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Theater review: 'Bhutan' by Rogue Machine

November 23, 2011 |  2:41 pm

Bhutan
Life might not have been perfect, but at least it seemed dependable. Now, even that little bit of reassurance is gone.

Anxiousness vibrates through Daisy Foote's "Bhutan," a grim, stubborn, at times frustrating drama that probably shouldn't work as well as it does in its West Coast premiere by Rogue Machine. But in the years since this script by the playwright-screenwriter daughter of Horton Foote was introduced in New York in 2006, the country's mood has amplified to a similar jitteriness.

At the core of Elina de Santos' taut staging is Tara Windley's portrayal of resilience and easygoing grace. These qualities belong to Frances, a New Hampshire high schooler caught between a vista-expanding friendship with a neighbor lady who travels to places like Bhutan and duty to an iron-willed mother (Ann Colby Stocking) who warns her not to think beyond her station.

Family roles have been reassigned in the years following the abrupt death of Frances' father. Mom, weary and snappish, is the breadwinner; Frances keeps the  peace and tends to the household, which also includes her slightly older brother (Marco Naggar), crushed by his own thwarted dreams, and a perpetual drop-in aunt (Tracie Lockwood) stymied by another sort of loss. 

Hugs become chains; hardness turns brittle; brave fronts dissolve into tears. The range of emotion is absorbing, less so are the script's relentless time shifts and overwrought symbolism (the struck by lightning imagery is particularly groan-inducing). But truthful performances carry the day.

This story doesn't offer much uplift, but it sure feels like life.

— Daryl H. Miller

"Bhutan," Rogue Machine at Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays and 8 p.m. Nov. 28 and Dec. 5. Ends Dec. 18. $25 and $30. (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Photo: Tara Windley, left, and Ann Colby Stocking portray daughter and mother of the hardscrabble family in "Bhutan," presented by Rogue Machine. Credit: John Flynn / Rogue Machine

It's that old rug pulled out from under us feeling that accompanies each economically fraught nail-biter of a day.
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