Stormy weather, creativity, love ands laughs in “El Niño”
From left, Danielle Kennedy, Melissa Denton, Nick Ullett, Maile Flanagan, and Jonathan Palmer / John Perrin Flynn

Hard on the heels of Rogue Machine’s winning the Best Season Ovation Awards, El Niño, the indie theatre company’s first offering of 2018, has blown into The Met. Playwright Justin Tanner’s dramedy takes place inside a Highland Park home, where 48-year-old daughter Colleen (Maile Flanagan) has taken up residence on her parents’ living room couch. As her mom June (Danielle Kennedy) and dad Harvey (Nick Ullett) try to show her the door, Colleen comes across as a Minnie-quality moocher worthy of a Cab Calloway croon.

But as the one-acter unfolds, we see Colleen is much more than a n’er-do-well taking advantage of her folks and her older sister, Andrea (Melissa Denton), a solo mom struggling to raise an offstage child who is “on the spectrum.” The cast is top notch, including Jonathan Palmer as Todd, the so-called “dreamboat” (who is more like a proverbial “shipwreck”) Andrea encountered during a vacation in Morocco (which Todd ending up hating because the North African nation had too many Muslims—who knew?).

A veterinarian, Todd specializes in “putting down” animals—which next-door neighbor Kevin (Joe Keyes) thinks means that Todd enjoys insulting critters. But like Colleen, Kevin, who is caring for an ailing cat, isn’t as dim as he may seem to be.

As a deluge batters the household, a family drama and romances unspool—husband and wife dynamics, sibling rivalry, male-female sexual politics and human foibles galore. I won’t go into detail revealing the storyline of this 80-minute delight. Suffice it to say that overall, El Niño is an amusing and insightful play, yet another Rogue Machine winner. Lisa James tightly, adeptly directs her ensemble, while Brian Gale and Christopher Moscatiello’s lighting and sound design enhances the play’s stormy ambiance.

As in British playwright Oliver Cotton’s Daytona presented by the Roguers last year, the dramatis personae of El Niño come across, at least on the surface, like real-life people. In some movies and TV series, this conceit is a canard: “Ordinary” people turn out to be well-paid professionals who are hardly salt of the Earth.

At first I thought El Niño was committing a similar sin, presenting putatively everyday characters who really aren’t, because the blue-collar-appearing Colleen, her parents and even drab Andrea have had artsy pursuits. But upon reflecting on this perceptive play, I thought maybe dramatist Tanner’s point was precisely this, that beneath ordinary people’s personas lurks the extraordinary.

El Niño beautifully reveals not only the importance of romantic love and the part it plays in one’s self esteem, but in how these dynamics affect the creative process. Our Gal Colleen may be down, but she’s not out. Amongst El Niño’s angst and laughs the tuned-in viewer can find some splendor amidst the storm.

Judging by El Niño, Rogue Machine is off and running to another championship season. Personally, I can’t wait for the premiere of the company’s production of Finks, about Jack and Madeline Gilford and the Hollywood Blacklist.

Rogue Machine’s production of El Niño runs Sat. and Mon. at 8:30 pm and Sun. at 3:00 pm through April 2. Rogue Machine is located at The Met, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles 90029. Reservations: (855) 585-5185 or here.

The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” co-authored by L.A.-based film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell drops in April 2018.



Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.