Rose Cottages Opens at Theatricum, Runs Through October 2
August 11, 2011 - Reviewed by Millicent Borges-Accardi
PHOTOS BY IAN FLANDERS
Earnestine Phillips (Rose) and Graco Hernandez (Lydell) star in the West Coast premiere of Rose Cottages by Bill Bozzone about a down and out widow and the people who inhabit her shabby motel in Florida. Rose Cottages runs through October 2.
It was a lovely summer evening in Topanga. The air was crisp and warm without even the hint of a chill; perfect weather for an outdoor play and a picnic, as evidenced by both activities which were in full force on Saturday, July 30 at Theatricum Botanicum for the west coast premier of playwright Bill Bozzones off-beat comedy, Rose Cottages, directed by Heidi Helen Davis.
The outdoor stage is transformed into a shabby roadside cottage motel near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. A dismal mono-chromatic cottage with a rusty screen door is surrounded by trash cans, random pieces of wood, a rickety pay phone, fishing poles, dilapidated lawn chairs with dirty pillows, greasy brown cardboard boxes and leaves strewn about that suggest the yard hasnt been cleaned up for a long time.
The theme is first established when two loud trash-mouth tourists from New Jersey, Vince (Aaron Hendry in pedal pushers mis-matched with a loud shirt and sunglasses), and Ginger (Savannah Southern Smith), in a tight flowered dress and teetering on platform shoes, enter, camping it up with their brash accents and crass attitude, to admonish the audience not to use cell phones or bring food into the theater. It was a stroke of genius to utilize characters for safety announcements, putting the packed audience in the right frame of mind for the performance ahead.
And frame of mind is what is necessary when exploring the twisted world of Rose Cottages for this is truly a warped world where husbands take off with motel guests, Santa Claus is dead, roller derby skaters are lesbians, the location of A-1 is more important than childbirth, canned hams make good birthday cakes, ubiquitous MacDonalds restaurants are the best place to get rid of a dead body and air conditioning kills more people than all the wars. Everyone in this play has an opinion about how the world works and their own quirky belief system.
Ellen Geer plays the hilarious and irrepressible Jesse in the off-beat comedy Rose Cottages, directed by Heidi Helen Davis at the Theatricum.
The main joy of watching this production is seeing how the characters bounce off one another like bumper cars at an amusement park.
Rose Cottages is a hilarious, touching romp about the meaning of familya spontaneous unconventional unitformed when Rose, a beaten-down owner of a dilapidated cottage motel is under pressure to renovate after she fails to pass a county health inspection. In walks a teen skateboarder on the lam, a fierce widow, her feckless son and his crass new bride. Together, boundaries are crossed and meshed and pushed and pulled. Alliances are formed and transformation happens. Meanwhile a question hangs over the entire production: What makes a family?
The play opens with Ricky Knoll, a county inspector played in a sleek manner by Maurice Shaw in a sharp suit taking photos and carrying a clipboard and speaking with Rose (Earnestine Phillips), the owner of Rose Cottages, as she tries first to flirt with him and then to bribe him.
Ill give it to you in one word: pigsty, Ricky asserts not caving in to Roses attempts. Theres no hot water, the front door locks are broken... and the toilets back up into the sink. In exasperation he exclaims, You give people a bad name; 72 hours, Rose.
Rose seems alone, shabby and untended, very much like the dumpy motel she runs. Even her style of wearing the same red shirt every day is reminiscent of the cottage motel. The property has been in her family for generations, she claims. She is fond of it and it allows her to live a free lifestyle, to avoid working in an office or being out on the street, but at what cost? She watches over her motel with the same lack of vim and vigor that she tends to her own personal needs, emotions and hygiene. The resort is even named after Rose. As change occurs in the play, both roses are affected: the ransacked motel and the forlorn innkeeper.
With only a short time to fix up her resort, Rose is bewildered over the fact that she might have to change her casual lifestyle, so, when a runaway boy named Lydell, portrayed with honest sincerity and understatement by Graco Hernandez, arrives on the scene in a whirl of blue hair and headphones, carrying a skateboard, Rose ropes him into helping her out with cooking, plumbing and electrical. Lydell tells her he can do wonders with potatoes.
Soon after the failed inspection, Jesse, a widow, her son Vince, and Ginger, his crass new wife, arrive as reluctant guests of the motel, securing a cheap cottage for their family vacation, with an ulterior motive to abandon their mother in Florida and make a clean get-away. At first, oblivious to the plans of her son and his wife, Jesse complains about the lack of a beach; she wants to know why they didnt go to Miami, and when she is pointed toward a dusty window, Jesse remarks sarcastically, Thats Florida all right! Id know it anywhere.
The entire cast delivered top-notch performances. Newcomer Southern Smith is hilarious and ditzy as Ginger and Hendry has a lot of fun playing the douchy douche bag Vince.
However, Ellen Geer as Jesse steals the show. Her dry sense of humor, comedic timing and gestures bring down the house. Of particular note is the second act when she tries on different outfits, including a bathing suit and Cleopatra outfit (designed by Andrea Molina). Each colorful article of clothing becomes a character with a life of its own. Geer is nearly giddy and seems to enjoy playing Jesse as much as the audience enjoys her. It is an inspired roller coaster of on-the-money scene makers and zingy line delivery.
Phillips and Hernandez play their roles with sincerity rather than as stereotypes or caricatures, which is admirable since the parts have the potential for being over-the-top if not handled with careful grace. It is nice to see Phillips stretching her capable wings with a more substantial role in the company.
Only 14, Graco Hernandez first caught Ellen Geers attention when she was a judge at the 2010 Shakespeare Challenge, sponsored by City Hearts: Kids Say Yes to the Arts (a non-profit organization that sponsors arts and acting classes in low-income areas of Los Angeles). Hes a natural actor says Geer.
Also, although Hernandez is incredibly believable as Lydell and the audiences heart goes out to him, it would have added a dimension of realism if he had arrived on a skateboard. A scene where Lydell teaches Rose how to ride becomes a missed opportunity to demonstrate a trick on the large board he carries during the play. A smattering of lingo would have peppered the dialogue as well. Like sick or stoked or sketchy.
At its debut Rose Cottages was called A beguiling fairy tale for adults, by The New York Post. And the same is true today. Director Heidi Helen Davis says, I saw this play 30 years ago when Ensemble Studio did it in New York and its stayed with me ever since. Rose Cottages offers a socially powerful message about relationships and the true meaning of family.
Rose Cottages was first produced off-Broadway in 1986 but was updated and adapted specifically for the Theatricum this summer. Bozzones other produced plays include House Arrest, Korea, and Buck Fever and Other Plays. His one-acts are Sonny DeRees Life Flashes Before His Eyes, Salvation, War, and Saxophone Music. He wrote the screenplay Full Moon in Blue Water, starring Gene Hackman and Teri Garr, and co-wrote ACE-nominated The Last Elephant starring James Earl Jones and John Lithgow. A short film based on Buck Fever featured John Heard.
Bozzone offers this wisdom, When I wrote Rose Cottages in the late 1980s I never intended it to be a play about race... I was more fascinated by the dynamics of misfit people attempting to create a fitting family.
This play nonetheless does deal with race. It is also about gender and class and society. About how people fit together and pull apart and, finally, what defines fa