bled for the household truth
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Rogue Machine at the MET Theatre
Through December 18
Rogue Machine, one of the theatre companies in town I most admire, has been promoting its new show, Ruth Fowler’s bled for the household truth, as something important and shocking, and warning that easily offended people may walk out at intermission. In my experience, having specific expectations for a play or any work of art ahead of time often proves detrimental, and sadly that is the case here. Prepared for something shocking and profound, I instead encountered a disappointing play involving, in part, panty-sniffing and masturbation, where little about the characters or situations rang true.
Twenty-something British expat Pen (Alexandra Hellquist) is without a green card, job or place to live in New York, so she responds to an unusual ad. Well-off Wall Street trader Keith (Benjamin Burdick) is looking for a young woman to share his apartment for free as long as she’s willing to walk around in her underwear most of the time. Sexual contact is not part of the deal. Pen accepts the arrangement, and as weird as it is, she and Keith mostly get along, mutually taking advantage of the situation in their own way. But as time passes, Pen wants to really get to know Keith, even though forcing further intimacy might tip the balance of their relationship badly.
Hellquist does good, energetic work as the more-sinned-against Pen — a difficult role that requires her always to be scantily clad and often abused by the male characters. Burdick is also strong as the more internalized Keith, but the playwright doesn’t give him much of interest to do other than look constantly uncomfortable. Nathaniel Meek does a lot with a little as the casually awful Billy, and Rachel Brunner stands out as Pen’s concerned co-worker Monica.
Director Cameron Watson gets fine work from his ensemble, and John Iacovelli’s set is a model of sterile grey opulence. The problems arise from Fowler’s play, which regrettably seems more meretricious than meaningful. The themes — the difficulty of human connection and the generally bad behavior of men towards women — are handled in a familiar way that brings little new insight to the problems. Moreover, the story is stretched rather thinly over two hours. Finally, certain scenes and plot twists simply beggar credibility, such as a sudden demand for physical affection by a particular character, or a botched 911 call.
I applaud Rogue Machine for constantly taking artistic chances and producing plays which push the envelope. Unfortunately, I don’t think bled for the household truth effectively accomplishes these goals.
Rogue Machine at the MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles; Sat. & Mon., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3:00 p.m.; through December 18; roguemachinetheatre.com; Running time: approximately two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.