A Permanent Image

by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 30, 2015

Tracie Lockwood, Ned Mochel, and Anne Gee Byrd
Tracie Lockwood, Ned Mochel, and Anne Gee Byrd  (Source:John Flynn)

Obie-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter ("The Whale," "A Bright New Boise") is among the most vibrant and relevant voices in contemporary theater, known for his daring works of uncompromising emotional resonance and psychological depth.

In its West Coast premiere, courtesy of the ever-adventurous Rogue Machine company, Hunter's electrifying family drama, "A Permanent Image" combines metaphysical musings with a riveting story of the meltdown of an estranged Midwestern family, whose unplanned holiday reunion occurs following unexpected circumstances, and with sky-high stakes.

Rogue's fearless artistic director John Perrin Flynn has assembled an exemplary cast and inspired designers to bring out the fierce intelligence and searing poignancy of this outstanding work.

With elements that recall the lacerating kitchen-sink-drama hell of Edward Albee and the heady aura of surrealistic underpinnings in the best works of Harold Pinter, Hunter's gripping play creates a dramatic universe that at once feels claustrophobically unnerving, ironically funny and intriguingly spiritual. The Big Bang Theory has ramifications far beyond the realm of contemporary sitcoms in the fascinating way that Hunter depicts our ethereal life journeys from joy to misery to fear and ultimately to acceptance.

As the play opens, alcoholic eccentric Carol (Ann Gee Byrd) has recently experienced the horror of watching her dying husband (Mark L. Taylor, seen in eerie filmed footage) musing on the universe, and mankind's relationship to it. She then summons their grown children to come home to be by her side during burial services.

It's instantly clear that the siblings -- photojournalist Bo (Matthew Elkins, who alternates in the role with Ned Mochel) and lesbian businesswoman Ally (Tracie Lockwood) -- had less than joyous upbringings and feel far from close to their parents. Meanwhile, mom is indulging in behavior that apparently seems even more bizarre than usual for her; she has painted every inch of the apartment and its furnishings white, while continually consuming the liquor that she keeps stashed in various places, while offering her visiting children packaged junk-food snacks for holiday cuisine.

She gradually describes certain details on the abrupt passing of their father, and the family tries to resolve differences on what to do with his remains. In the midst of this turmoil, Carol drops a bombshell revelation that prompts the two siblings to come to terms with precisely how broken this family has become, and to make choices as to what they can do to deal with it.

Byrd, who time and time again offers indelible portrayals in a wide range of roles, is at the peak or her powers in this shattering seriocomic performance, which anchors the production, as she generously dovetails her efforts beautifully with her sublime fellow actors.

Taylor has the least to do, but does it powerfully and poignantly, Elkins and Lockwood likewise imbue their roles with indelible layers of wrenching sadness and wry wit. This is among Rogue Machine's most riveting and rewarding offerings to date, absolutely a don't-miss occasion.

"A Permanent Image" continues through July 20 at Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. For tickets and information, call 855-585-5155 or visit http://www.roguemachinetheatre.com.