Bull Review - Playground Bullying in the Marketplace

Rogue Machine Theatre debuts their first Hollywood Fringe production schedule by offering two plays new to Los Angeles. BULL by playwright Mike Bartlett won the 2013 UK Theatre Award for Best New Play and the 2015 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. Another award-winning Bartlett play, “Smoke,” will also be performed at the Rogue Machine during their 2016 Fringe offerings.

Lesley Fera, Joshua Bitton, and Kevin Daniels - Photo by John Flynn

In BULL, a corporation has decided to downsize one of its departments– and it appears that three employees are in line for the chopping block. Two will escape. Things begin to go sideways when the three business colleagues are alone in a room while waiting for the boss to show up for the meeting. Tony (Kevin Daniels) “forgets” to tell Thomas (Joshua Bitton) that each was expected to bring supporting paperwork, proof of their performance achievements in the job, to the impending meeting. When they later meet with corporate decision-maker Carter (Alex Whittington), Tony and Isabel (Lesley Fera) present a beautiful and complete package. Of course, Thomas has nothing to offer. Something is definitely amiss.

Lesley Fera and Kevin Daniels - Photo by John Flynn

From the first moments of BULL, it is obvious that Tony and Isabel have targeted Thomas as the loser in the job lottery. They tease, put down, and finally attack Thomas for multiple shortcomings which they are glad to enumerate – a suit that looks cheap, his short stature, his teetotaler status, his lack of a girlfriend, and on and on. Even sexual stabs are taken at Thomas as he is told – forced - to touch Tony’s manly bared chest. Can Thomas survive against such cold-blooded, calculating peers?

Lesley Fera, Kevin Daniels, and Joshua Bitton - Photo by John Flynn

Talented director Jennifer Pollonio ratchets up the tension and frustration as one bad moment piles atop another, allowing just enough humor in the tension to keep the audience riveted. Thomas is a victim – a gentle and likable soul who may not have fangs. Perhaps his kindness is seen as weakness by the two barracudas in his department. Each of the skilled cast members offers a perspective on the situation – from Thomas’ almost pitiful acquiescence to both Tony’s and Isabel’s gleeful sadistic barbs. There is no real set for the play, because BULL is played out on the same stage as Rogue Machine’s other award-winning nightly production, “Honky.” It’s a perfect environment for a metaphorical bullfight. BULL is taut and at times frustrating to watch, almost like fingernails sweeping across a blackboard. Even if the audience wants to pull for Thomas, his helplessness and hopeless stance may discourage them. It’s hard to root for a victim.

 

BULL runs through June 26, 2016, with performances at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Rogue Machine performs at the Met Theatre, which is located at 1089 North Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets are $20. For information and reservations call 855-585-5185 or go online at www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

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