AUTOPIA (Hella Fresh): 2019 Fringe review

Sketch by Chuck Schultz and Yumna Tolaimate

The production of a “real-fake” art exhibition at Hella Fresh’s Papermill Theater in Kensington provides a great jumping off point to articulate how our environment has certain effects on us. Playwright John Rosenberg discards typical plot conventions, instead showing the changing faces of two teachers (Laura Sukonick and Rosenberg) reconnecting at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1978, their shifting motivations complicating how we empathize with their characters.

Sukonick plays Leigh Derrick, a young teacher who struggled to gain experience and make a living doing what she loved. Rosenberg plays her former mentor Angelo Porko, an older teacher who has the knowledge of how the system works and feels like he has earned his position in the hierarchy.

The exhibition/set, created by Osiris Zuniga, takes the edge off of at-times-tense meeting. We take in the art, and thoughts of criticism, pleasure, and contemplation compete for our attention with the discourse of teaching and the characters’ convictions about each other.

Watching the gallery goers, we see the core insensitivity of human beings, brutally but subtlety exposed in Rosenberg’s script and the actors’ measured performances. Looking at the art, we get the thought that someone else’s insight on a subject changes our own. Leigh has given up teaching to work in fundraising for a university. Mr Porko is entertained by his own ideas and indifferent to her perspective. They each have their own picture of the person they are speaking to, and the play becomes a game of competing faux-sincerity, of showing “who really cares?”

Hella Fresh works out of a theater at the heart of Kensington, in a community of artists in a neighborhood that needs creativity, hope, and art. I love their matinees, with the beautiful views near the theater of old brick factories and a steel bridge. I’m reminded to look around and appreciate the magic of the theater.

[Hella Fresh Theater at Papermill Theater, 2823 Ormes Street] September 7–22, 2019;

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