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Theatre Review (LA): Half of Plenty by Lisa Dillman at TheatreTheater

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The Rogue Machine is a relatively new theatre company made up of people I respect. They have taken over the old TheatreTheater on Pico and turned it into two very serviceable performance spaces. In the larger space, Half Of Plenty, a play developed at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, is having its West Coast premiere.

The play is written by Lisa Dillman, who has a body of work being done at regional theatres across America. It is kind of a kooky story about a couple who drift apart when economic pressures and the Neighborhood Watch come between them. The strain is not helped by the presence of the man’s aging father who seems to be suffering from dementia.

The Tindall household is in the midst of a crisis. They live under the flight path of a nearby airport and are constantly being rattled by overhead planes that move pictures, and eventually walls, in their house. Marty Tinsdall (John Pollono) works for a firm that makes boxes. He is having trouble keeping up, especially now that his father (Robert Mandan) has taken up residence. The latter can be found on any given day wandering the streets, or strapped into a lounge chair shredding a newspaper.

Holly Tindall (Carolyn Palmer) is a medical transcriber who falls in love with the doctor’s voice and allows her fantasies to soar until he asks to meet. Turning to the nosy, pushy, fascistic neighbors, Hector Zook (Ron Bottitta) and his cutout wife Mitzi (Betty Zaijko), Marty ends up joining the nightly watch that spies on neighbors and forces any household that seems to want different things to toe the line. Holly, meanwhile, goes steadily insane.

The play is well directed by Barbara Kallir, who finds whatever humor is in the piece. The actors are all good, but the Tindalls do tend to push when things fall apart. Falling apart on stage is difficult and must be accompanied by specific thoughts and actions or else the actors end up playing generalizations. Ms. Palmer needs to be more specific in her actions and Mr. Pollono needs to stop touching his hair all the time; one gesture repeated gets tedious and ends up being distracting and meaning very little.

The neighbors are more successful, and I particularly like Ron Bottica’s work. His choices are clean, clear, and very funny. Robert Mandan is his usual excellent self. I ended up watching him much of the time because his work was fascinating to see.

This is an interesting piece, and the company is a welcome addition to the LA theatre scene. Half of Plenty will play at TheatreTheater until June 21.

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