By the second weekend of the run the leading male role had been taken over permanently by the understudy. And another of the actors had “taken off for the evening” and her role was being executed by an alternate. Not an auspicious second weekend for award-winning director Elina de Santos.
The play is Vince Melocchi’s Nice Things, which is currently having its rocky World Premiere with the usually excellent Rogue Machine. The title is meant to be ironic, I guess, because there is nothing “nice” about the play. Obliquely, it refers to the “nice things” that ordinary working-class people strive to acquire. And that soldiers give their lives for.
Nice Things deals with the after-effects of the death of a soldier, Danny, in Afghanistan. His fiancée, Amy (Connor Kelly-Eiding), is suffering not only from his loss but also from guilt, since it was she who persuaded him to enlist in the National Guard.
The two of them had believed the sales pitch of recruiter Bobbie Jo Gunning (Rebekah Tripp), who told them about the paychecks that would be coming in, the college tuition and books that he would be eligible to receive, and the limited duty required by the Guard. Moreover, she assured him that he would not have to go overseas.
After Danny’s death Amy becomes obsessed with exposing Bobbie Jo’s “recruiting lies,” and engages a young radio reporter, Justin Dumont (Michael Hanson) to help her. She gets his attention by seducing him in a clunky sort of way.
Another almost-seduction scene, which is pretty much irrelevant, takes place between Bobbie Jo and her lover, Sandy (Amy K. Harmon).
This play, had it been mounted better and if it had a better cast, might have provided a provocative evening. As it is, however, the cast mostly mumbles their lines and delivers them as if they were still learning them.
The best of the bunch is Rebekah Tripp, who delivered her recruiting pitch articulately, with conviction and clarity.
Another element that doesn’t quite make it is Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s scenic design, which consists mainly of large screens on which various unidentified scenery is projected over and over. One repeated scene is of a train rushing through a farm-like countryside. Another is of a dilapidated house in a forest. And then there’s a grainy image of part of an American flag that periodically pops up. This background imagery might have worked better if the audience were seated perpendicularly to the screens. But in this particular theater the main aisle is right down the center of the auditorium and the seats fan out at an angle, so the audience‘s view of the screens is unavoidably skewed.
Playwright Vince Melocchi confesses that his aim with Nice Things is to acknowledge that there is a cost for everything we do, everything we have and want. “Nothin’ costs nothin’,” he says. “Our small towns are being destroyed by poverty because so many jobs are going overseas. These towns are filled with nothing but memories of better days,” and, he adds, young people have no alternative but the military. So, he concludes, “Hopefully, after seeing this play, when people hear about a soldier dying in the war, they’ll take a moment and think… That person gave their life for our freedom, and that needs to be acknowledged, recognized, and honored.”
It’s a nice thought, but unfortunately the actions and the dialogue of the players don’t convey that lofty message.
Nice Things will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3 through November 23rd at Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. Call 855-585-5185 for reservations.
Photo: Michael Hanson and Connor Kelly-Eiding
Photo by Jon Perrin Flynn