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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Disposable Necessities, McGowan's scythe-sharp nugget of science fiction laced with comedy, imagines a world in which the 1% have control over not just standards of living but over life itself. The year is 2095 and our case study is the Tottens, a father, mother, son and daughter who have the means to basically live youthfully and prosperously forever. A couple of them are hell bent on doing just that, but the proposition is more than a little bit problematic.
If you have the scratch, you download your memories and life experiences into a database which can be downloaded into a new "vessel" (also called a "module") whenever the previous one breaks down or you run out of use for it. So if you're a thrill-seeker, you may go through a new module every few years or so. If you don't like aging, well, just upgrade to a younger model. McGowan, director Guillermo Cienfuegos, and the five-person Necessities cast have a high old time establishing the rules and the possibilities of this existence before plunging us into a plot that gets its audience ruminating while we are laughing.
The Tottens have taken full advantage of the never-die technology, particularly matriarch Alison (played by Billy Flynn). After her vessel got old, Ali took the body of a much younger young man, a move that &emdash; goodbye workplace sexism! &emdash; also allowed for some professional upward mobility. Daniel (Darrett Sanders), her husband of many years, is an aging writer trying to get his work back into circulation and wondering if he can make it happen within the vessel of a middle aged man. On the homefront, he's a bit resentful of the gender swap and not especially pleased that Ali envisions that his next vessel should be a woman.
Son Chadwick (Jefferson Reid) is a daredevil who croaks and reincarnates with alarming regularity. His most recent incarnation is a pleasure-seeking young black man. Daniel's best friend Phil, meanwhile, has recently upgraded to a female hottie and is enjoying the dickens out of the new parts and all the sex he is getting, mostly with women. In the role of Phil, Claire Blackwelder's swinging horndog is one of the production's many delights.
Finally, there is daughter Dee (Ann Noble), who is as pissed-off at her parents as she is morally disgusted by the vessel-hopping practice. She reconnects with her parents after years of estrangement with some unsettling news.
A production with more technical frippery might have amped up some of the visual elements of establishing life in 2095. Working in the confines of the Rogue Machine's home at the Electric Lodge, Cienfuegos and Technical Director David Mauer do just fine. Christopher Moscatiello does some nice work with sound, particularly when performers access the memory data stored in their heads. Christine Cover Ferro goes cheekily futuristic with her costumes, especially as worn by Reid's Chadwick. The adjustment of which character you're watching and how they relate to a scene partner is a seamless one, even after McGowan shuffles the deck with a twist in the second act. Mauer is also the scenic designer, and his rendering of the Tottens' homes is spare, chic, and effective.
As nifty as the production values are, Disposable Necessities doesn't really need them. McGowan's work is every bit a think play. When we meet them, the Tottens have had literally a lifetime not having to contemplate the value of life or death. Now, suddenly, they do, and the experience makes human beings out of them. Alison and Dee in particular face some really terrifying moral dilemmas. As easy as it would be to turn Alison into a selfish, conniving barracuda, Flynn digs deeper and locates the character's fears and humanity. Amidst a family that has somewhat gone nuts, Noble's Dee is grounded, principled, and utterly convincing.
Ultimately it is Daniel Totten who takes the play's most intriguing journey and Sanders proves to be a strong choice. Daniel is buffeted by conflicting forces within his own family and struggling over how much he needs to compromise, Sanders establishes him as something completely recognizable: a middle-aged man who wants his life to mean something.
With Disposable Necessities, Rogue Machine once again establishes itself as a company that hits far more often than it misses. Next up is Mike Bartlett's Earthquakes in London, another play about dystopia which will play in rep with Disposable Necessities. Given the artistry of this company, let the pessimism prevail!
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by Neil McGowan
Directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos
Cast: Claire Blackwelder, Billy Flynn, Ann Noble, Jefferson Reid and Darrett Sanders
Set Design: David Mauer
Costume Design: Christine Cover Ferro
Lighting Design: Matt Richter
Sound Design: Christopher Moscatiello
Projection Design: Michelle Hanzelova
Production Manager: Amanda Bierbauer
Movement Director: Myrna Garwyn
Technical Director: David A. Mauer
Casting: Victoria Hoffman
Stage Managers: Amanda Bierbauer and Ramon Valdez
Plays through February 3, 2020 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with one intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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