Theater Review: ON THE OTHER HAND, WE’RE HAPPY (Rogue Machine at The Matrix Theatre)

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by Lyle Zimskind on March 3, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


Another one of Los Angeles’s best theater groups got back on the boards last week, as Rogue Machine Theatre kicked off its first post-pandemic season in a new home at the Matrix on Melrose Avenue. Always a reliable importer of significant new plays to Los Angeles from other cities and countries, the company, led by Producing Artistic Director John Perrin Flynn, has reignited its mission with the U.S. premiere of Welsh playwright Daf James’s adoption story, On the Other Hand We’re Happy.

Alexandra Hellquist and Christian Telesmar

Truth be told, while we were excited to catch Rogue Machine’s return to action, the prospect of a warm domestic comedy about a couple’s struggles in trying to adopt a baby made us cringe just a little in anticipation. But we’ve come to trust that Rogue Machine knows what it’s doing in selecting and staging these original works. Thanks to an inspired trio of actors, directed with emotional precision by Cameron Watson, that confidence largely paid off.

Christian Telesmar and Alexandra Hellquist

Each of the performers embodies a couple of roles over the course of the play’s 90 minutes, but the two primary characters we’re introduced to at the outset are Christian Telesmar’s Josh and Rori Flynn’s Abbie. When this young couple learns they can’t conceive a baby, they tenuously agree to seek an adoption, while rehashing many of the hesitancies and concerns we might imagine any couple in that position would contend with. This was the part we thought we weren’t looking forward to, though Telesmar and Flynn’s easy charm fill the room from the very beginning.

Rori Flynn and Christian Telesmar

Since this is a Rogue Machine production, though, we should have guessed that any predictable circumstances would be upended before long. Once Telesmar and Flynn are joined by the third cast member, Alexandra Hellquist, we head off into unexpectedly powerful psychological and situational terrain that it would be a shame to spoil by summarizing here, though domestic violence, class privilege, and generational resentment all take their turn. There’s even audience participation.

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s minimalist set is atmospherically enhanced by Jared Sayeg’s dynamic lighting and Chris Mosciatello’s subtle but influential sound effects.

Rori Flynn and Christian Telesmar

Though billed as a comedy (aren’t they all), On the Other Hand We’re Happy turns out to be a highly charged, ultimately quite moving portrayal of a family project that persists through trauma and the merciless interventions of fate. The impression it made on us, however, was nothing compared to the reaction of an older gentleman in the audience Monday night who kept it together through the performance and on his way out of the theater, but once alone on the street burst out sobbing and remained visibly overwhelmed by our experience as he reached his car and drove back into the world.

photos by John Perrin Flynn

On the Other Hand We’re Happy
Rogue Machine
Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue
Frid, Sat, and Mon at 8; Sun at 3
ends on April 10, 2022
for tickets, visit Rogue Machine

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