Los Angeles Theater Review: PATERNUS (Rogue Machine Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on July 25, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

FATHERS AND SONS

The sensitive, expressive, and pensive son. The emotionally cool, impatient, and badgering father. Together, this family dynamic seen throughout history is so familiar that playwright Daphne Malfitano even titles her new play in Latin. Paternus, now receiving its world premiere at Rogue Machine, begins with pater Steve and his scion Stephen trapped in their RV during an unyielding blizzard. Weak from hunger and shivering, the men are clearly at death’s door. Soon, tragedy strikes; and it is clear within three short scenes that Malfitano has decided to peel away the layers of this seemingly unworkable relationship in reverse chronology. Interspersed between tense sessions with the belittling Steve and his chapfallen son are face-forward inner monologues—memories which elucidate their character and the role they play in life as father and son.

Darrell Larson and Timothy Walker in PATERNUS at Rogue Machine Theatre

Given this deconstructed playwriting and short, cinematic scenes, it is both surprising and heartening that this tiny one-act drama manages to have potency and pathos. Aiding the tense situational reality is a tender performance from Timothy Walker as the son who tries but fails to overcome his forceful father, who is played by a blistering Darrell Larson, an actor who manages to refrain from being overwrought. Director Mark St. Amant (who wrung suspense by the truckload from The Butcher of Baraboo at Road Theatre), creates a palpable sense of estrangement between the two men, and keeps the proceedings compelling in this intimate space; quite a feat considering he had to stage on the set of Gruesome Playground Injuries, Rogue Machine’s current mainstage production.

Timothy Walker in PATERNUS at Rogue Machine Theatre.

But at just under 45 minutes, and rife with clunky scene changes in which actors rise from their previous scene to deliver a monologue, this premiere may be packed with potential but it needs a serious fleshing out. In many ways, this is typical Fringe Festival fare (low-budget, short running time, two characters, a dramaturgical device), yet I truly believe Malfitano is up to something bigger here. I can’t wait to see what happens when Paternus—which uses the promotional tag line “It’s only meat”—becomes meatier.

Darrell Larson and Timothy Walker in PATERNUS at Rogue Machine Theatre.

photos by John Flynn

Paternus
Rogue Machine Theatre
5041 Pico Blvd (near La Brea)
Fri and Sat at 10:30 (added performance Thurs July 31 at 8:00)
scheduled to end on August 9, 2014
for tickets, call (855) 585.5185 or visit www.RogueMachineTheatre.com

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