“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

 

Rogue Machine Presents Plays New To Los Angeles

NOW IN THEIR NEW SPACE AT THE MET

John Perrin Flynn is well aware that, beyond satisfying our need to be entertained, finding new writing talent and plays are an essential part of creating our historical footprint, one that defines current culture. Flynn is the Founding Artistic Director of Rogue Machine, one of the top theatre companies in Los Angeles.

John Perrin Flynn

John Perrin Flynn

What is important to us now, and who are we today? Answering those questions, in part, can come from experiencing current entertainment whether it comes from books, television programming, films, or theatre. Flynn thinks Los Angeles is rich with talent that identifies how we are thinking, evolving, or failing, and he wants what you see on stage at Rogue Machine to reflect that. For the audience to ask questions. Winning “Best Production” for three Seasons (Ovation and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards), Rogue Machine is known for the unique plays they present and the high quality of their productions, some of which continue on to great success in regional theaters across the country and in New York.

This year brings more success to the company, and their season has barely begun. We asked John Perrin Flynn some questions about the company and how these wonderful productions come about.

HR: You have established a 2 for 2 winning record this season for producing the plays “Pocatello” and “Honky,” having just opened. What makes you chose to produce a particular work? What was it about “Honky” that got your attention?

Flynn: Theatre is a public service. Theatre can’t support itself. So, I think there is an implicit agreement between a theatre and the community that supports it. Our responsibility as artists is to show ourselves as we are – not to judge but to question. I look for plays that tackle subjects important to who we are now, to how we live now. I think plays should be entertaining but also challenging. We could no longer afford to stay on Pico Boulevard because the owner of the building kept raising our rent. We were lucky in that Paul Koslo, who runs the Met, had a vacancy and reached out to me when he heard that we were in trouble. It’s a wonderful theatre. When I knew for certain that we were moving I sat in The Met theatre by myself and thought about the move and about how important our first production there would be. I had already read Sam Hunter’s “Pocatello” and was intending to produce it in 2017. I had a sense that it would fit the theatre very well and that we could cast it with a number of well-known Rogue Machine actors. I thought our production of “Pocatello” would speak to who we are and what we do, so that would be a great way to kick off Rogue Machine in a new location.

Burl Moseley and Bruce Nozick

Burl Moseley and Bruce Nozick

Greg Kalleres’s “Honky” was on the bill for 2016. Our literary manager, Tim Cummings, had found it in an obscure anthology of plays. He loved it and sent it on to me – I also loved it. “Honky” is a very funny play but it also makes you think, and it makes you feel just a tad uncomfortable. I asked Gregg Daniel to direct a reading – he fell in love with the play as well. After that, our main challenge was scheduling.

HR: What’s coming up for the rest of the year? Why did you decide to participate in the Hollywood Fringe Festival?

Flynn: We had originally wanted to do a season of plays that examine the question of race in America, but when we had to move we had to scuttle some of our plans because the move threw off our entire schedule. We have two great pieces that we will do sometime in the near future that both have directors attached. The first is a piece called “Dutch Masters” by Greg Keller, which in some ways is a follow-up piece to “Dutchman.” Guillermo Cienfuegos, who directed Pinter’s “The Homecoming” and a glorious “Henry IV” for Pacific Resident Theatre is attached to direct. The other is a play from England called “Hang” by Debbie Tucker Green. It was done at the Royal Court and I think that we may stage the American premiere. Elina de Santos, who is our co-artistic director, will be directing it.

We decided to participate in the Hollywood Fringe Festival because The Met is a Fringe venue and because I was impressed last year with how much of an event the Fringe has become. There’s great energy there and we wanted to be a part of it.

Tasha Ames and James Liebman

Tasha Ames and James Liebman

HR: Can you talk about the two plays that you have in Fringe, and why those plays?

FLYNN: “Smoke” by Kim Davies is not for the fainthearted. If we were still on Pico Boulevard we would’ve produced it as a late-night show. It seems like the perfect fit for Fringe. It’s funny, dark – very dark – and rude, in a sophisticated way. It’s a tour de force for the actors and the director and we have assembled a great team. Lisa James is directing and Patrick Stafford, who was in last year’s production of “Cock” (winning the Lead Performer award from LADCC), stars along with Emily James (no relation). Emily was just seen in “Stage Kiss” at The Geffen. “Bull” is Mike Bartlett’s follow-up to “Cock.” It’s not the same people or the same story but it’s the same technique – a play performed without props or specific set – and every bit as much of a fight. Jen Pollono is directing the fabulous cast – including Kevin Daniels (One Night in Miami…), Josh Bitton (Dirty Filthy Love Story and Lost Girls), Lesley Fera, and Alex Whittington.

HR: Rogue Machine presents plays that are new to Los Angeles. Why is that an important part of your company’s mission?

FLYNN: Again, this has to do with how we see what a theatre should be in a community. There are many wonderful classics but they get done all too often. There are some wonderful plays that are new that were not getting done in Los Angeles and we wanted to bring them here – we thought it was important that LA Theatre goers were exposed to these plays and playwrights. We also do world premieres. Some of the very best actors in the world live here and are passionate about their art. They perform as volunteers in the 99 seat theatre community because they want to make art. There are wonderful directors and amazing designers here as well. This is simply just a great place for playwrights to work.

This community has become a laboratory, a generator. We can afford to take the risks that larger theaters cannot, and we have been very successful. Two of John Pollono’s plays, “Small Engine Repair” and “Lost Girls” have had subsequent productions Off-Broadway in New York. “One Night in Miami… by Kemp Powers, has had two major American regional theatre productions and will be opening at the Donmar Warehouse in London in October. Henry Murray’s “Treefall” has been produced six times since its world premiere here in 2010.

Matthew Hancock

Matthew Hancock

HR: Do you have a development program that allows writers to grow their new work within your company?

FLYNN: Yes. We have a number of ways that we work with writers.  Part of our mission is to help writers whether we are particularly interested in producing that particular play or not. This gets tricky; it’s a judgment call. We have to like the writer well enough or the writer has to be or have been associated with us.

Our most successful work with writers comes from intensive workshops with full casts. These are often, but not always, shows we may produce. We sit around a table reading and discussing. The playwright gets to work with truly exceptional actors and discuss the play with them. She/he writes and re-writes until we reach a point where the work has progressed as much as this process can offer and then we’ll do a public reading.

HR: How’s your outlook on theater in Los Angeles?

FLYNN: The productions I see in the small venues here in town are often staggeringly good. There’s a lot of world-class work being done here. There are five or six theaters whose work is consistently extraordinary. There are problems. A lot of Los Angeles is not aware of how great some of the theatre here is. There are people who live here who love theatre and don’t know that there’s great theatre happening here. Intimate theatre is intimate. It is like no other theatre experience you will ever have. You sit sometimes as close as 3 feet away from some of the best actors in the world. It’s immersive, sometimes unsettling and often thrilling. There is a couple that comes to Rogue Machine who fly in from Florida to go to theatre here. They see plays at 5 or 6 intimate theatres when they are here. They used to go to New York but it’s cheaper here and they say it’s better. We need to work together to get the word out. Theatre this good deserves an audience.

Theatre is dependent upon charitable donations. Most of the unearned income that keeps theaters alive comes from private donors, and even the larger theaters get most of their support from private donors. Right now there is not a great deal of awareness in the giving community that these theaters exist, that they’re doing great work, and that they are generating new work that is going all over the world. Rogue Machine and its colleagues are struggling to survive. Hopefully the continued great work everyone is doing will help, but great work alone is not enough – we must find a way for us all to work together to create a greater community awareness of the treasure that we have here in Los Angeles, the gem that intimate theatre can be.

Currently, Rogue Machine’s production of “Honky,” by Greg Kalleres, is receiving rave reviews at The Met, and a Critics’ Pick from the LA Times.

The cast includes Tasha Ames, Ron Bottitta, Matthew Hancock, Christian Henley, James Liebman, Burl Moseley, Bruce Nozick, and Inger Tudor, with Rebecca Larsen as an alternate.

HONKY runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm, Sundays at 3pm through June 12, 2016. ROGUE MACHINE is located at The Met, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets are $34.99. Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com