Occupation - Theatre Review

A Rave Review by Suzanne Birrell.

Brandon Bales and K.J. Middlebooks in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

I had the opportunity to attend opening night of Occupation by Ken Ferrigni at Sacred Fools Theatre. The premise of the play is that Florida was given to China in exchange for relief from the national debt. Having lived in Florida myself and having met some of the real life versions of the characters depicted, I was eager to see this production.  I was enthralled from the git-go. 

Brandon Bales and Halle Charlton in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

The audience shared my enthusiasm and The Sacred Fools Theatre is the perfect venue for this production. The set designed by DeAnne Millais is "glorious" -so described the writer Ken Ferrigni. Florida was genuinely depicted on that stage-from trash to trees to office buildings to mosquitos. The sound design by Ben Rock brings you into the action with the subtle sound of mosquitoes and never fails to enhance the action.

Robert Paterno and Rebecca Larsen in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

The staged production on a whole is more  mixed media.  In order to get the back story, Occupation begins with a series of news flashes projected on sign boards. The video production created in house by Anthony Backman is brilliant and definitely enhances the production by presenting a lot of information in a short amount of time and is used to further the plot all through the production.

Brandon Bales and K.J. Middlebooks in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

Director Ben Rock did a fantastic job of balancing the serious moments with the comic. Though the story of any occupied nation is one of tragedy, we laugh at the idea of Florida.  The script could have easily gone slapstick but Director Ben Rock  moved the flow between serious and comic relief with a sense of musicality and respect. I laughed, I got teary eye, and laughed some more. 

Alyssa Preston, Rebecca Larsen, Robert Paterno and Halle Charlton  in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

The script is both witty and profound. "God's not retarded. We're made in His image so we're not retarded either." "What ever happened to the Saint Titty of motherhood?  (Sanctity?)" The scariest moment for one character is the fear that he will become "Ungoogle-able." And the list goes on. T-Shirts can be made showcasing this script. While the subject matter is serious, Occupation cerebrally challenges while entertaining. It is fuel for the thoughtful, the perfect play and inspired much thoughtful discussion among the patrons. If you have social gatherings in your future see Occupation first. Lots of fuel for discussion in this story.

Brandon Bales and Bruno Oliver (on the screen) in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

Occupation is an ensemble piece and every member of the cast was true to their character in every moment. Halle Charlton is no hold barred Bets doing her best to simply survive. Alyssa Preston brings a wholeness and richness to the character of Kell Cartwright who will do anything to save her husband. Rebecca Larsen is totally believable in her choices for survival as Maria 'Mei Mei' Burrus.  K.J. Middlebooks is passionate and intense as Gare Cartwright who must juggle love of country with family. Robert Paterno as Deng Zedong is the most endearing and entertaining bad guy character I've ever met.  Brandon Bales as Florian Hale was true to life and believable on every level. Bruno Oliver, I believe, is the first stage actor to make his appearance entirely on video. It was a memorable performance and very much important to the story. His appearance later on in the play on video as well was a choice of the director and added to the craziness of the moment in a way that his live appearance could not do.

K.J. Middlebooks and Aylssa Preston in "Occupation." Jessica Sherman Photography

Don't wait to see this West Coast Premiere! Everybody will be talking about it.


by Ken Ferrigni
directed by Ben Rock
produced by Shaela Cook

APRIL 3 - MAY 9, 2015
Previews March 27-28 & April 2 @ 8pm
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Thursdays, April 16 & 23 @ 8pm

Tickets: $20 (Previews: $15)
Friday, April 10: Donate What You Can (see below)
(310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online

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Posted By Suzanne Birrell on April 08, 2015 02:12 pm | Permalink