The playwright’s art boils down to a balance of narrative (what happens) to story (everything else). And while it is the masters of the everything else who tend to be remembered (Shakespeare, Beckett, the Greeks), creditably entertaining plays have been written that are little more than the sums of their plots (The Mousetrap, French bedroom farce).
Regrettably, Luka’s Room, playwright Rob Mersola’s ribald if deeply cynical and unsatisfying teen sex romp, having its world premiere at Rogue Machine, is not one of them. But it might have been.
For a while it glides along on the winning comic chemistry created by the unlikely relationship between Luka (Nick Marini), its naive and romantically inexperienced hero who is sent to live with his Italian grandmother (Joanna Lipari), and Nick (a wonderfully repulsive Alex Fernandez), his big-hearted black sheep of a pot-dealing ex-con uncle. As long as the play sticks to Nick’s outlandishly questionable mentoring of Luka in an adolescent’s fantasy life of bong hits, video games and — courtesy of Nick’s alluring pot customer Angie (Sarah Scott) — unbridled sex, Luka’s Room is a delight.
But right about the time when he should be triggering one of the play’s inchoate hints at something more emblematically troubling in the family’s past, Mersola instead abruptly detonates a plot bombshell so morally out of tune as to constitute a betrayal of play and audience alike.
Director Joshua Bitton and a capable ensemble do their best to sell the unfathomably improbable and raunchy left turn (on John Iacovelli’s overly fussy set), but only the ever-riveting Fernandez emerges with any semblance of conviction intact.
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Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Mid-Wilshire; through Sept. 20. (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com.
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