I discovered the Fierce Backbone theater company at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, where they simultaneously mounted seven different productions, including four shows that were comprised of multiple short one-acts. As ambitious as that may be, the company has truly arrived with its production of The Rock of Abandon (ROA), currently staging at the Lillian Theatre.
I have always loved history, historical fiction and a good whodunit, and ROA combines all three into a wonderful piece of theater. Historically, it’s set in ancient Greece and involves Euripides, Socrates, Kritias and Generals Lamakos and Alkibiades in a story of murder and political intrigue. Add to that mix a delightful group of courtesans, police and government bureaucrats, seasoned with a small does of Oedipus, and you have the makings of a masterpiece in the style of the masterful film noir, The Big Sleep.
ROA is a true ensemble piece, but several actors go above and beyond in their performances, including Jim Hanna (Euripides), Carolina Espiro (Layna), Pancho Moler (Inspector Podargos) and Jeffrey Wylie (Lamakos).
Stephen Blackburn not only wrote the play (which ironically started as a screenplay), but he is also a founding member of the Fierce Backbone company. His play truly captures this historical moment in time and propels it forward to a more contemporary time, with twists and turns worthy of Hitchcock himself.
Director Tiger Reel, who also directed Speed Merchant of Venice for this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, transforms Blackburn’s play into a visual spectacle, capturing the nuances of the script. Working with a large cast of 15 and an even larger stage, Reel manages to bring it all together in a way that keeps the audience engaged. The set itself is a masterpiece of utilitarianism, as the pieces are constantly moved hither and yon without the need to move any of them offstage, save the Rock of Abandon itself.
I have always loved to sit on the front row at theater productions so as to be as close to the action as possible. Due to the large cast and staging of this play, I do not recommend that, as the front row is often blocked from seeing things happening behind the actors up front. This was my only criticism of the production.
I strongly and wholeheartedly recommend this production, especially for anyone who loves a good murder mystery. I can hardly wait to see what else Fierce Backbone has in store – they are truly a company worth watching.
By the way, I attended the sold-out opening night show, which was followed by a feast of Greek proportions and a chance to talk with the cast and creative team. The food was amazing, and I had a wonderful time talking with the cast and members of Fierce Backbone.
Tickets for the show are available here. Don’t miss the chance to see this masterpiece, which runs through November 18.