Bingo With the Indians, at Rogue Machine

How far will an artist go in order to fulfill his passion to make art?

A coke-addicted actor, a sociopath playwright, and a self-impressed lesbian auteur – “the most underappreciated director south of 14 Street” – fester as they await a fateful phone call in a shabby New England motel. Their mission – to “raise” the money they need to mount a production back in Noo Yawk, by robbing the local church bingo game on Abenaki Indian Night.

Thus begins Pulitzer-nominated playwright Adam Rapp’s pitch-dark comedy, Bingo with the Indians, the inaugural “Off The Clock” late-night offering now playing at Rogue Machine Theatre.

Deftly directed by Andrew Block, Rapp’s in-your-face one-act imaginatively inhabits Rogue Machine’s newly-renovated black box Second Stage, with actors literally in the audience’s faces for much of the play. The powerhouse performances from a uniformly excellent ensemble cast make such proximity both thrilling and unsettling.

Melissa Paladino is a formidable, commanding presence as Dee, the lesbian mastermind and driving force of the enterprise. Paladino’s steely voice and seething physicality leave no room for discussion, much less independent thought, from Dee’s groveling posse. A wild-eyed Patrick Flanagan fascinates and repels as the needy, masochistic actor Stash on a careening trajectory of self-destruction.  Rounding out the trio of misfits is West Liang as Wilson, the troupe’s psychotic stage manager and erstwhile playwright. Understated, seductive charm and detached intelligence mark Liang’s spider-like predator.

As the three artistes gradually unravel, the motel owners’ son, Steve, comes knocking. Brian Norris is heartbreaking as the stage-struck teenager, all hopeful eagerness and fatal bravado. An actor made for the close-up intimacy of this venue, Norris’s pliant face and eloquent eyes create a haunting portrait of shattered innocence.

When Dee and Stash finally head out to knock off the bingo game, Steve falls prey to Wilson’s sadistic manipulation. Their horrific ‘love scene’ is interrupted by the arrival of Steve’s mother, Mrs. Woods. Played by Ann Bronston, this sad creature’s brief forays from her vague otherworld into reality only intensify her uncomprehending grief. Somehow, Bronston wrings the biggest laughs of the evening from her character’s bottomless despair.

Corryn Cummins, as Steve’s former girlfriend, and Native American actor Ron Joseph as a mysterious Indian shaman, complete the cast. The cheap-motel-room set is wonderfully real under Michael Redfield’s evocative lighting.  Not recommended for younger viewers, due to mature subject matter, graphic violence, sexual situations and strong language.

- By Penny Orloff

Bingo With the Indians plays Fridays/Saturdays at 10:30 pm; Sundays at 4 pm through June 7, 2009 at Rogue Machine Theatre. Please call 323-960-7774 or visit www.roguemachinetheatre.com for more information.

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