Pure Confidence Takes Us Back To A Complicated Chapter In America’s Past

Review by Peter Foldy

It’s perhaps a little known fact that prior to the Civil War, black jockeys dominated the sport of horse racing. Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown explores that world in Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble’s West Coast Premiere of a powerful and multi layered tale that explores the complicated relationship between master and slave.

Simon Cato (Armond Edward Dorsey) is a cocky, confident and most winning jockey owned by two children who have inherited him. Through their lawyer, they lease Simon to Colonel Wiley Johnson (William Salyers) — a man Simon rides and wins for. The colonel’s horse is also the title of this play; Pure Confidence.

Simon and the colonel have an understanding, a friendship of sorts, and the colonel and his wife begin to think of their jockey and rented slave as a distant family member. Simon begs the colonel to buy him from the children so that he in turn can buy his own freedom with money he hopes to win by racing.

The colonel’s wife, Mattie (Deborah Puette) helps Simon put his plan in motion and even allows the Simon to buy her “girl,” Caroline (Tamarra Graham) on the condition that Simon marry her. These are forward thinking, modern minded people who are certainly out of step in their class conscious, racist world.

The first act sees Simon achieve his dream. He gets his freedom, but by the second act Simon’s fortunes have changed. Injured in a racing accident, he has suffered permanent damage that prevents him from riding and now works as a bellboy for an abusive, racist hotel clerk (Eamon Hunt). His marriage to Caroline, though caring on many levels has also turned abusive. Simon vents his anger by hitting his wife.

When a newspaper reporter (Dylan John Seaton) tracks Simon 15 years later so that he can write a story about the once great jockey, we learn that it was Colonel Johnson and his wife who hired the writer to locate their former jockey.

At a touching, heart-felt reunion, these two couples, one white and powerful, the other black and struggling, try to rekindle their prior relationship in the new age of Reconstruction, but they are thwarted by the social climate, ultimately having to acknowledge that it is not a level playing field, and a legitimate friendship between them is never to be.

Staged in a black box at the Sacred Fools Theatre, this production is most impressive.  Director, Marya Mazor has crafted a poignant piece that feels as real as it is disturbing.

The set design by Tom Buderwitz and clever use of film and photo projections from Nicholas Santiago help give Pure Confidence a slick, almost off-Broadway feel. Kudos to Mylette Nora for her costume design that looks and feels so authentic. But it is the acting that makes this play well worth seeing. Armond Edward Dorsey is exceptional as the ambitious Simon. William Salyers ably unfolds Colonel’s mindset, letting us see the complexities of his character.

Tamarra Graham asCaroline” is both sensitive and fragile, but strong when she needs to be, while Deborah Puette as the colonel’s wife convincingly portrays a modern thinking woman from a troubled time.

The rest of the cast, Eamon Hunt and Dylan John Seaton are both solid in their respective roles.

Pure Confidence is a thought provoking drama that compels as it takes us back to an ugly chapter in America’s past. Its message is not only powerful – it may also move you to tears.

Where: Sacred Fools
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Schedule: 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm Sundays
Closing: April 30, 2017

For reservations call (323) 960-7745 or online at www.lower-depth.com/on-stage

Tickets: $25 – $34

Production photos by: Ed Krieger

 

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)