“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

 

Pocatello – A Play Review

by Peter Foldy

Rogue Machine’s production of Samuel D. Hunter’s play, POCATELLO currently playing at the Met Theatre in Los Angeles deals with dysfunctionality and the corporatization of America. Set in a nation-wide Italian restaurant on the brink of closing down, the play brings together a group of characters who struggle with the changing landscape of their hometown and the shifting and fragile relationships they endure with their families and co-workers. They find it hard to communicate with each other and some have not been able to let go of the demons of the past that continues to haunt them.

Mark L. Taylor, Justin Okin, Eden Brolin, Melissa Paladino, Tracie Lockwood, and Trevor Peterson

Mark L. Taylor, Justin Okin, Eden Brolin, Melissa Paladino, Tracie Lockwood, and Trevor Peterson

At the center of the play is Eddie, the restaurant manager (Matthew Elkins) who juggles two secrets. His sexuality and the fact that the business is on the brink of going under. His crotchety mother, Doris, (Anne Gee Byrd) a woman unable to show affection, does everything in her power to put Eddie down in front of his bother, Nick (Rob Nagel) Nick’s pretty wife, Kelly (Rebecca Larsen) as well as Eddie’s employees.

We also meet a waiter named Troy (Justin Okin) who struggles to make ends meet while trying to deter his alcoholic wife, Tammy (Tracie Lockwood) from drinking again. He also has to cope with his senile father (Mark L. Taylor) and his cryptic wild child of a daughter named Becky (Eden Brolin).

Mathhew Elkins and Anne Gee Byrd

Matthew Elkins and Anne Gee Byrd

Also working at the restaurant is the crack addicted and otherwise unemployable waiter, Max (Trevor Peterson) and his occasional sex buddy, Isabelle (at this performance played by Melissa Paladino). 

As the eatery approaches it’s demise, so does the connection between the characters. Nick and Kelly leave Pocotello promising never to return. Tammy slips and drifts back into drinking again while her daughter, Becky realizes she must escape Pocatello as soon as she is able.

Tracie Lockwood, Eden Brolin, and Justin Okin

Tracie Lockwood, Eden Brolin, and Justin Okin

John Perrin Flynn’s direction moves the characters on Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s beautifully designed set like pawns on a chessboard. Each and every cast member in Pocotello shines. They are highly committed and believable in their respective roles. With such great actors portraying these lost souls one would think that Mr. Hunter’s script would help us care about their problems just a little more, but sadly his characters find it a struggle to articulate them. I wanted to know why Troy and Tammy’s marriage is failing. Is it just the booze? Why does Nick seem to hate his brother, Eddie so much? Is it because he is gay? What happened between these people?

While sometimes less is more, in this case more would have been a blessing. What we end up with is a mash up of explosive outbursts, family psychodrama and nostalgic monologues about days gone by.

At the end of the day only the kind-hearted Eddie manages to find some redemption, leaving us with a glimmer of hope that Eddie and mom have taken a small step toward normalizing their fragile relationship in a town where nothing is normal anymore.

Pocotello ends up feeling much like a turbulent Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Love them or hate them you may one day look back with nostalgia at the event, perhaps even grateful for having been there.

POCATELLO runs at 8:30pm on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 3pm on Sundays through April 10, 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

Photos by John Perrin Flynn