The West Coast premiere of Mark Roberts’ Parasite Drag is a splendid, satisfying slice of dysfunctional life. Roberts has a gift for understanding and representing the lower middle-class strata of Midwesterners and Paradise Drag possesses a considerable depth of feeling. Under the deft direction of David Fofi the gifted cast members create a fascinating evening of theater.
Gene (Robert Foster) and Ronnie (Boyd Kestner) are estranged Illinois brothers. Joellen (Mim Drew) is trapped in a 20-year loveless marriage with Gene and ebullient Susie (Agatha Nowicki) is Ronnie’s young wife. They met in Sunday school, but some of her sexual preferences are anything but churchlike. And she comes from that rarest of things, a happy home.
Ronnie and Susie arrive on Gene’s doorstep unexpectedly because their sister is near death in the hospital. Tensions run high between the brothers as bit by bit their source is revealed. Theirs was not a happy childhood. Gene took the path of sanctity and is soon to be ordained as a minister while Ronnie’s profuse use of profanity belies his kind, but somewhat twisted heart.
Hilarious, albeit ribald, lines pepper the drama with laughs testifying that the God Gene turns to for solace has a sense of humor, even in tragedy. If Eugene O’Neill had a sense of humor he might have written this play.
Storms like the one that is brewing outside the Tolono home are rare in Southern California. So the terms watch and the more serious warning (the names of the two acts) might be unfamiliar. Watch means a storm is probably on the way and warning means one has been spotted. What evolves onstage mirrors that of the storm.
As the wounded Gene, whose defense against the past has made him unreasonably rigid, Foster still evokes empathy. Kestner displays Ronnie’s rough edges and soft center to perfection. Crack-of-dawn conversation between Joellen and Susie is so natural Drew and Nowicki disappear and the characters appear real.
Parasite drag is an aeronautics noun meaning the component of drag caused by skin friction and the shape of the surfaces not contributing to lift. In Roberts’ Parasite Drag the characters are dragged down and unable to rise above their situation, remain grounded.
Nods also go to set designer Danny Cistone, lighting designer Joel Daavid, costume designer Louis Douglas Jacobs and Peter Bayne for his original music and sound. Their contributions were exceptional.
Parasite Drag performs 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday through September 18. Tickets are $20. Call 213-614-0556 or visit www.elephanttheatrecompany.com.
The Elephant Space is located at 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of Vine, in Hollywood. Street parking is available.
For a related article: http://dampfang.com/theater-in-los-angeles/west-coast-premiere-of-paradise-drag-by-two-and-a-half-men-producer-mark-roberts
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For more information: www.elephanttheatrecompany.com