Los Angeles Theater Review: RANK (Odyssey Theatre)

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by Jason Rohrer on March 24, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


No getting around it: Robert Massey’s Rank is talky and familiar.  Without a top-flight cast and director, this show could easily be lost in the vast amount of Los Angeles theater that gets staged as if it would rather be filmed for cable television.  But in its American premiere at the Odyssey, this story of Irish criminality receives a bang-up staging more gripping than most of the movies to which its thin plot owes Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of RANK at Odyssey Theatre, LAso much.  For two hours, director Wilson Milam and a cast of five give a class in technique that every actor in town should sit in on.

Mr. Massey’s 2008 play, which has been produced in Dublin and London, concerns some cabbies (Kevin Kearns, David Schaal, and Karl Maschek) and how their vices impact the sleaze empire of a murderous hoodlum (Ron Bottitta) and his dim-bulb son (Jason Killalee).  Suffice to say that a sad sack owes money to the wrong people, and has to do a dirty job or he’ll be killed.  The writing suggests that Mr. Massey could have a good play on his hands in another draft or five.  As it is, the real story starts late and is frequently interrupted by redundant exposition.  Mr. Milam and his cast have chopped a good deal from the script for this production, and it is to the writer’s credit that he has agreed to the changes.  I wish more young American playwrights would learn the blessings of production-born discovery and of letting other artists contribute to the editing process.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of RANK at Odyssey Theatre, LAThe director has clearly realized that the cast are his most valuable tools here, and he employs them deftly.  Mr. Bottitta pleases whether he’s got ten lines or a thousand, and he would be reason enough to see this show.  He could have played his part as Michael Gambon or Bob Hoskins or Alan Ford have played better-written versions of the Unpredictably Violent Crime Lord; instead he plays a fully-realized character of his own devising, organic to one actor’s relationship to one script.  It’s good for the soul to see a confident craftsman going about his business.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of RANK at Odyssey Theatre, LAAs the criminal’s nemesis, and as a victim of his predations, Mr. Schaal and Mr. Kearns give similarly unflashy performances of great integrity.  They make a virtue of their characters’ familiarity; I felt I had known them both for years as soon as I saw them.  To much the same effect, Mr. Killalee invests in a simplicity that raises his henchman role above the common denominator of easily outwitted Irish thug.  It does not hurt his believability that he grew up in Dublin.  In fact, four of the five actors in this show come from the North Atlantic: Mr. Bottitta moved to Los Angeles (good for us) from London; Mr. Schaal is currently visiting from that same city; and Mr. Kearns, like Mr. Killalee, is an Irish import.  So it is not too surprising that American Mr. Maschek has the least consistent dialect in the cast; but he makes up for it with enthusiasm, character development, and comic timing, in what could have been a tiresome role.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of RANK at Odyssey Theatre, LAWorkhorse Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has dressed these men with quietly appropriate, character-specific costumes, and given them a multi-function set to play on that impresses without overpowering.  Mr. Milam, in a throwaway grace note, has allowed the actors to interact with one location while playing in another, a choice that ties various actions together to inform the play’s world. Derrick McDaniel’s lights abet this decision, as does Ernie Mondaca’s minimalist sound design.  And Joe Sofranko provides the Los Angeles stage with one more quick, credible fight.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of RANK at Odyssey Theatre, LAAll this craft looks even more heroic when one realizes that it’s in service of this inefficient script with its foot-dragging beginning and preposterous pratfall of an ending: some artists do not “let down,” but always do their best, for any act of creation is a sacrament.  This production rises so far above its material that I hope it sets the bar higher for other local shows obligated to perform the same trick.  If it’s too much to ask that our writing get better, at least our staging can aspire to shore it up.

photos by Enci

Odyssey Theatre in West LA
scheduled to end on May 12, 2013
for tickets, call (310) 477-2055 or visit http://www.odysseytheatre.com/

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