Br’er Cotton is a Timely And Moving Production

Review by: Peter Foldy

Written over two years ago, it is uncanny when one of the characters in BR’ER COTTON, the new play making it’s Los Angeles premiere at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood, talks about police brutality in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s as if playwright, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm and the Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble had a crystal ball and were able to see what was to come. But then Charlottesville is just one of many hot spots where racial tensions come to a boiling point.

Directed by Gregg T. Daniel, Br’er Cotton examines one African American family’s frustration as they try to cope with the rising tide of hatred that has enveloped the country. Set in a run down neighborhood in Lynchburg, Virginia, an area that was once the site of a thriving cotton mill, the story focuses on 14-year-old Ruffrino (Omete Anassi) who lives with his mother and grandfather in an old deteriorated house that seems to be sinking, much like their situation.

Mom, Nadine (Yvonne Huff Lee), cleans houses to support her family, and has done so for most of her life. Her other full time occupation is worrying about her young son. Ruffrino’s granddad, Matthew, (Christopher Carrington), tells the boy that they are a “stay out of it family.” They don’t get involved in conflict. It’s pretty clear that Matthew has given up the fight.

Ruffrino, meanwhile, is well aware of the ever increasing number of police killings of young black men and he is in constant conflict with his mother and grandfather because of their complacency. Though only 14, he views himself as a revolutionary. He incites riots at school and his on-line presence, as part of a violent video game group, brings out the haters who frequently call him the “N” word. It is only another gamer, a young girl who’s handle is Caged_Bird99 (Emmaline Jacott) who supports and encourages him.  Imagining Caged_Bird99 to be African American, Ruffrino is in for a surprise when he discovers her true profile.

His mom, Nadine, also gets a surprise when she discovers that the house she cleans is owned by a white cop. In an unexpected twist, the Officer, (Shawn Law) relates to the hardships Nadine has to endure and she welcomes his concern. Nadine clearly has no other shoulder to lean on.

Br’er Cotton is wrapped in a cloud of tension that never lets up. Mr. Chisholm is an accomplished writer and Omete Anassi, as Ruffrino, manages to infuse the play with a youthful energy that fuels the explosive debates, and the not-so-unexpected conclusion. The rest of the top-notch cast, particularly Yvonne Huff Lee, Christopher Carrington and Shawn Law, all deliver strong and committed performances.

Kudos to Gregg T. Daniel’s fine directing, David Mauer’s superb scenic design, Westley Charles Chew’s lighting, and David B. Marling’s sound design.

Br’er Cotton, at it’s core, is a human story filled with humility and love. It delivers a heart-wrenching, intimate glance into one black family’s struggle to navigate racial tragedy in these troubled times. Don’t miss it!

When: Br’er Cotton runs Saturdays and Mondays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm through October 29, 2017 (no performance on Monday Oct 9th).

Where: Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046.

Tickets: $15 – $45. Reservation and information at www.lower-depth.com/on-stage and 323-960-7787.

Wheelchair access and ample street parking.

Photos: Ed Krieger

 

“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