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

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Punk Rock” Screams Teenage Angst

by Peter Foldy

Our teenage years were fragile. Many of us grew up wondering how the other half lived. At times,  we wondered whether our class mates had the same fears and insecurities we did. Were they as fragile as we sometimes felt? Did they think crazy thoughts or was their journey as easy as it looked at the time?

Tony Award winning playwright Simon Stephens attempts to answer some of these questions as he examines the life of seven British teenagers in the excellent new production, PUNK ROCK, produced by Sally Essex-Lopresti and Ron Sossi, and currently playing at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A.

Set in an up-scale Grammar school in the north west of England, Punk Rock gives us a fly-on-the-wall experience as these bright, articulate kids, living in a privileged bubble, prepare to take their college entrance exams.

William (Zachary Grant) is a quirky lad who could have easily stepped out of the hilarious British TV series, “The In Betweeners.” He is instantly likeable and reluctantly wears his heart on his sleeve. When a new girl, Lilly (Raven Scott), transfers to the school, William develops a crush on her but is soon shattered to learn that she has been seeing and sleeping with Nicholas (Nick Marini), a handsome student who is also a part of their core group.

We also meet Cissy, (Miranda Wynne) a pretty blonde who dates Bennett (Jacob B. Gibson), a savage bully who, under the guise of being macho, may in fact be secretly unsure about his sexual preference. Bennett’s main victim at school is the brilliant young student, Chadwick, (Kenney Selvey) a kid who doesn’t bother trying to defend himself from Bennett’s verbal and physical attacks. Chadwick is caught up instead in an existential belief system where nothing really matters.

Bennett’s other target of choice is Cissy’s best friend, the somewhat chunky Tanya (Story Slaughter). Bennett berates the girl, calling her fat, and Cissy does little to stop him. By her silence, she is also complicit, as are the other kids who stand by and do almost nothing to stop him. Nobody wants to get involved.

At first, the group gossips, talks about sex, teachers, and their prospects in the outside world; but as the pressure mounts and the story begins a slow simmer, the characters amp up their anxieties, allowing their true personalities to rise to the surface. We begin to wonder who will make it through this final semester. Who will allow the truth to be revealed – who will be the one to snap and reign chaos on their classmates?

Playwright Simon Stephens examines this vulnerable age where everything seemed so important. Sexual desire is hard to control and teenage angst feels like the world is coming to an end. A look, a rejection, a slight from a friend has a deep and profound effect.

Though this production might have benefited from pushing the envelope even a little further, director Lisa James manages to keep the tension building. She plays her cast like a game of chess, moving them fluidly around the stage. She is also fortunate in that she has assembled a fine cast who expertly bring this story to life.

Zachary Grant as William is charming and enigmatic; his transformation seems tragic and real. Jacob Gibson’s Bennett feels threatening but threatened at the same time – a victim of his suppressed insecurities. Kenney Selvey is the perfect little bookworm here,
detached, intelligent, and in need of a hug.

The rest of the talented performers, Scott, Marini, Wynne, and Slaughter, as well as Mark Daneri, who makes a brief appearance as Dr. Harvey, are on the mark in their respective roles. Each actor feels real and three-dimensional. Each scene change is punctuated by loud punk rock music as a statement of their youthful rebellion.

Punk Rock is raw, graphic, erotic, and ultimately highly disturbing. It reminds me of that time you pick up a large stone to find hundreds of little bugs scurrying about underneath. The turmoil is just below the surface – till it isn’t.

When: Fridays & Saturdays @ 8 p.m. and Sundays @ 2 p.m.
plus 2 Wednesdays: April 12 & May 3, and 1 Thursday: April 27, all @ 8 p.m.

Where: The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025

Tickets: $15 – $30 (Student, Guild and Senior Discounts available)

www.odysseytheatre.com