Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rose Cottages by Bill Bozzone

By Joe Straw

During the early 70's our family was in turmoil.  My oldest sister was rebelling for her freedom and my newly adopted father was at war with her, my mother, and the rest of us. 

The fights were so tumultuous that at times I would find a small corner of the house and place a pillow over my head until the threat of physical violence had passed.  One night that threat did not stop until my mother, screaming and crying, started throwing dishes against any hard surface she could find.  That night all five of us kids stepped in.

Still, there were times when we could all sit down and watch TV in peace. But, it was a temporary peace that could be shattered by any accidental slip of the tongue.  

One of the shows watched was All In The Family. My adopted father wanted to be Archie Bunker and I could hardly watch when the Bunkers and Stivics were yelling at each other. It drove me out of the room because those episodes hit too close to home.

Comedy is always funnier when it’s somebody else’s problems.   

Rose Cottages by Bill Bozzone and directed by Heidi Helen Davis is playing at Theatricum Botanicum through October 2nd and playing mostly on Saturdays and Sundays.

Rose Cottages sounds so inviting. The first thing one thinks about is the drive down the Florida Interstate were there are all these signs imploring folks to “Stay at the beautiful Rose Cottages.” Rose Cottages - it all sounds just so wonderful!  

But, the first thing one notices about Rose Cottages is that there is only one cottage.  Also, there is no rose.  None whatsoever.  Not even a hint of a dead rose bush, anywhere.  All right, no rose and no cottages.  What is one supposed to think?

This place is a dump – and while one is thinking of 70’s sitcoms while viewing the stage one thinks of Chico and The Man (without the man) meets Sanford and Son (without the dad) and that’s what you got here.

The sequences of events in this play are as follows.

Rose (Earnestine Phillips) has gotten herself into a mess of trouble.  She is without a partner.  She says he’s on vacation but in reality he has left her, for good. And she is left to run Rose Cottages, which is off the beaten path, somewhere in Central Florida.

Up the road, a piece, Rose spots Ricky Knoll (Maurice Shaw), an inspector who wants to shut the place down. He is also a man who can’t be bought.  (Not that Rose has any money, because she doesn’t have any customers.)

But, while Ricky inspects, a boy, Lydell (Graco Hernandez) appears out of nowhere looking for a job.  Rose tells him to beat it but Lydell won’t take no for an answer.

And then Ricky hits Rose with the bad news:  She has 72 hours to get the place in tip top shape or he’s going to shut it down.  

Rose, seeing no other choice, decides to keep “the boy”, Lydell on to help spruce up the place.

Later, as luck would have it, a newly married couple, Vince (Aaron Hendry) a New Jersey State Trooper, his teenaged wife Ginger (Brynn Ann Kerin), and Vince’s mother Jesse (Ellen Geer) celebrate their honeymoon at the “lovely” Rose Cottages and are immediately enchanted (disgusted) by the looks of the place and the $75.00 a night price tag.  They are trapped to stay in the same room, with a broken air conditioner, under suffering conditions.  It is a torturous set of circumstances both physical and mental.  

“Them people are perverts.” - Rose

After they have settled in Ginger and Vince speak of a plan of doing something to dear old mom when mom, returning from the car, pulls a gun on them.  The gun turns out to be not loaded and Vince takes it away.  As they say in the south, “Mom’s getting old and is a little touched.”

Later, the newly married couple ditches Jesse in search of greener pastures in Miami.

The next morning Jesse, not realizing that she has been abandoned, helps Rose fix the air conditioner in her room.  Jesse is almost electrocuted and lies unconscious for a while.  When Rose and “the boy” revive her, Jesse believes that Rose is her long dead husband and Lydell is her son.

Jesse also lets it be known that she has socked away eight thousand dollars and they can use that money to spruce the place up. Okay, so now Jesse is a little more “touched” and Rose plays along to get her hands on the eight thousand dollars.

The Rose Cottages is a play that seems better suited for an intimate space, a 99-seater, not on the grand stage of Theatricum Botanicum that seems suited for Richard III, The Merry Wives of Windsor, A Midsummers Night’s Dream, and Tartuffe with casts of thousands.

The Rose Cottages is a comedy (and can be expected to be an exaggerated comedy) that can go in many directions. This particular comedy needs more focus paying special attention to characterization and specific moments that drive the play and strengthen the relationships.  

One needs to take a couple of specific moments to highlight as examples.

Ricky, the inspector, needs to shut Rose Cottages down. Period. Rose needs to save her paradise no matter the cost.  Whatever the cost may be, be it humor, theft of money, or gulp her own attractive self.

Lydell needs to find love as well as a place to live.  He must find a way to ingratiate himself to Rose, the breadbasket of his soon to be life. He needs to bring in a prior life with his arrival.  (This is not an easy task for a 14 year old new to the craft.)

Abandoning Jesse and getting away from the Rose Cottages, was way too easy for Vince and Ginger.  There is a lot of comedy left to be found from their stealthy exit.  

Jesse needs to be devastated by being abandoned in a broken down motel in Nowhere Ville, Florida. One is almost certain the audience would feel more for her predicament and would follow her throughout her difficult journey.   

Also, it is intimated that Rose and Jesse had a physical relationship but none of this was explored on stage.  Certainly, this would make the comedy that much better. Two women in a physical relationship with one woman thinking the other was her dead husband.

In addition Rose and Lydell (the boy) have to find a way to make their relationship more physical.  And there has to be the threat that at any moment Rose could throw Lydell out into the street (dirt road).  In fact, Rose should probably do that at some point.

Ellen Geer is a very physical actress and also a wonderful director.  As Jesse, one is amazed by her youthful physical appearance in this play. Still there are moments that need clarification.  Not such a difficult task. This was opening night and I’m sure opinions were expressed from the various marvelous actors in this company watching opening night.

Aaron Hendry, as Vince, played a ditsy New Jersey State Trooper complete with accent. It’s a fabulous performance and shows a wonderful range against his brilliant performance as Tartuffe also playing in repertory here.  

Brynn Ann Kerin as Ginger has a very nice voice and gave a very nice performance.  There were things that didn’t quite work this particular night.  One of the things unresolved was a missing element in her character (in the motel room) that would lead one to believe that she is the kind of person who would jump out of a speeding car onto the pavement.

Earnestine Phillips as Rose has a very nice presence.  One is always touched by her sincerity and truth on stage. But missing are the desperate moments, the inner dialogue, where she will do anything to keep her precious Rose Cottages.  It is a minor quibble and probably one that will be worked out during the course of the run.

Maurice Shaw, as Ricky Knoll was, not bad, still this opening night performance was not as imaginative as he could be.  Nevertheless, there is a lot of potential here. He has come to shut down the Rose Cottages, so one would suspect he takes great pleasure in giving Rose her final notice.  He seems ambivalent about his job.  (Not a good choice.) Close her down Ricky Knoll! Give Rose something to think about, her 72 hours, and when you come back make a stronger choice in that ending.

Graco Hernandez as Lydell was fine.  But a note to you and other young actors:  you have a lot to learn.  It’s easy to say the word “subtext” but at this point in your life you do not have a lot to draw from.  That’s okay. Pay attention to the voice, train the voice, next the physical life, concentrate on the human emotion last, and finally relax and concentrate. (There’s a reason Ellen has chosen you.  And she’s not wrong about many things concerning actors.)

There’s something here is Bill Bozzone’s play, clever dialogue, nice physical action, the 300 people who were here on this opening night seemed to enjoy this.  The West Coast premier of Bill Bozzone’s script has made some changes since its run in 1986.  In this version Rose is a woman and Lydell was played by an eighteen year old man who has gone AWOL from the army.  Having a fourteen year old explain Three’s Company is a bit of a stretch.  Still there were a lot of funny moments in this play. 

Director Heidi Helen Davis needs a screwdriver to tighten the moments and physical action. (Rose was cleaning the chair for what seemed like an eternity.)  Look, a little tweaking here and there and the play will do just fine.  But since you asked me I’m going to throw my two cents worth.

The set doesn’t look that bad enough to be condemned.  (There is no set designer credit for this job.) Certainly there are a number of sleazebag motels along Sepulveda that one can use as a reference.  And it wouldn’t hurt to have a dead animal carcass laying about in the first scene just to give it the flavor it needs.  

Secondly, the relationship, between Vince, Ginger, and Jesse could be a little tighter.  All three could share the same bed until the newly married couple skips out into the dead of night.  There’s got to be more to this scene.

Thirdly, Lydell could have a greater inner conflict about leaving his father and his mother who abandoned him all in the name of God.  This could be taken to extreme until a truth is found. And Lydell needs a grand entrance.

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