bled for the household truth

If a tightly-wound New York male and a free-spirited Manchester female sharing NYC digs sounds like the latest take on Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, think again. Ruth Fowler’s bled for the household truth may have an uncomfortable laugh every now and then, but what the Welsh playwright has up her twisted sleeve in this Rogue Machine World Premiere proves the darkest, most disturbing, and quite possibly the most compelling play in town.

A “Roommate Wanted” ad placed by unmarried, uptight, pushing-forty Keith (Benjamin Burdick) has brought slim-and-sexy nymphet Pen (Alexandra Hellquist) to his Gramercy Park two-bedroom for “free rent and me own room, and all I’ve got to do is prance around in me knickers occasionally,” and though the additional conditions he stammers out suggest someone in need of intensive therapy (“I won’t… I won’t… touch… you. You don’t have to… strip… It’s… having a woman near. The smell. Proximity. It… it… excites me. Makes me – feel alive.”), the deal is too good for the cash-starved, undocumented Mancunian to pass up.

It doesn’t take long for Pen to dishonor Keith’s condition that she not welcome male visitors with sexy 20something slacker Billy (Nathaniel Meek), described in Fowler’s script as “a privileged asshole whose mom never said ‘no,’” and who perhaps for that reason seems deaf when, in one of the play’s most unsettling sequences, Pen tells him just that.

To reveal more about Keith and Pen and Billy would eliminate the element of shock (surprise seems too flimsy a word) that helps make bled for the household truth such an edge-of-your-seater, so I’ll leave it up to you to discover what transpires as the coldest winter in New York history becomes the City’s hottest summer.

Suffice it to say that long-hidden—or repressed—secrets will be revealed, indifference and/or aversion may become something quite different indeed, and the shit as they say might just hit the fan.

If the thought of witnessing multiple simulated sex and masturbation scenes so offends you that you don’t give a damn what might prompt decent human beings to engage in such self-destructive behavior, bled for the household truth is not for you.

If, on the other hand, your heart can bleed for souls that might be damaged beyond redemption, then do not miss this latest from Rogue Machine, directed with raw intensity by Cameron Watson and highlighted by two of the most brilliant acting feats you’ll see any time soon.

Burdick is simply, subtly sensational in a role (and performance) unlike any I’ve seen before. Repressed to the point of paralysis yet clearly longing to break free, Burdick’s complex, conflicted, deeply wounded Keith will quite simply break your heart.

Hellquist’s rising-star turn is fire to Burdick’s ice, daffy enough to suggest Pen could just as easily helm her own romcom, as achingly needy as she is outwardly self-sufficient … and her Manchester accent is both consistent and spot-on. (Tracy Winters is dialect coach.)

Meek’s sexy, seductive slacker is terrific too, like Burdick and Hellquist playing scenes of physical intimacy that require both guts and the complete confidence of one’s partner, and Rachel Brunner makes the very most of her eleventh hour appearance as the sunny blonde (and relatively together) Monica.

A team of L.A.’s finest demonstrate the heights professional 99-seat production design can scale when you’ve got John Iacovelli’s sleek, upscale apartment set and Kate Bergh’s character-revealing costumes stunningly lit by Jared A. Sayeg, with sound designer Christopher Moscatiello’s edgy music choices adding to the excitement throughout.

bled for the household truth is produced by John Perrin Flynn. Ryan McRee is assistant director. Ramón Valdez is stage manager.Amanda Bierbauer is production manager. David A. Mauer is production manager. Casting is by Victoria Hoffman.

Those likely to get their knickers in a twist over bled for the household truth’s more shocking elements would probably do better seeking out G-rated fare this holiday season. The open-minded and open-hearted, on the other hand, can expect to find themselves riveted to the edges of their seats and moved to tears. I for one was both.

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Rogue Machine @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. Through December 18. Mondays and Saturdays at 8:30. Sundays at 3:00. Reservations: 855 585-5185
www.roguemachinetheatre.com

–Steven Stanley
November 27, 2017
Photos: John Perrin Flynn

 

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