Reviewed by Nyla Arslanian
It didn't take very long for the nostalgia to set in as Justin Tanner's Little Theatre unfolded. A superb ensemble performance based on the playwright's Los Angeles live theatre career. Jenny O'Hara delivers a performance which is a tour de force as producing director Monica. She doesn't miss a beat, maintaining her crusty character with joyful aplomb. Her main foil, Ryan Brophy as theatre managing director Danny is perfection throughout out not missing a nuanced eye roll or wonderful expressive reactions to Monica's constant stream of vitriol.
The play opens with a Zachary Grant's monologue as James, identified as Justin Tanner's alter ego, a young man in search of himself. Soon the fun begins as their saga of producing small theatre in Los Angeles unfolds. For this theatre reviewer, it was a trip down memory lane.
Tanner's play is set in the El Centro/Circle Theatre an actual theatre that was on El Centro a short block or two north of Santa Monica Blvd. Monica and Danny's exchange in the first scene regarding the theatre's plumbing problem got the laughs going. For this reviewer, having been part of a La Mama Theatre production in a now vanished theatre on Van Ness, this rang all too true.
With occasional "fast forward" monologues, the play, under award-winning director, Lisa James, seamlessly progresses from the arrival of James, as a community service worker as he evolves into an award-winning playwright and TV writer. James and Danny remain with the theatre enduring Monica's idiosyncrasies. Neither ever receiving much acknowledgement for their efforts from Monica.
For anyone who loves theatre, loves the wonder of the small, intimate theatre scene in Los Angeles or who's seen many noteworthy productions that originated on stages not much bigger than a postage stamp, with cold, sometimes damp, dressing rooms, a cramped backstage but where the love of the art form reigns Thursdays to Sundays week in and week out, this play's for you.
Little Theatre is a well-crafted love letter, never a dull moment, acting and technical perfection liberally laced with laughter. While the laughs were many, it wasn't the laughter that brought tears to my eyes. It was the remembering of the many theatres that are now gone.
Still, it's in the fine work that The Rogue Machine Theatre Company brings to the venerable Matrix Theatre that keeps intimate theatre a valuable and contributing part of this city. With all the development and mixed-use projects happening in Hollywood these days, it doesn't seem farfetched to fantasize about small, intimate theatre spaces could be a good use for empty first floor retail spaces. One can dream.
A don't miss this intimate theatre piece, Little Theatre, runs Wednesday-Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Added performances Monday 12/19 at 8pm. No performances Dec 24, 25, 31 or Jan 1. Rogue Machine at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue.