Fearless only begins to describe Patrick Stafford and Emily James’ stunning performances in Kim Davies’ walk-on-the-wild-side two-hander Smoke, now running in raw, risk-taking Rogue Machine rep with the similarly single-word-titled Honky and Bull.
It takes a deliberate while for Davies to clue us in that the party from which 31-year-old John (Stafford) and 20-year-old Julie (James) have sought quiet refuge and a smoke is neither an AA gathering (although “it’s sober, but not that sober”) nor your average, everynight Manhattan bash but one whose guests might be seen sporting cocktail umbrellas glued to hypodermics, a shindig that anyone squeamish at the sight of blood might opt not to attend.
Still, regardless of how much S/M may be taking place elsewhere the upscale New York apartment, all is quiet and safe (at least so far) in the kitchen where John and Julie meet cute, both of them looking as handsome/pretty as all get-out in costume designer Marissa Maynes’ elegant-casual black party garb.
Semi-flirtatious chitchat soon reveals Julie to be the college student daughter of John’s “major American artist” boss Geoffrey Bradford, a man prone to drunk-dial his latest intern at three in the morning with impossible demands, and though John’s latest job may not sound all that appealing, it is probably more exciting than his previous barista work (in four different states no less).
Julie, meanwhile, is “trying to do as little as possible with her life,” which may be one reason she’s here tonight for her first “party” and ready to be schooled by the more experienced John in the ways and means of BDSM.
“You look like a sub,” remarks the older man before revealing that he’s “a het dom, but not a dick. Not creepy. Maybe a little” and then going on to reassure Julie that tonight’s soirée is “a safe place where everybody knows the rules. Like a kiddie pool. You know you get to choose what happens to you, right?”
And what happens to Julie and John, while allowing James to stay in her undies and keeping Stafford thoroughly clothed throughout, is rawer and rougher than just about anything I’ve seen in live theater, or that the two actors have likely ever simulated onstage, and that includes some knife play that is definitely not for the easily nauseated.
Smoke proves nothing if not an informative BDSM primer, and though doubtless not nearly as explicitly detailed as the books Julie’s read as research (S/M 101 and The Bottoming Book among them), audiences can expect to learn esoteric lingo like “do a scene with,” “play with,” “open poly,” and more.
Most importantly, Davies’ hard-hitting one-act, now getting its West Coast Premiere under Lisa James’ scalpel-sharp direction, offers a powerful look at two young, lonely, damaged souls seeking in S/M (both sexual and psychological) what would appear to be missing in their lives.
Smoke also provides the great pleasure of seeing two-time LADCC award-winner Stafford and recent CSUF grad James burn up the stage with performances requiring not just dazzling talent (which both performers possess in spades) but an intimacy and trust few acting vehicles ever demand.
Scenic adapter David A. Mauer has transformed Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s Honky set into a gleaming steel kitchen that looks as if it had ben created specifically for Smoke. Dan Weingarten’s lighting is as stark and dramatic as the play deserves, sound designer Christopher Moscatiello backs the action with a faint but steady techno/house hum, and Matthew Glave earns high marks for fight choreography that is hardly your garden variety fisticuffs.
Michelle Hanzelova is assistant director/stage manager. Amanda Mauer is production manager and David A. Mauer is technical director. Smoke is produced by John Perrin Flynn, Justin Okin, and Pollono. Anna DiGiovanni understudies the role of Julie.
Though definitely not for all audiences, Smoke is not only Patrick Stafford and Emily James at their most brilliant, it is Rogue Machine Theatre at its edgiest and most electrifying … which as any L.A. theatergoer can tell you, is saying something indeed.
Rogue Machine @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. www.roguemachinetheatre.com
July 2, 2106
Photos: John Perrin Flynn