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

A Warm and Fuzzy El Nino

Review by: Peter Foldy

Sharp writing from Justin Tanner and spot on performances from a talented cast make Rogue Machine’s new season premiere, El Niño, a must see theatrical event.

The first thing you notice as you wait for the play to begin is the incredibly detailed set from scenic designer, John Iacovelli.  Everything feels real on stage, right down to the rain that will eventually fall outside the windows.

Nick Ullett and Maile Flanagan

But what really grabs you as El Niño begins is the edgy, no holds barred dialogue from the loveably pathethic, yet sharply drawn characters who could comfortably meld into an episode of an old Rosanne Barr TV comedy.

Colleen, (Maile Flanagan) a rolly polly woman with an early Beatle haircut, has been kicked out of her home by an abusive boyfriend. We find her sleeping on her parent’s couch. Mother, June (Danielle Kennedy) and father, Harvey (Nick Ullett) clearly don’t want her around. Collen, in their eyes, is a slacker who is soon asked to pack her bags and find somewhere else to waste away. June and Harvey want their space back. Want their privacy. Colleen’s various ailments, however, don’t provide this lady with too many living choices and she convinces them to let her stay until she heals.

Enter, Colleen’s high strung sister, Andrea (Melissa Denton) and her recently acquired boyfriend, Todd (Jonathan Palmer), a veterinarian and a push over who puts up with

The cast of El Niño

more crap from Andrea then most would ever tolerate. Lonely next door neigbor, Kevin (Joe Keyes) also arrives on the scene and when  he discovers that Colleen is the author of a series of science fiction books that he is a fan of, Kevin begins hitting on her.

Collen gradually lets her guard down and the pair are soon making out on the sofa. The messed up family dynamic, however, give Colleen and Kevin a low chance of finding love–but it is mean sprited big sis, Andrea’s hard-hitting revelations that puts the final nails in the coffin. At least that’s what Mr. Tanner wants you to think.

El Niño gradually tugs away at your heartstrings as these hyper-real characters discover their compassion and their humanity. Outside the rain may fall but all ends well in El Niño, not just for our loveable screw-ups but also for the audience who are rewarded with almost none stop laughter.

Melissa Denton, Danielle Kennedy, Jonathan Palmer in El Niño

Maile Flanagan hits every note as the charismatic Colleen. She is a comedy prodigy who should have her own TV series. Danielle Kennedy reveals a powerful matriach, dishing out insult and guarded affection even handedly. Nick Ullett, Joe Keyes, Jonathan Palmer and Melissa Denton also give it their all. This is a connected cast who bounce of each other’s energy. They are a joy to watch. Kudos also go out to director, Lisa James who keeps the show fluid and energized.

El Niño is one of the early hits of 2018. Put on your raincoats and go see it. You’ll thank me later.

When: EL NIÑO runs Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30pm, Sundays at 3:00pm through April 2, 2018 (no performances on March 19th).

Where: Rogue Machine is located in The Met, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029.

Tickets: $40.

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

Social Media Identifiers: #ElNinoPlay Twitter: @RogueMachineLA, Instagram: @RogueMachineTheatre; FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/RogueMachineTheatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luka’s Room At The Rogue Machine Theatre: A Review

August 4, 2015

LUKA’S ROOM HOLDS A SECRET–DON’T GIVE IT AWAY

Review by: Peter Foldy

All Luka wants is be a normal college kid–but in Rob Mersola’s excellent new play, LUKA’S ROOM, directed by Joshua Bitton, that is not quite how things work out.

After his father runs out of money due in part to a nasty divorce, 19 year old Luka is forced to transfer from Arizona State to a Valley College and move in with his eccentric Grandma Franca, a lady in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Luka is surprised to find that his recently paroled Image 1Uncle Nick, a sleaze bag who went to jail for credit card and identity theft, is also sharing the house.

Movie star handsome yet somewhat naive, Luka is a horny young lad who has yet to fully find his footing with members of the opposite sex. When one of his uncle’s acquaintances, a free spirited young blond called Angie, comes on to him, Luka is surprised to find that this little hottie is willing to jump into bed with him. But that’s exactly what happens. What Luka doesn’t realize is that this is not some random hook up. There is greed and manipulation in the air and as this sordid, dysfunctional tale unfolds, our young college student is taken for a wild ride that will more than likely change him forever.

As the weeks pass, Luka finds that his winning streak with women is unstoppable. His conquests seem way too easy. Before long he starts to think that making love with someone you care about, (in his case, Angie), trumps his many one night stands.

It would be unfair to reveal more than that because the twists in Mersola’s play are what make “Luka’s Room” so much fun. The clues are there, but do yourself a favor and don’t look too hard. Just enjoy the surprise when it comes.

Mersola manages to push the envelope with this family dramedy as he exploresImage 2 not only Luka’s situation but also touches on our current state of openness.

If you think about it, we know more about our friends than any other generation in history. We have seen photos of their wives, girlfriends, kids,  pets and appendix scars. We are told about their fun times as well as their losses and humiliations. And many of us are just as willing to share our private moments too. In this Twitter, Facebook, Instagram world, our lives have become an open book–and this is the playing field on which we find ourselves in “Luka’s Room.”

Nick Marini is excellent as “Luka.” He is given a lot to work with here. A solid arc that sees him change from an innocent college boy to being hardened in more ways than one.  As the center piece of the production Marini handles his role with charm and confidence. He is a likeable young actor who should have a great future ahead of him.

Alex Fernandez as “Uncle Nick” is loud and brash as a low level yet imaginative petty criminal who seizes an opportunity no matter who gets hurt in the process. Fernandez is the source of a lot of the humor in the play and his energy helps keep the piece moving. I only wish he wouldn’t slam every door on stage with such force.  Image It rattled the set each and every time it happened.  It’s a small complaint but I had to say it.

Joanna Lipari as the confused F-bomb dropping “Grandma Franca” lands a few big punchlines throughout the play. It’s no easy feat keeping a pace with Alex Fernandez and Nick Marini’s banter, but Ms. Lipari goes the distance here, even giving us one jaw dropping scene that had the opening night audience howling.

Sarah Scott as “Angie” finds a nice balance between her character’s hyper-sexuality and delicate vulnerability. She has an exhilarating sense of abandon during her naughty little strip-tease performance and like Luka, she is given a satisfying arc where, in some small fashion, “Angie” is able to come to terms with herself.

The set by John Iacovelli is exceptionally detailed as is the intricate video design by Nicholas Santiago. Kudos also to Leigh Allen for Lighting Design and to Michele Young for her costumes.

“Luka’s Room” is a compelling production that takes an episodic approach to a timely subject. With it’s talented cast who deliver spot-on performances, it is edgy theater that definitely should not be missed.

Where: Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019

When: 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through September 20, 2015
(No Performance on Saturday, August 22nd)

Tickets: $30 – $35.

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

(Photos by: John Perrin Flynn)

 

 

 

The Heiress is a Perfectly Nuanced Production

by Peter Foldy

April 29, 2012

A well crafted, finely acted production of THE HEIRESS by Ruth and Augustus Goetz opened tonight at the Pasadena playhouse.  Directed by DÁMASO RODRIGUEZ , the story deals with Catherine Sloper (HEATHER TOM) who stands to inherit a fortune from her ailing physician father (RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN).

A plain-looking, shy young woman, Catherine lives a quiet life under her father’s cold-hearted scrutiny.  Though he says he cares for her, he considers her plain and uninteresting.  Dr. Roper even blames his daughter for the death of his beloved wife who passed away during childbirth.

When an opportunistic young suitor, Morris Townsend, (STEVE COOMBS) comes calling, the good doctor is certain that the penniless young man has proposed marriage in order to get his hands on Catherine’s inheritance.  And this he he won’t stand for.

Catherine is too much in love to pay much attention to her father’s protests.  Though Morris is indeed the first man to ever pay attention to her, she agrees to a cooling off period by joining her father on his up-coming trip to Europe.

After a slightly slow set up the story compellingly comes to a head upon Catherine and the doctor’s return to New York.  Before long the young woman realizes that she is more like her father than she would ever dare admit. From here the production smoothly brings the drama to it’s psychologically nuanced and heartbreaking conclusion with no one ultimately ending up a winner.

Director Rodriguez has done an excellent job here and has managed to find the perfect cast for this play. Chamberlain is powerful as the malevolent doctor who schemes to keep his daughter in line. He is the backbone of the production.

Steve Coombs as Morris Townsend hits all the right notes as the young man whose true intentions are not immediately clear. Even when his cards would seem to be on the table, Morris plays his best hand to hold onto the prize.

JULIA DUFFY is a strong presence as Catherine’s aunt–but it is Heather Tom as Catherine who has the strongest arc in terms of both story and performance.  Starting out as a respectful, soft-spoken introvert, Ms. Tom slowly reveals Catherine’s hidden power and determination as she challenges and eventually outsmarts both the men in her life.

The scenic design by JOHN IACOVELLI deserve a special mention. It is stunning and highly effective. It almost feels like a set from an old Hollywood movie.

Costumes by LEAH PIEHL are impressive. Lighting design by BRIAN GALE helps set the perfect mood.

THE HEIRESS runs till May 20th.  It is a production that is well worth seeing.

More info HERE: