Los Angeles Theater Review: DYING CITY (Rogue Machine Theatre)

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by Tom Chaits on May 20, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

ALIVE WITH AMBIGUITY

If you require a neat and tidy ending, a feeling of clarity, and a sense of completion to insure your theatrical enjoyment, then Dying City making its Los Angeles premiere at the Rogue Machine Theatreis not for you. If on the other hand you appreciate that a life examined offers more questions than answers; that closure is an elusive entity more a delusion than a reality; and that human beings are complex creatures who lack the ability to truly understand why we choose to live our lives the Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of Rogue Machine's DYING CITYway we do (let alone grasp the consequences of our actions on others), then Dying City is just what your psychoanalyst ordered.

Christopher Shinn’s (Four, Other People) script takes a deep look into our culture of victimization, and queries whether or not our bad behavior can be blamed on someone else, thereby justifying our actions and reactions. Are we all a product of our upbringing? Identical twin brothers, Peter and Craig (Burt Grinstead), were both raised in the same household yet one became a straight, hyper-masculine soldier and the other a gay, self-obsessed actor. Why are they so different and are they really different at all? Kelly (Laurie Okin), Craig’s wife, overcompensates for feeling persecuted as the “poor little rich girl” by becoming a therapist who seeks to soothe her demons by being overly empathetic to the fears and foibles of others.

Mr. Shinn raises many lofty ideas that inspire questions he surely knows there are no definitive answers for: Is it a foregone conclusion that the abused becomes the abuser? If we did manage to escape our youth relatively unscathed are we not still victims of society at large? 9/11, the horrors of war, and the worldwide inhumanity that is thrust upon us every day surely has an effect (it’s no accident that one of the Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of Rogue Machine's DYING CITYfirst words a child often says is why – our inherent need to know can’t and never will be fully satisfied).

The story unfolds as a master class in manipulation and passive aggressive behavior. Peter, who has just stormed off stage mid-show from a Broadway production of Long Day’s Journey into Night, arrives unannounced at Kelly’s apartment. The pair have not seen or spoken to each other since Craig’s funeral. What ensues is a series of obtuse and superficial conversations that circumvent the real issues at hand. Hints of the underlying turmoil and strife are quickly stifled or glossed over so the two can plow blindly ahead with their own agendas. Peter exits into the bedroom to answer his cell phone, and then reappears moments later as his twin. What follows is a flashback to Craig’s final night in the city before being deployed to active duty in Baghdad. Through a series of conveniently placed calls and other theatrical devices, time and character seamlessly jump throughout the 90 intermission-free minutes.

Director Michael Peretzian knows a thing or two about bringing victimization to the stage. His stewardship of the emotionally devastating Holocaust survivor drama Red Dog Howls, starring Kathleen Chalfont, was brilliant. He again deserves accolades for his work here. Under his watchful eye, the show never descends into the realm of gimmickry but remains grounded in a naturalistic haze.

Peretzian’s discerning eye has shaped amazing performances from his two stars, allowing them to soar. As Kelly, Miss Okin is a wonder. With the exception of an emotional breakdown near the show’s finale that teeters on the cusp of believability, Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of Rogue Machine's DYING CITYshe has crafted a consistently authentic, multi-layered portrayal. Mr. Grinstead is nothing short of a revelation. He inhabits each of the brothers so fully that it is hard to believe they are played by the same actor. A less gifted thespian would resort to stereotypes and outwardly blatant character traits to differentiate the siblings, but not Grinstead, who gives not one but two remarkably flawless and distinct performances. After his first transformation into Craig, I sat transfixed in disbelief that this was the same actor that just exited the stage as Peter. This may sound crazy, but the change was so all-encompassing that I swear his biceps got bigger.

Tom Buderwitz’s dreary, mood-setting, and suitably muted NYC apartment had a slight problem with the pesky front door which kept opening on its own. Not to be outdone by the possessed portal, Leigh Allen’s soothing lighting was disrupted by a Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of Rogue Machine's DYING CITYrogue lamp that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be on, off, or simply just flicker. No doubt these opening night issues will be addressed for future performances – the point is that the actors trudged on unfazed, never letting these mishaps distract them from their appointed rounds.

The ambiguities that abound in Dying City may leave the viewer with an empty feeling at first, but as with life, time and reflection fill the void with a resounding and resonating truth. The show will stay with you for days, and the performances, especially Mr. Grinstead’s, will stick with you for a lifetime.

photos by John Flynn

Dying City
Rogue Machine Theatre
scheduled to end on July 8, 2013
performances Sat at 5:00, Sun at 7:00, Mon at 8:00
for tickets, call 855-585-5185 or visit http://www.roguemachinetheatre.com

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