Los Angeles Theater Review: RANT & RAVE CHAPTER 62: MEDIA (Rogue Machine Theatre)

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by Jason Rohrer on September 22, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


I’m running up Pico. It’s 7:54 p.m. and I just parked on Rimpau because I’ve only lived in L.A. for 18 years and Google Maps told me Theatre Theater was .1 mile from Rimpau, but it isn’t, it’s like 9 blocks, and I’m running. I was up at 4:30 this morning to stagehand and do VOG at a college convocation (“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage…” in between the heavy lifting), and it’s 7:56 in the evening now and I’m running up Pico in Vans with no arch that already have cracks across the soles, flap-flap, flap-flap. I smoke and I’m very aware of it right now. I don’t run anymore because I smoke. Also I’m tired as hell. I took a shower right before I headed to Hollywood or whatever the fuck part of town Rogue Machine’s in – it’s all Hollywood to me – and I’m running past homeless people setting up their tents for the night, I’m sweating through my shower-fresh clean white T shirt, I’m thinking maybe I’m running the wrong direction, how many blocks can it be, how many impromptu taco stands grilling spiced meats, how many Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles restaurants. Only one Roscoe’s on Pico. It’s across the street from Rogue Machine. I’m here. My shins ache.

Two nights ago I went to Ron Bottitta’s house to play games with him and Holly and Holly’s sister and a bunch of Rogue Machine people. It was lovely. It’s nice to be in a room full of people who know more than I do. It’s not a thing I acknowledge as happening very often. But the elephant in the room was that the Pollonos weren’t there, and their adorable kid is the most fun to play games with, and her parents are the producers of Rant & Rave, the storytelling night Bottitta hosts once a month, and I’m trying to get in good with them so they’ll let me tell a story. I’ve been trying a long time. They get good crowds. It’s a good show. And not having hung out with them means I more than ever have to go to the new Rant & Rave tonight. Jen’s reading tonight. It’ll look bad if I’m not there. Also David Jette’s guest-producing tonight, and we used to not like each other at all, so it’ll be even worse if I don’t come.

The worst part is I got the email today. I’m telling a story at this thing next month. So I really, really have to be here tonight. Or I’ll look like an asshole. Which, well.

Sweat-soaked, I head for a seat up in the rafters and immediately bang my face on a par can. There’s AC down there but it’s hot up here, or I’m just still overheated from being an out of shape middle-aged smoker who decided to park half a mile away and run.

It’s a pretty good lineup. After Ron does his funny, homey, comforting shtick about being famous and getting no respect:

A publisher tells a story about being the token mistaken-for-ghetto hire at a boutique publishing house. She’s undermined by being introduced as a comedy writer, but her piece is well-written, mildly funny, and mildly poignant. A former federal public defender tells a story about defending a woman accused of impersonating a Shirelle. It’s well-written, consistently funny, mildly poignant. Two actresses tell the story of their, and our, everybody’s, ongoing obsession with social media, and its effect on their careers, families, psychology. The writing is uneven, but it’s sporadically very funny and mildly poignant.

There’s an intermission. I consider my judgment. Seems harsh. Were the stories last time better, just because the stakes were higher? Last time had rape, child molestation, black kids getting shot by cops with impunity – heavy shit. There is nothing wrong with stories that aren’t heavy shit. These stories are alright. What the hell. Maybe I’m out of sorts.

After intermission a guy tells a story about losing his anglophilia after working for some dumb Brits on a dumb TV show. It’s a fairly good story, but overwritten, heavy on the cute, and self-consciously delivered. Then a guy tells a story about trying to shoot a beauty pageant in Chechnya. The material has a lot of potential, but it’s so under-exposited as to be confusing. He is awfully glib in making light of some atrocious circumstances. There’s a way to get mileage out of this stuff, and this isn’t it. He’s very funny a few times but overall he laughs at his jokes more than the crowd does. The room’s not with him. And his story seems to have no point.

Then an actor talks about his lifelong relationship with show business, describing it as a frustrating love affair. There’s poetry in this piece. Then his love affair really goes through some changes when he gets cast as Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace. As soon as the news lands, he gets an ovation just for having been Jar Jar Binks. His treatment of the subject is not profound, but it is sleek, well-organized, and has the enormous advantage of an international outrage already judged by the audience over a decade ago and suddenly made human in real time.

There is a great deal for me to think about while I’m not-quite-limping the half-mile to my car. In fact I was already thinking it while watching the storytellers. A good story is always tough; if it were easy, you wouldn’t be so horrified to be cornered by a stranger on a plane. But what a story isn’t is as important as what it is.

It isn’t self-indulgent; it is for the benefit of an audience.

It isn’t self-amused; it is for the benefit of an audience.

It isn’t self-interested; it is for the benefit of an audience.

It’s very easy for a story to become the pet of its teller, an in-joke you’re barely letting the audience in on. Mostly this is death. Everyone can smell it, a septic smell, time to change the bandage or amputate. The only time this works…this doesn’t work. It’s rude. The story must be for the benefit of an audience, which in practical terms on Pico on a Monday means you’ve got the easy stuff – the world of theater, the world of pop culture, the world of American experience – and a little leeway all around that, called your innate or cultivated storytelling skills.

  • Your story has to land in me because you like it so much you want to give it to me – not so that I can thank you, but so I can have it, too. Love, they call it.
  • Your story can be about a trip to a place I’ve never been, or falling in love with someone I hate, and it can land in me if the universality of your explanation of your experience can replace my prejudice, my self-interest, my indifference.
  • Your story has to be worth giving to me. Your value on it cannot be based merely on sentiment or subjective experience. I don’t care what pillow-talk name your dead lover gave you; I don’t care that she gave you any name at all. I don’t care that you care. I care that you thought enough of me to make me care.
  • Sensation is only cause enough for a story if it’s a sensation I really, really like (other people’s pain or pleasure, for instance) or am unfamiliar enough with to make it a novelty. Generally a story needs more than, say, a listicle. Contrary to BuzzFeed, a list is not a story. It may be a poem, a tone, a reverie; it is not a story.
  • If your intention is to amuse me or yourself, is that a good reason for distracting me from what I was doing? Does not amusement flow from some investigation of the human condition, rather than from an investigation of the way to amusement?

Finally I get to my goddamn car so I can stop this thinking. My body hurts. I’m sore and tired and I still have to drive 40 miles home – thinking, probably – and write this fucking article before I sleep. And that, while important to me, is not a story. I’m afraid I have not discovered the story today; I have to keep looking.

I hope I find it by October 12.

Rant & Rave Chapter 62: Media
Rogue Machine at Theatre Theater
5041 West Pico

Rant & Rave Chapter 63: Magic
scheduled for October 12, 2015 at 8 p.m.
for tickets, visit roguemachinetheatre.com

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