Theater Review: I DECIDED I’M FINE: A ROACH PLAY (The Attic Collective at Studio/Stage in Hollywood)

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by Marc Wheeler on February 11, 2020

in Theater-Los Angeles


After a convoluted build-up, there’s a late scene in I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play that actually works. In it, Ellen (Veronica Tjioie), a trauma-stricken hoarder, exposes her “dirty secret” by welcoming outsiders into her shockingly cluttered home. If one can get past the improbability of such a willing invitation, the scene is an impactful one. Like raw nerves, the wife and mother’s humiliation is laid bare at the feet of her husband Stephen (Tyler Bremer) and their party guests. The audience’s opportunity for compassion is ripe, even as they laugh uncomfortably alongside the visitors’ horrified reactions. Unfortunately, this successful moment is lost over three long hours where disparate theatrical devices are piled high in the faint semblance of a play.

Set inside the intimate studio/stage theater on Western, I Decided I’m Fine is The Attic Collective’s latest socially-conscious offering. While it attempts to eradicate the stigma of hoarding through understanding, its explanations for this phenomenon, outside a smattering of superficial facts, are largely side-stepped by replacing the inner-workings of Ellen’s mind with a ghost-like Goblin (Kat DeVoe-Peterson) who shows up after a familial upheaval. The Goblin implores with guttural cries, and is appeased only when Ellen feeds it a steady “junk diet” of odds and ends that soon fill the family home. While this Goblin may externalize Ellen’s grief, the hows and whys of her hoarding psychology are regrettably lacking.

Serving as the play’s narrators are Dr. Prof. of Hoarding, B.S. (Brandon Blum) and a Very Trustworthy Therapist (Julia Finch), two thick-accented eccentrics commenting on the proceedings. Their theatrics are not unlike the absurd PSAs of yesteryear warning of “dangerous social menaces.” Walking through the audience, shaking hands, and engaging in awkward dialog, they elicit laughter, but mostly out of uncomfortable compulsion. See, I Decided I’m Fine hasn’t settled on a congruent point of view. Co-written by Veronica Tjioe (who plays “Ellen”) and director Rosie Glen-Lambert, it juggles between drama and comedy (and even then, performances and styles vary), including a divergent musical sequence wherein the cast sings and dances in roach costumes. It’s hard to know what to make of it all.

Performance-wise, it’s a mixed bag, especially when conversations overlap without any clear focus, or voices don’t project over background noises. Ms. Tjioe continually broadcasts her grief – voice trembling, body shaking – instead of burying it with natural coping mechanisms. It’s not until the aforementioned climax that such a visceral delivery is appropriately applied to pack an emotional punch. As Ellen’s brother-in-law Shawn, Sutton Arabe is trapped in a stock character whose dialog consists mostly of reminders to the audience that he’s g-a-y. While he sometimes rises above caricature, dimensions go missing.

As Ellen and Stephen’s neighbor Deborah, Meg Cashel appears to be in a play and reality of her own. Her repeated, exaggerated attempts at humor – like Tjioe’s heightened turmoil – don’t work until the climax where the stakes are raised and such amplitude balances the scales, enhancing the nightmare of the situation and providing theatergoers with welcome comic relief. As Deborah’s husband, Mark, Luke Medina is more measured, earning many laughs.

Most grounded in dramatic reality are Tyler Bremer and Hailey McAfee (“Stephen” and his sister “Karissa,” respectively). These siblings most honestly depict two lives either squashed or dumbfounded by Ellen’s hoarding. It’s heartbreaking to witness.

Over the course of the play, Lex Gernon (scenic design) and Rebecca Carr (props and costumes) fill a relatively barren living room in minimal need of tidying with a mounting supply of junk (lit dramatically by Joey Guthman). Carr’s outfits are playful – from the trash-heaped Goblin (decked curiously in green) to silly, human-sized cockroaches. Amplifying the chaos is James Ferrero’s sound design; alternating between tension-inducing noises, classical music, and opera, he elevates the piece substantially.

If I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play teaches us anything – consciously or unconsciously – it’s that less is more. While audiences will likely take away personal nuggets of insight, they’re buried in a theatrical hodgepodge that, like its protagonist, accumulates without knowing how or when to stop. Like any hoarder knows, when the roaches come out, the time to reassess has long since passed.

photos by Rachel Rambaldi

I Decided I’m Fine: A Roach Play
The Attic Collective
Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 6
ends on March 1, 2020
for tickets, visit The Attic Collective

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