A Poignant “Mexican Day” at the Rogue Machine

Review by: Peter Foldy

From 1902 to 1951, Bimini Baths was the premiere hot springs resort in Los Angeles. It served everyone from movie stars to maids. Admission was just 25 cents, but only if you were white. At the end of each month, before the filthy water was about to be drained,  the Bimini allowed people of color to use the facilities. They called it Mexican Day.

Playwright, Tom Jacobson has created a trilogy, (Plunge, Tar, and Mexican Day) based on true events.  Although some elements are fictionalized, three of the characters in the trilogy are real people strongly represented in the historical record. Jacobson used the actual writing of Hisaye Yamamoto, Bayard Rustin and Everett Maxell as inspiration for those characters, some of whom appear in more than just one production of  his trilogy.

Jully Lee and Donathan Walters in “Mexican Day”

Mexican Day takes place in 1948.  Civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin (Donathan Walters) has come to Los Angeles from New York to de-segregate the Bimini Baths. An openly gay man at a time when it was dangerous to be open about one’s sexuality, Rustin approaches a Japanese American newspaper reporter, Hisaye Yamamoto (Jully Lee) to help his cause. Yamamoto knows all about segregation, having spent part of World War II in an internment camp.

Zenobio (Jonathan Medina), the polite but hard-nosed Mexican gatekeeper at the Bimini, has little choice but to enforce the racist policies established by his employers. Despite their best efforts, Rustin and Yamamoto are repeatedly refused admission. They stage several sit-in protests, but the Zenobio can’t or won’t budge.

Jully Lee and Jonathan Medina

The pair soon recruit an art historian turned screenwriter, Everett Maxwell (Darrell Larson) to help them defy the ban. They don’t at first realize that Maxwell may not have been the most appropriate choice for this mission. He has been denied entry to the baths for decades due to his past misdeads which saw him spend time in prison. Both he and his soon to be revealed victim have left both men scarred for life.

At times the narrative drifts off course, especially when all four actors reappear in  other, less significant roles, the through-story of Mexican Day ultimately locks on to it’s intended message and brings us to a powerful and moving conclusion.

Donathan Walters and Darrell Larson

The actors here are all supurb. Donathan Walters leads the charge with his unstopable energy, driving the narrative. Jonathan Medina allows us to feel Zenobio’s conflict without over playing the character’s pain. Jully Lee is fresh and lively as Yamamoto, while Darrell Larson convincingly portrays a damaged soul with little hope of redemption.

Great performances, strong direction by Jeff Liu and an impressive set design by John Iacovelli make Mexican Day a play to see. It is not only poignant but also relevant to our current political and racial climate.

Where:
ROGUE MACHINE (in The Met Theatre)
1089 N Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029
(Street parking or lot at Medical Center east of the freeway, at 5300 Santa Monica Blvd. $6)

When:
Schedule: 8pm on Fridays and Sundays, 4pm on Saturdays
(no performance on Saturday, July 14th).

Extended through: July 22, 2018

How Much: $40

For reservations call 855-585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com

Closing: July 15, 2018

“Shades Of Disclosure” Celebrates Life

Review by: Peter Foldy

Heartbreaking, but ultimately positive and powerful, the World Premiere of SHADES OF DISCLOSURE, reminds us of the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that still continues to pose a host of social injustices such as homophobia, racism, immigration rights, healthcare discrimination, and the rights of transpersons.

Created and performed by the revolutionary QueerWise, a Los Angeles based group of LGBTQ writers and spoken word artists, Shades of Disclosure introduces us to a a number of HIV/AIDS survivors, and a few that were spared. Their deep and personal stories illuminate not only what they went through when the plague hit some thirty years earlier but how it still impacts their lives today.

The cast members on stage are not actors playing roles. They are real people sharing remembrances of heartbreak and loss, of good luck and bad. Some on stage were infected early while others, though promiscuous and care-free, escaped the epidemic.

Wrapped in an atmosphere of the current political climate, QueerWise tell their stories in well staged production that encourages others to do the same. “Who Are You?” they ask.

The outpouring of truthfulness on stage soon becomes contagious and one cannot help but feel a deep empathy.

Ultimately, we know that honesty about ones self is a beautiful, unifying and galvanizing force that we need to carry into 2017 if we are to survive, thrive, and maintain, says director, Michael Kearns.

Though it may sound like this performance piece is a downer, it is actually a celebration of being alive. Something we can all relate to.

Featuring Albert Auben, Gil Feroli, Cheri Gaulke, Randy (Joe) Gravelle, John Glenn Harding, Jessie Jacobson, Sophie Kim, Darrell Larson, Timothy Mack, Mason Mahoney, Jen O’Connor, Roland Palencia, Christine Papalexis, Jim Pentecost, Ken Pienkos and David Trudel, Shades of Disclosure plays at 8:00pm Saturdays, and 3:00pm on Sundays through February 25, 2017.

Skylight Theatre is located at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave, LA, 90027.

Tickets are $15 – $40. Reservations: 213-761-7061 or online at http://SkylightTix.com

Frozen Lives Begin to Thaw In Paternus

Theater Review: by Peter Foldy

What if you’ve never been able to say the things you needed to say to someone you love.  Not till it’s too late.  And then you realize that you might even have to make the ultimate sacrifice for that person, but that act of selfless courage may or may not be enough to save their life. Darrell-Larson-and-Timothy-Walker-in-PATERNUS-at-Rogue-Machine-Theatre. That is the basic premise of Daphne Malfitano’s new play, “Paternus,” making its world premier at the Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles.

Darrel Larson as “Steve” and Timothy Walker as his son, “Stephen” portrays a father and son embarking on a four hour drive to visit family when they are blindsided by an intense snowstorm that that finds them trapped in their RV and potentially dooms them with little hope of survival.

The story launches with it’s climactic high point and gradually unfolds in a series of flashbacks, each character peeling back the layers of what we discover to be a strained relationship.  And yet there is love and caring on both sides.  Steve is a tough dad, a military man who has seen the brutality of war.  His son, Stephen a typical teenager who resents having to accompany his father on this unexpected journey.  Both men soon struggle to come to terms with the need toPaternicus_Flynn do whatever it takes to survive.  For the father it is a chance to vindicate his part in this unrealized relationship.

After giving away the ending in the first few moments, writer, Malfitano, takes us to somewhat familiar territory as the father and son recap their past differences.  How to make this compelling is the challenge that Malfitano faces.  Fortunately her talented cast rise to the occasion.  An empathetic Timothy Walker is excellent as a boy struggling with his brutal reality.  One senses his innocence, his desire to survive as we gradually discover his character’s inner voice.

Darrell Larson grounds the play with his strong performance.  His character makes a choice to open his heart, his love for his son no longer buried under the macho façade that has kept these two from any meaningful communication.

Ably directed by Mark St. Amant, the play has a cinematic feel, the production employing black & white film clips of the location in which the action takes place.  Produced on the set of another production that runs at the theater, the out of kilter set design, or lack of one, is not hard to get over.  Brendan Han’s original score and sound design most certainly compliments the piece.

Running at a brisk 45 minutes, “Paternus” is intense and thought provoking.  A well performed two hander that is certainly worth a look.

Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd. (near La Brea Friday and Saturday at 10:30 pm (added performance July 31 at 8:00pm).

Scheduled to end August 9, 2013

For tickets call (855) 589-5185, or visit www.RogueMachineTheatre.com

Photos by John Flynn