00:00:00 | 3:02:50





This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Here's a little game I find myself playing lately. (My guess is you've been doing something similar in your own life.) The game is simple and starts with one question: "What would this be like without the election?"

Rogue Machine's latest world premiere The Super Variety Match Bonus Round! by Deb Hiett is a great show for this game .

Before the election, the setup would have been fairly straightforward. Mags and Erns are retirees living a simple life in Guano, Texas. Tragically, they lost their only son two years ago and frankly Mags hasn't been the same since. She never leaves the recliner. TV's on 24/7 and she's got to constantly pop pills to deal with some mysterious sleeping sickness. Worst part? She feels trapped by these terrible nightmares.

Erns feels trapped too, but by their boring life. He wants to move on, shake things up. So he's listed their deceased son's bedroom on Airbnb or some such and rented it for the weekend to some college dropout who's going to a music festival in the desert. Think Coachella but in Texas.

Before the election, I imagine all of this would have struck an audience in LA as a slightly exotic story of a distant but sympathetic and simple other - almost quaint.

After the election? Suddenly the landscape is riddled with clues and symbolism. Texas? Red state. That TV that's always on? Not mindless game shows but probably Fox News and worse. Maggie's aversion to the grocery store ever since, in her words, there were "more types of chili peppers than apples in the produce section"? Alt-right, right?

As an audience we're like some 9th grade literature class that's just discovered symbolism and we see it everywhere. That simple red state world is suddenly running things so we listen differently.

As happens with so many Rogue Machine shows, there's a transformation in the second half that blows things open. I won't give it all away but let's just say that Mags' and Erns' simple living room turns into the set of a brilliantly garish 80s game show. They find themselves unwitting contestants playing "It's a scary, scary world."

Of course, we can't go back in time but I can't help but imagine that before the election -- inside of our safe, blue California bubble -- "It's a scary, scary world" would have played just a little differently. Our laughter might have had a little more arrogance.

Words and ideas that would have passed by with hardly a thought now carry baggage for a trip that wasn't imagined, much less planned. That's not the play's fault but it is the theater's new reality. Our world and our audience have changed so the plays need to change along with them.

When Mags defends the power of truth with a hilarious line about the Magna Carta and says, "I know I live in Texas, but I still believe facts are facts," that's no longer a line about an imagined game show but a necessary cry of resistance.

The Super Variety Match Bonus Round! is a play from before with hints of what was to come but those hints weren't ready for the weight we now place on them. You might find yourself following clues that lead nowhere but that line about the Magna Carta is worth the price of admission.

The Super Variety Match Bonus Round! plays at the Rogue Machine Theatre in Hollywood through December 19.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time 75 minutes without an intermission.


Anthony Byrnes

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