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

Smoke Without The Fire

Review by Peter Foldy

It’s certainly no fault of the highly talented actors currently starring in Kim Davies’, SMOKE, that this play doesn’t quite catch fire. One would think a story set at a sadomasochistic sex party would be full of sizzle, but while it titillates it leaves a lot unanswered questions and ends up being not as compelling as it promised to be.

The story deals with John, (PATRICK STAFFORD) an intern for a highly regarded art photographer. We first meet him when he enters a kitchen at a sadomasochistic sex party to sneak a cigarette. Smoking as we know is banned almost everywhere. Seemingly, even at orgies.

Before long John is joined by Julie (EMILY JAMES), a giddy 20 year old who is sex Stafford and James4 party beginner. She quickly recognizes John as the guy who works for her father, Goeff, a controlling, manipulative art photographer. This and their need to chain smoke creates an early bond between the pair and the prospect of sex, like the smoke on stage, lingers in the air. But John and Julie are all talk. They flirt and share likes and dislikes. They reveal each others sexual war stories. We learn that John’s career has yet to ignite, that Julie’s father is a bit of a domineering prick and that John is his lap dog. Kind of sad for a 31 year old.

Eventually the conversation turns darker. John begins to reveal his sadomasochistic desires. Julie seems to play along, showing an interest, pushing back and challenging him when John taunts her as a spoiled little rich girl. They kiss a lot, and grope and a sexual encounter seems almost certain to happen.

When John runs out to buy a pack of cigarettes Stafford and James2and to find a condom, Julie beings to rummage through his backpack,discovering several dangerous looking knives and ealizing she may be in over her head.

When John walks in he busts Julie for snooping, and this is when things turn dark and eventually sexually violent. But there are no happy endings here.

Smoke is well staged with powerful performances. Patrick Satafford is suitably understated as the insecure guy who threatens danger and gives pain as his preferred method of sexual fulfillment. The problem is we never quite understand why. Is it an inherent desire he was born with or is it the frustrations of his dead-end life that make him want to push the envelope, or in this case, his knives into places they don’t belong.

And why is Julie really at this party? Was it planned? Is she playing some cat and mouse game with John? Will she ultimately turn the tables on him? At times we think so, but really it’s anybody’s guess.

When Goeff calls John and asks him to run an errand in the middle of the night, John caves, totally losing what little respect Julie had for him, leaving both the couple and the audience unsatisfied.

Clocking in at 80 minutes, Smoke misses it’s chance to reveal meaningful characters but does manage to put a tear in your eyes. From the cigarette smoke on stage that is.

Where:

The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles. Street parking or lot at the Medical Center about a block and a half East of the theater (past the freeway) for $6.

When:

SMOKE
8:30pm Thursdays
5pm Saturdays
8pm Sundays
June 30 through July 16 (Saturday)

Tickets: $20 at http://roguemachinetheatre.com

 

 

 

 

 

Cruelty Prevails In Rogue Machine’s New Production, “Bull”

Review by Peter Foldy

“How can people be so heartless, how can people be so cruel? Easy to be hard, Easy to be cold.”

Those are the lyrics to a brilliant song from the 60s rock musical, HAIR. that kept running through my brain after seeing Mike Bartlett’s disturbing play, BULL, currently making it’s West Coast Premiere at the Met Theatre in Los Angeles.

A Rogue Machine production, opening in the Hollywood Fringe Festival and running beyond, BULL is a great example of something that is becoming quite common in the new millennium, especially on the internet. Haters who skewer people for no particular reason other than the fact they exist. Or perhaps because they hold an opinion that the hater doesn’t agree with. As we’ve come to learn, there’s a lot of hate out there and it rears it’s ugly head in many shapes and forms, some subtle and others deadly, like the brutal massacre in Orlando this past weekend.

The haters in BULLLesley Fera Kevin Daniels are of the more subtle variety. Isobel (Lesley Fera) and Tony (Kevin Daniels) are a couple of ambitious corporate types who, along with co-worker Thomas, (Joshua Britton) are waiting to meet with their boss, Carter (Alex Whittington) to learn which one of them may lose their job due to corporate downsizing.

It is clear from the get go that Thomas is being set up as the fall guy here. He is an affable guy, a young man who tries hard but seems not to fit in.

It all starts out playfully.

“You have something in your hair,” Isabel tells Thomas. “Hmm. Is that the suit you’re going to wear” she asks. Little jabs and barbs to unnerve him. Thomas tries to deflect her insults but once their co-worker Tony shows up the jabs turn downright ugly and just when you think it can’t get any worse, (surely Thomas will turn the tables on these two creeps), boss man Carter arrives and he too quickly joins the wolf pack.

As the humiliation escalates we learn that Isabel has even more up her sleeve. She has dirt on Thomas. She knows of his lonely existence, about his failed relationship and she uses that informationFeraDanielsBitton BULL 1 for maximum effect. This nasty piece of work will settle for nothing short of total decimation.

As the story unfolds we keep hoping for redemption. That Thomas will walk away from the ugliness with some dignity but, as in life, bad things happen to good people.

The question is why? What do these two aggressive Alphas want from Thomas? Is this about the survival of the fittest, or is writer, Mike Bartlett questioning our complacency?  To ask how many times we’ve turned our back on bullying. Are we victims or are we perpetrators? Like Bartlett’s previous work, COCK, this play is sharp, smart, uncomfortable and thought provoking.

The material of course wouldn’t work without an exceptional cast and the actors here shine. Lesley Fera is deliciously nasty, Joshua Britton is pathetically convincing, Kevin Daniels is perfectly manipulative while Alex Whittington is without question the boss with his head up his ass. Not sure who’s a Brit and who isn’t in among the actors but there were no slip ups. The English accents elevated the material, kept it dry in that wry British way, making it even more effective.

Director, Jennifer Pollono has the play moving at a clip. It clocks in at a mere 50 minutes. But what an intense 50 minutes. BULL is a full throttle assault that made me want to see more.

Where:

The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles. Street parking or lot at the Medical Center about a block and a half East of the theater (past the freeway) for $6.

When:

Thursday, June 16, 8:30pm
Tuesday, June 21, 8:30pm
Thursday, June 23, 8:30pm
Saturday, June 25, 5:00pm
Sunday, June 26, 7:00pm

Tickets: $20 at http://roguemachinetheatre.com

 

(“Easy To Be Hard” Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni)