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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Señor Plummer's Final Fiesta
That's right, puppets. Creature fabrication, masks, and puppets are part of the Rogue Artist Ensemble signature, after all. Written by playwrights Diana Burbano, Tom Jacobson and Chelsea Sutton and produced in collaboration with the City of West Hollywood, this crazy quilt of a Final Fiesta takes site-specific, follow-along drama to a delightful level. You might even learn a thing or two about a local favorite son. Just make sure to activate your malarkey detector.
Final Fiesta, an interactive mish-mash of music, tall tales, dramatic scenes, and the occasional bit of food sampling, gets its audiences roaming around a series of rooms in Plummer Park's community center rooms and courtyard which have been transformed to replicate a visit to the region's past. Depending on your whim (or on which actor proves most persuasive), you may end up following one of three versions of Senor Plummer, his mother, brother, a rapacious wolf, a conniving politician, or a pirate. There are censuses to be filled out, word origins to learn, candy to be sampled, land claims to be adjudicated, and drinks to be tossed back. Given the interactive nature of this performance, and the fact that the company is large enough (nearly 20 actors make up the ensemble) to keep several stories going simultaneously, a Final Fiesta attendee is more visitor and party-goer than passive audience member. Nobody is excessively pushy (not even the wolf or the landshark), but director Sean Cawelti's production is not an experience for the shy.
The evening begins at a 1942 book signing for John Preston Buschlen celebrating the memoir Señor Plummer: The Life and Laughter of an Old Californian. Buschlen, who publishes under the sobriquet Don Juan, expresses his regrets that the subject of this biography can't be present, but soon there's a ghostly knock on the door and in Senor Plummer strides. He's a human-sized puppet with merry eyes, enormous hands, and a slight air of melancholy (the show's mask and puppet designs are credited to Jack Pullman, Morgan Rebane, Mark Royston and Brian White).The stories set down in Don Juan's book get Senor Plummer to start reflecting on his life, and as that reflection deepens, the doors to the courtyard blow open and Plummer literally flies out into the night. The book signing audience is invited to line up with a character and start an adventure.
By his own account, Plummer led an eventful and colorful life. He married a beauty, served as a court reporter for disenfranchised Latinos, owned hundreds of acres of land across the city… and gradually lost every inch of it except for the acreage in the park we are now occupying. As we roam in and out of his childhood home, the Sanctuary of Motherhood, a cantina and a cave (created with dreamy whimsy and many pop-up surprises by scenic designer Matthew G. Hill), people from Plummer's life supply bits of biography and throw in some regional yarns and factoids to amplify the fun. There's no telling how much of any of this is true, but that's not really the point.
With the disclaimer that every person's experience and sequence will probably vary slightly, I began in the Sanctuary of Motherhood where a song and a wish brought Senora Plumer to life. I watched the courtship of Senor Plummer and his bride to be. I listened to Plummer's boast about riding a shark and saw the encounter acted out. After taking a seat in the cantina, I was led into a cave by a wolf who told me the origin of the word gringo.
I listened to the melancholy warbling of a Piaf-ian sheep and later joined the jury to render a verdict on whether that aforementioned wolf was fleecing unfortunates of their property. I did not meet Ramona scribe Helen Hunt Jackson or any pirates, although I'm told both were present.
As the title promises, the evening concludes with a fiesta, complete with decorations (the audience helps put them up), dancing, and a few parting words from Señor Plummer. "There are no goodbyes. Just hasta la vista," the good Senor says. In the case of the Rogue Artist experience, that Hasta la vista could include a whole new set of tales. A repeat visit would probably be equally festive.
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Señor Plummer's Final Fiesta
Written by Diana Burbano, Tom Jacobson, and Chelsea Sutton with Rogue Artists Ensemble
Directed by Sean T. Cawelti
Cast: Richard Azurdia, Tyler Bremmer, Mariux Ibarra, Ricky Abilez, Kawika Aguilar, Magally Castellanos, McCristol Harris III, Amir Levi,Carene Rose Mekertichyan, Robert O'Hare, Sarah Kay Peters, Marta Portillo, Sheila of the Jungle, Tighe Skehan, Cary Thompson, John Wuchte.
Scenic Design: Matthew Hill
Lighting Design: Wesley Chew
Sound Design: Seve Swift
Costume Design: Elena Flores
Mask and Puppet Design: Jack Pullman, Morgan Rebane, Mark Royston and Brian White.
Video Designer: Dallas Nichols
Stage Manager: Manichanh Kham
Plays through November 18, 2018 at Plummer Park, 7737 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, RogueArtists.org
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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