaps even find a connection with at least one or more of these characters.

Patrick Stafford as “John” is both fragile and vulnerable as he navigates the emotional minefield he is forced to cross. Through John’s surprising discovery Mr. Stafford let’s us witness his second coming of age and the angst that accompanies it.

Mathew Elkins, (also a producer of the play), as “M” is quirky and manipulative as the jilted lover.  Elkins finds a strong balance between being somewhat campy and being the adult in his relationship with the younger John.  His strong ability to deliver comedy is a source of considerable laughter in the piece.

Rebecca Mozo is powerful as “W,” perhaps the most grounded of the characters.  Mozo transitions nicely from the young woman who, like John, is also experimenting, to a woman in love, determined to keep her man.

George Itzin shows up in the latter part of the play and brings an understated performance as “F.”  Though he does have a dog in this fight, Itzin is the chosen arbitrator of the conflict and manages gives “F” the ability of underhanded manipulation, making that his weapon of choice.

Cameron Watson’s fine direction drives the piece at a clip while maintaining its clarity.  The ninety minutes fly by and you almost wish you could see what happens after the curtain goes down.

Technical credits are impressive.  Jared A Sayeg’s creative lighting design is a useful tool in telling this story.  Stephen Gifford’s scenic design is bold and well compliments the set up.  Kudos also to Kate Bergh’s costume design and Christopher Moscatiello’s sound.

As the promo material states, “Cock” has no intermission, no retreat and no surrender.  It’s a play that is well worth checking out.

COCK

Rogue Machine Theatre

5041 W. Pico Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90019

 Reservations: 855 585 5185

 Opened: September 13, 2014

Schedule: 5 pm Saturdays, 7 pm Sundays and 8 pm Mondays

(No performance on 10/20, 11/2)

Closes November 3, 2014

 $30.

www.roguemachinetheatre.com

Photo Credit: John Flynn