“This is the way the world ends…”
Henry Murray has written a spare and poignant story of three young boys, surviving on their own after an ecological disaster has wiped out most of humanity and destroyed plant and animal life. Set in the dark future into which we presently seem to be careening out of control, “TREEFALL’s” world premiere production, which ends Sept. 6 at LA’s exemplary Rogue Machine Theatre, succeeds on every level.
A solo cello echoes through the chaotic debris of a once-lofty civilization. In lieu of exposition, director John Perrin Flynn delivers the bad news in a subtle unfolding of everyday life in hell. Sound design wizard Sloe Slawinsky brings the trees crashing down around our heads, as lighting designer Leigh Allen unleashes a painful, poisonous light. The oldest of the three boys, Flynn, leaps into action, hammering cardboard over a crack in the cabin wall to keep out the searing sun. His arm is burned to a dark maroon. Life as usual.
Brian Norris plays the responsible, tragic Flynn with an eloquent, doomed determination. His post-apocalyptic Peter Pan commands the tiny tribe of Lost Boys with gentle authority and, occasionally, something darker. Under his wary eye, the young survivors sleep during the day and forage by night for food in deserted malls and grocery stores, careful not to stray too far from home, lest they be caught outdoors at daybreak. The nocturnal scavenging is interspersed with trips to the ruined local library for books.
Having long since abandoned any hope that their mothers will return for them, the three boys play-act a family. Flynn has assumed the role of father, creating traditions and rituals from shards of a culture he hardly knew, and serving frequently as peacemaker, teacher, and psychologist.
A rebellious August reluctantly dons a wig and plays housewife and mother, in sharp contrast to his emergent primal masculinity. The years of confinement and recent sexual abuse by Flynn have brought him to the edge of rage. His need for freedom takes him to increasingly explosive outbursts. As August, West Liang’s raw physicality and barely contained emotion simmer dangerously.
A recent graduate of the UCLA Theatre Department, Brian Pugach plays the youngest boy – effeminate, pre-adolescent Craig. Balancing precariously on the edge of shattered innocence, needy, manipulative Craig’s only friend is a doll named Drew, with whom he plays scenes from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and to whom he confesses his sad secrets. Craig is a true believer in the unlimited power of the father, and in that role, Flynn has become his object of fatal adoration. Pugach’s cherubic face and childlike body are ideal for this role – but his impressive commitment and adult acting skills take this match-up of actor and character into the realm of casting nirvana. One simply cannot imagine anyone else in the role.
On a late-night expedition in search of food, Flynn and August discover a stranger, Bug, the catalyst that brings life as they know it to an end. The fragile family is suddenly torn by the discovery that Bug is a girl. Tania Verafield’s tough, defensive impostor wants nothing more than to survive long enough to see the ocean once more, before her inevitable death. Bug’s perilous, solitary trek has left her no illusions about the dangers lurking for a woman in this lawless future. Hidden under layers of acquired masculinity, she would fight to the death any man intent on sexual conquest. “You can’t run if you’re pregnant,” she says.
Completely ignorant of what a woman is, Craig desolately observes the strange rivalry between his ‘parents’ for Bug’s attention. At the library, as Craig reads a Superman comic, Flynn interrupts to show the boy an anatomy book and explain how babies are made. The homosexual Craig suddenly understands that he has no place in this world, where the future depends on the heterosexual directive to breed. His beloved “father” cannot save him from this annihilating truth. “I’m not Superman,” says Flynn. “You used to be…,” Craig sighs.
Director John Perrin Flynn utilizes the prodigious talent of award-winning set designer Stephanie Kerley Schwarz to deliver his vision of the looming devastation. Her realization of the mighty age of technology reduced to rubble is a show in itself.
Performances run through Sept. 6 at Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., LA. Tickets/information: (323) 960-7774 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com.