Playwright Deb Hiett pokes gentle fun at the Red State-Blue State divide in her undeniably hilarious, unexpectedly moving, and utterly unique World Premiere comedy The Super Variety Match Bonus Round!, the latest from Rogue Machine Theatre.
The Super Variety Match in question might easily be one of those ‘70s TV game shows whose reruns make up the bread-and-butter of 60something Texas housewife Mags’s (Bonnie Bailey-Reed) TV diet, that is when she’s not got CNN on to relay wars, famines, and assorted natural disasters … if only she could stay awake.
Still, even back into her everyday reality, Mags can tell that something’s not quite right today. Erns has set out a bowl of cashews instead of their usual roasted peanuts “with the shells on,” and that’s just not normal.
What turns out to be up is that Erns has rented out their spare room, “Tom’s room,” for a couple of days to one of the presumably thousands of outsiders about to invade the nearby desert for “that big Pesa music festival.” (Think Coachella, but in Texas.)
In response to Mags’s protests that he had no right to store all of Tom’s stuff in the shed, Erns reminds her that thanks to their paying guest they’ll be pocketing a cool $500 for “two measly nights,” news that mollifies Mags somewhat … or at least until the doorbell rings and in steps Chrz (Victoria Ortiz).
“I cain’t tell if you’re a boy or a girl,” are the first words out of Mags’s mouth when she catches sight of the androgynous stranger with the half-shaved head, boy’s body, girl’s voice, infectious exuberance, and nary a vowel in his/her name.
It doesn’t take long for Chrz to realize that tragedy must have struck Erns and Mags and to offer words of condolence. (The folded American flag on the wall and the three framed medals beneath it have already clued us in to the reason for Tom’s absence from their home, though not yet the details.)
Then, before heading off to trip on the music of Orson Welk, Grandmaw’s Aspic, Biker Poodles, and more, Chrz leaves behind a little surprise that will rock the 60something couple’s world in The Super Variety Match Bonus Round!’s mind-blowing second half.
In less adept hands than those of playwright Hiett and director Cameron Watson, the latter running with the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, Super Variety Match could easily have become a “let’s make fun of the rubes” play rather than the affectionate, even-handed look at both liberal and conservative quirks that it is.
As for what happens once Chrz has exited, fortunate are those who’ve not read Rogue Machine’s p.r. blurbs and get to experience Super Variety Match with the element of surprise it deserves.
The divine Bailey-Reed was born (in Texas no less) to play Mags, a role she attacks with the force of a tornado (and a total lack of vanity), earning what may well be a record number of Rogue Machine laughs per minute.
The absolutely terrific-and-Texan Taylor imbues Erns with oceans of love, and when he lets go of everything kept locked up inside, get out those hankies.
Newcomer Ortiz makes for an utterly engaging Chrz, whether in tomboy mode or otherwise. (I’ll let you find out what that “otherwise” is.)
As for Paula Christensen’s Latina mail carrier Dolores, can you say deliciosa (and revelatory for those who caught her tweaked-out Scenie-winning turn in Boston Court’s Colony Collapse earlier this year).
Scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s living room set does entirely amazing things. Meanwhile, Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting goes from subtle brilliance to something not at all subtle but equally brillz, and the same can be said for Kate Bergh’s costumes and Christopher Moscatiello’s sound design and original music. (Hiett’s choreography gets snaps as well.)
Kirstin Racicot is assistant director. Ramón Valdez is stage manager. Amanda Mauer is production manager and David Mauer is technical director. Casting is by Victoria Hoffman.
The Super Variety Match Bonus Round! is produced by John Perrin Flynn. Michelle Hanzelova is co-producer.
No matter who got your vote in this past week’s elections, Deb Hiett’s comedy gem will have you laughing out loud, wiping away tears, and standing up to cheer. I can’t think of better theatrical medicine to help heal wounds and bring us together this fall than The Super Variety Match Bonus Round!
Rogue Machine @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood.
November 12, 2016
Photos: John Perrin Flynn