Los Angeles Theater Review: ROUND ROCK (Theatre Unleashed at Studio/Stage)

Post image for Los Angeles Theater Review: ROUND ROCK (Theatre Unleashed at Studio/Stage)

by Jesse Herwitz on April 13, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER ROCK

Since the first ship landed, since the first boot heel dug into the earth, since the first wagon ventured west, the American frontier has stirred the world’s imagination. And it is this very rich history that serves as the foundation for Theatre Unleashed’s Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of ROUND ROCK, Theatre Unleashed in Hollywoodnewest production, Round Rock, now appearing at the Studio/Stage. Playwright and Director Aaron Kozak has attempted and largely succeeded in drafting a play colored with many of the motifs that has made the western genre a beloved one. Unfortunately it is a production whose ambition largely exceeds its resources. And with only flashes of inspired acting and clever staging, this is a performance that seems unable to realize itself. Mr. Kozak, fresh off Round Rock’s 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival’s “Best World Premiere” nomination, admits as much when he suggests in the program that “Round Rock is by design a Broadway show.”

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of ROUND ROCK, Theatre Unleashed in HollywoodTo anyone outside of Denton or Round Rock, Texas, the history of Sam Bass, the play’s central character, is largely unknown.  In 1877, his gang pulled off one of largest train heists in Texas history, robbing Union Pacific of more than $60,000. This play begins one year later when, despite his success, Bass (Brett Colebeth) continues to rob banks with his tiny gang, consisting of Seaborn Barnes (Gregory Crafts) and Frank “Blockey” Johnson (Drew Farmer). But when their latest outing – which raises the bounty on Bass’s head and spurs the ire of Sheriff ‘Dad’ Egan, played very well by J. Anthony McCarthy – a new hunt begins that will force the Bass gang to answer for their wild hedonism and youthful exploits.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of ROUND ROCK, Theatre Unleashed in HollywoodThe first act borders on cliché, at times with more boot-stomping and screaming than believable acting. Bizarre, almost surrealist laughter from offstage or on is sometimes piercing, at other times just annoying. The costumes appear to be little more than a grab bag from the laundry bin, and accents vary indiscriminately with each actor. For the first hour and a half, the large ensemble cast is joking around, and not taking the story or themselves very seriously. Following the intermission, however, something very interesting happens. Things start to work. The acting and storytelling come together and what began as spoof becomes enjoyable, with flashes (albeit only a few) seemingly inspired by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. As the program suggests, Round Rock is largely a coming of age story, and if you can sit through the first hour and a half of this story, you may enjoy what the second act reveals.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of ROUND ROCK, Theatre Unleashed in HollywoodThe biggest problem with Round Rock is that it is not the type of show that works in the small space that the Studio/Stage offers. It just doesn’t carry the kind of emotional gravitas without the spectacle. Much of the innovation in the staging is out of necessity – with most of the more fascinating developments getting lost in a series of neck-breaking movements for audience members just trying to follow the action. Moments when we absolutely should see Bass’ watery eyes, we are looking at his back. Round Rock is also peppered with some lovely performances by Courtney Sara Bell as brothel madam Alice, Michelle Hasson as the Union Pacific investigator ‘Frenchy’ Babineaux, and, later, well-realized ones from Colebeth and Farmer.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of ROUND ROCK, Theatre Unleashed in HollywoodThis production may very well find success on a bigger stage, with a bigger budget, and it is this reviewer’s hope that that will happen. Until then, however, it may be worth it to just wait.

photos by Alicia Reyes

Round Rock
Theatre Unleashed at Studio/Stage
scheduled to end on April 27, 2013
for tickets, call (818) 849-4039 or visit http://www.theatreunleashed.com

Comments on this entry are closed.