The Rogue Machine has done it again! Their current production of THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE is gripping, fascinating, intriguing, and controversial – all at the same time. Based on playwright Tim Venable’s personal reactions and experiences emanating from the 1999 Columbine school shooting – as well as thorough research – THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE investigates the multiple dynamics which may have led to the mass shooting, assembling intense and realistic profiles of two teen school shooters – tragic events that Americans are now being forced to deal with on an almost weekly basis. Skillfully helmed by director Guillermo Cienfuegos, THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE painstakingly builds tension during the hours before until it explodes into action.
It is the late 1990s in suburban America; and two teenage boys are enjoying a sleepover while horsing around, playing computer games, chugging sodas, and watching MTV. Just an ordinary night – even if it is a school night – with two kids having typical evening fun. They are in the basement of E’s house having what appears to be an innocent visit. Clearly E (Alexander Neher) is the leader of the two and tends to bully his smaller companion D (Justin Preston), a youngster who has some obvious self-esteem issues. At the same time, these two kids on the cusp of adulthood exhibit many of today’s teen concerns, including sexual frustration, unresolved anger and aggressive urges, lack of connection with significant adults, feelings of not belonging, and confusion about the future.
Kudos to the two actors who not only portray E and D – but who seem to live and breathe in their skins, so realistic and provocative are their role interpretations. The two clearly live up to author Venable’s expectations: “I felt like I knew these boys, that my friends and I weren’t that different.” Director Cienfuegos knows that “we’ve committed ourselves to presenting stories and questions that don’t have easy answers…but…the conversation needs to happen.”
The production team and production designer David Mauer deserve accolades for creating just the right casual environment to tell their story while ignoring the lines that typically separate the audience and the actors. In fact, audience members were encouraged to sit within the bounds of the stage. At one point, E needed to shoo two audience members off a sofa so that he could continue the action. Not to worry. When E was done, they again had a place to settle. In fact, formal seats were scattered here and there around and about the “stage.” The net effect was intense and powerful. There ceased to be space between “us” and “them” as the tale sped on. Congratulations are also in order to sound designer Chris Moscatiello, fight choreographer Jonathan Rider, and video designer Michelle Hanzelova for a successful team effort.
THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE is clearly relevant and should spark lots of thought and conversation about a topic which has become all too common in today’s world. As such, it would be appropriate for audiences of different ages – and high schoolers might be encouraged to attend and perhaps have a group discussion after the show. Although the age of 18+ was suggested, it was this reviewer’s impression that today’s teens are sufficiently sophisticated and in touch with the dangers of school shootings to benefit from participating in the production. Certainly, the play will appeal to those fascinated by psychological dynamics and controversial subjects.
THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE runs thought July 31, 2022, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8 p.m. and at Sundays at 3 p.m. (no performance on July 4). Rogue Machine performs at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Tickets are $45 ($35 seniors and $25 students with Pay-What-You-Can on July 1, 8, and 15). For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online.