Los Angeles Theater Review: AMERICAN MISFIT (Boston Court in Pasadena)

by Jason Rohrer on April 16, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

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HISTORY AS MYTHOLOGY AS ROCK AND ROLL

Dan Dietz’s American Misfit is the kind of smart, provocative entertainment that stimulates the best part of an audience: its appreciation.  As produced by the ever-resourceful Theatre @ Boston Court, this play furiously delineates some mixed results of the American experiment with historical footnotes that illuminate our present with the flickering light of our past.  Via songs by Mr. Dietz and Phillip Owen, painstaking and inventive direction by Michael Michetti, and the enthusiastic participation of a four-man rockabilly band and a cast of eight (some overlap there), this show shouts encouragement to those who would participate in a collective political and spiritual evolution.  If the show were a person, I would make violent love to it.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN MISFIT at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.Mr. Dietz’s ambitious script details the mythological fortunes of the real-life Harpe brothers, an early American terrorist organization that plays like a reactionary 18th Century Manson family.  Little and Big Harpe (Daniel MK Cohen and AJ Meijer), monarchist brothers upset by the success of the War of Independence, sweep a bevy of female followers (Karen Jean Olds, Maya Erskine, and Eden Riegel) on a murderous rampage across the former British colonies.  That these women’s disgruntlement with their own lot informs the course of this rebellion is a dichotomy so central to the action that the story wouldn’t work without it.  This is how you make political art: not by writing an essay but by petitioning the muses.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN MISFIT at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.In an outrageous conceit, this bloody story is told at a “greatest hits” 1950s sock-hop by a satanic rock and roller (a brilliantly cast Banks Boutté) more interested in the revolutionary spirit of violence and chaos than in the considered ideas of true reform.  If that’s too much to take, you won’t want to know that George Washington (Larry Cedar) appears from the grave to admonish us to not “fuck this shit up,” or that J. Robert Oppenheimer (the absurdly versatile P.J. Ochlan) recounts a dream in which Marilyn Monroe impregnates him in a speeding convertible.  Or that part of Reagan’s second inaugural speech is delivered verbatim (again, by Mr. Ochlan).

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN MISFIT at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.The designers do the work one expects from this company.  Nick Santiago’s hilariously handsome set, Elizabeth Harper’s seemingly omniscient lighting, Ann Closs-Farley’s evocative costumes, and Martin Carrillo’s spooky sound design play tricks with the play’s time-and-space motifs, placing the action and yet not confining it.  Omar Brancato’s musical direction (he also plays bass in the band, alongside Eric McConnell’s smokin’ electric guitar, Rosy Rosenquist’s drums, and Mr. Boutté’s vocals and rhythm guitar) is perfectly pitched to the manic yet cool-as-ice tone of Mr. Michetti’s production.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN MISFIT at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.This is not a musical, but a play in which music underscores theme and story.  I hate a musical like I hate a plague, and I loved this thing – with a caveat or two.  As inspiring as it is in the era of McPlays to see a fleshed-out tale running two-hours-plus, it must be said that the first act drags a bit under exposition of debatable necessity.  It is also true that the players are not all equally gifted at portraying dialect.  But the romance of music and story marries happily about twenty minutes in and does not stop pleasing until some point yet to be determined – I saw it three days ago and I’m still singing those seductive lyrics (“I got a long black car/drive it long black slow/watch the way I long black go”) and chewing the cud-like philosophical inquiries.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN MISFIT at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.Why do we love?  Whom should we follow?  When are we safe?  How can we tell our fears from our encouragements?  Why does rage play so much better than reason?  What the hell are we doing here, anyway?  The big questions are answerable only by individual conscience and temperament, which is part of the inherent danger of any free society.  We build together not only the society we agree on but also the one we cannot agree not to build.  And knowing that much may make the difference between democracy and Armageddon.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of AMERICAN MISFIT at Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena.photos by Ed Krieger

American Misfit
Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena
scheduled to end on May 12, 2013
for tickets, call 626.683.6883 or visit http://www.bostoncourt.com/

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

MARCIA RODD April 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Wonderfully written review. It makes one curious to see the play without using cliched hyperbole. Well done!

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Christopher Pitt May 1, 2013 at 8:04 pm

This is a perceptive and telling review about a dynamic, challenging and entertaining musical play that explores some age-old dilemmas under ideas of democracy, monarchy, violence and justification in manifesto. Dilemmas that resonated over time and into recent events. Great all-around performances by the cast and crew. May Boston Court continue to challenge audiences and break new ground, keeping us all on the edge of their seats!!

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