LA WEEKLY PROFILES SKYPILOT!
Origin of a Species: SkyPilot Theatre
They came, they saw, they started a theater – by Steven Leigh Morris – April 4, 2007
L.A.’s actor-driven ensembles are the mainstay of local theatrical activity — 150 to 200 of them at any given time. Some have been here for decades (Company of Angels, Pacific Resident Theatre, Theatre of NOTE, Actors’ Gang and Lonny Chapman’s Group Repertory Theatre, just for starters). They come; they go. Why they go isn’t hard to imagine, with theater’s infamous poverty and the apathetic malaise that often lies just beyond a theater’s walls, but why do they keep coming? A brief glimpse at a new troupe on the scene shows that the motives for forming a company in the early ’00s are much the same as they ever were.
Bob Rusch and some friends from Chicago formed SkyPilot Theatre in 2005, after Rusch had been out here five years. In the Windy City, Rusch worked with a company called Trap Door Theater, known for its experimental shows. Rusch says he was also in Steppenwolf Theater’s first-ever ensemble project, a training program for which he was one of 15 selected from more than 500 applicants. After five years in Chicago, however, Rusch was more interested in klieg lights than stage lights.
“I always knew I was going to L.A.,” he explains, adding that he was smacked hard with our fair burg’s infamous disorientation and loneliness.
“I didn’t know anybody, except for a couple of friends,” he says. “It took me about five years to get going, to find an agent, to meet people. In 2004, I was tired of going to classes and doing scenes. I missed acting, the full performance, the journey with the character, the background work.”
Somebody suggested that Rusch do a scene from Rick Cleveland’s JERRY AND TOM in a 2004 production that Rusch reluctantly admits was an Industry showcase, partly funded by a couple of filmmaker friends willing to help Rusch move his career forward. Rusch’s roommate at the time, Eric Johnson, played Tom, and Rusch played Jerry. Dave Florek, a local actor, directed.
However, the showcase turned into something much deeper when the process of researching and creating a role with continuity reminded both performers how much richer acting for the theater can be compared with classroom scenes, or the kinds of out-of-sequence short takes that are the staples of film and TVacting.
Then, in late 2005, Rusch started playing poker online. “I won a substantial amount of money,” he says, which naturally opened new possibilities for how he wanted to spend his time in L.A. Memories of what he’d left behind in Chicago were rekindled. “I figured I would start a theater company,” Rusch explains.
His SkyPilot Theatre Company is named after a song by the Animals. (A “sky pilot” is a military chaplain.)
There are eight members, including designers and a producer. “I saw when Trap Door brought in too many actors, it got too cumbersome when there weren’t enough roles,” Rusch says.
Since Jerry and Tom, SkyPilot has staged three more shows with a decidedly Chicago bent — David Mamet’s SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO, Will Kern’s HELLCAB (about the travails of a Chicago cabby) and a new play, ROCKET MEN, Clyde Hayes’ Mamet-influenced dark comedy about a group of hapless con men.
“I don’t think any of us went into this to be rich and famous,” Rusch says, explaining his theater’s mission. “We all love to play. The inner child wants to go back to that, to do something just a little more pure — not to be artsy-fartsy about this — but to pay tribute to what I’ve seen in the past. I never felt a part of this community. I always felt trapped here. This last year, I really enjoyed living here because of the theater company. It gave me a deeper reason to be out here. I’m realizing that the group of people I have working with me all have those reasons.”
LA TIMES – REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
By Daryl H. Miller – June 4, 2007
Feeling every punch he takes
“Requiem for a Heavyweight” is the “Death of a Salesman” of the prizefighting world, as powerful today as when the Rod Serling teleplay first aired in 1956.
At a tiny North Hollywood theater, Bob Rusch delivers a performance that in every way lives up to the heavyweight’s nickname: “Mountain.” Even when released from boxing gloves, Rusch’s hands remain curled into fists, indicating the many years they’ve spent inside the leather. Years back, Mountain was a serious title contender, but after 111 fights, he’s on the ropes.
“What did I do wrong?” he asks after losing his latest bout. “You aged,” his manager replies.
Thereafter, the boxer walks around with the world’s weight slumping his shoulders. But on those rare occasions when he rises to his full height, watch out, because he’s still got some fight left in him. Ken Butler, as the manager, maintains a hard-bitten exterior that is meant to hide guilt (he’s betrayed Mountain) and fear (he faces imminent ruin).
Worry nevertheless sneaks past the edges of Butler’s iron mask, letting us know the guy’s not a total monster, at least. When the emotions finally break loose, the audience is seated close enough to see tears welling in the actor’s eyes. (Trivia alert: Butler happens to have been a producer of a 1985 Broadway “Requiem” starring John Lithgow.)
The set moodily evokes the ’50s, plywood-thin and pretty much two-dimensional. Even so, the production, tautly directed by Eric Johnson, is sending theatergoers out the doors with telltale wetness on their cheeks.
“Requiem for a Heavyweight,” T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 24. $15. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
LA WEEKLY – REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
With the brooding melodrama of an Edward Hopper painting, Rod Serling’s 1956 teleplay has become a standard of post–WWII angst, which presented the flip side of American optimism in the mid-20th century. In gritty, poetic language worthy of Eugene O’Neill, Serling creates a testosterone-driven world of desperation and failure that shadows the shadowy world of prize fighting.
Once-successful promoter Maishe Resnick (Ken Butler) sinks to betting against his own aging “boy” boxer, Mountain McClintock (Bob Rusch), sending both into financial and emotional tailspins. Social worker Grace Miller (Tonja Kahlens) intervenes and becomes entangled with McClintock, setting off a power struggle with Resnick. Under Eric Johnson’s shamelessly heavy-handed yet effective direction, the cast provide scene-chewing performances that somehow fit perfectly into Serling’s breast-beating play. Rusch fills every moment of his performance as the big-lug boxer with Serling’s bathos — excruciating and sparkling with life. The design team combines to create the dark Hopper world with enormous skill in this tiny theater.
SkyPilot Theatre Company at T.U. STUDIOS, 10943 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru June 24. (800) 838-3006. (Tom Provenzano)
BACKSTAGE – HELLCAB
By Jim Crogan
Deck the halls with boughs of folly, frustration, chicanery, and a healthy dose of ribald gallows humor. The show’s unnamed Chicago cabbie (Bob Rusch on Sunday nights in this split cast) may be weighed down by the Christmas blues, feeling powerless to impact his surroundings and haunted by the notion he’s trapped in hell and driving for Satan, but Hellcab is a slice of heaven for the audience. You know you’re watching a good show when you don’t notice the clock. And this is one great show. Director Eric Johnson’s pacing is strictly pedal-to-the-metal. And writer Will Kern demonstrates a tremendous ear and deft feel for realistic dialogue that is spoken by a host of different characters.
Rusch has the look, feel, and attitude of a real-life cabbie who must navigate the human flotsam he encounters and still retain a sliver of humanity toward even the most whacked-out of fares. The rest of the Sunday night cast is also first-rate, as it jumps from one character to another, no two the same. Chuck Raucci, who plays very smarmy, very creepy people, is a hoot as the frazzled coke freak trying to score. Benton Jennings and K.J. Middlebrooks show tremendous range as they move in and out of the cab, alternating among characters that are weird, threatening, buffoonish, or Middle America. Diane Sellers is top-notch as a pregnant woman about to have a breakdown and a baby. Catherine Davis Cox is fine as a sexy contracts lawyer who makes a play for her driver. And Broocks Willich deftly switches among an uptight Brit, a drugged-up street person, a safe and sane receptionist whom the cabbie reaches out to, and a down-and-dirty local gal who takes no shit and makes no apologies for how she lives her life.
All rolls out on a very small stage. Cox doubles as set designer with James Sharpe; they deserve kudos for constructing a nifty set using only the front of a cab and a backdrop photo of Chi-town in winter. It’s not your usual Christmas fare, but it’s well worth a look.
Presented SkyPilot Theatre Company at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Dr., Suite D, Burbank. Sun. 7 p.m., Mon. 8 p.m. Oct. 15-Dec. 11. (323) 960-4418.
SHOWMAG – SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO
By Joseph N. Feinstein – May 2004
This one-act, sixty-minute play evinces both Mr. Mamet’s inexperience and future greatness. In any event, it features four actors – Kyle Bornheimer, Bob Rusch, Julie Mintz and Pip Newson – who are definitely headed for stardom.
Bernie’s (Rusch) fast-talking, wise-ass remarks about women to his buddy Danny (Bornheimer) reflect the cleverness and understanding of human nature in the neophyte Mamet’s depiction of a summer in 1976. Deborah’s (Mintz) innocence in her live-together relationship with Danny also portrays the pitfalls in such an arrangement. And Joan’s (Newson) caustic remarks and overt jealousy in losing a friend were acted with just the right intonations.
This play, like several others seen lately, makes the mistake of using at least twenty blackouts in the sixty minutes of performance. In fact, there’s more black than light during its running time. One can become breathless following the characters and their interactions. Just when the viewer is getting into the action of the scene, it’s over. Strangely, one of the best scenes in the play happens during one of the blackouts.
Perversity is being “directed away from anything right or good.” In this case, Mamet is attempting to show us – as if we didn’t already know – the several ways both men and women regard each other and the crass terms and characterizations we use in describing the other when our romantic and sexual needs aren’t met. And, ultimately, we can see the loss of the compassion and love we all could rise to in our treatment of each other if sensibility and sensitivity became ours.
Cleverly, imaginatively, yet somewhat naively, Mamet tell his story. Credit a fine cast and some good direction to James Sharpe in keeping the play moving as well as it does. Carlene Bezevic’s interesting 70’s costumes were first rate. We’ll look forward to future performances by SkyPilot, this new kid on the block.
Sexual Perversity in Chicago Sidewalk Studio Theatre 4250 Riverside Dr. Burbank Sunday @ 7:00 p.m., Monday @ 8:00 p.m. No charge for admission Donations accepted. Free wine and soft drinks during this opening run.
ReviewPlays.com – SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO
From what information I collected about the dating world in the late 70s, it turned out to be the most exhilarating and frustrating time for both sexes. The sexual revolution of the ’70s is the bastard child from the one-night stand of the strict guidelines of the ’50s and the sexual liberation of the ’60s. The result is playing a whole new game where the old rules don’t fit. The world is different and people try their best to keep up.
It is a new era where women work outside the home making either the same or more money than their male colleagues. The days of asking the man for an allowance á la I Love Lucy days are a distant memory. Women are now able to take care of themselves financially. However when it comes to dating, the women are just as perplexed as the men. The dating scene has changed drastically and mistakes will be made. David Mamet captures perfectly how the old rules of dating fight to stay alive in contemporary times. He shows that if you don’t go with the times you’ll be left way behind and stay there.
Bernie Litko (Bob Rusch) is the last of a dying chauvinistic breed. He’s rude, obnoxious, full of unbelievable stories of incredible sexual encounters that he shares proudly with co-worker and best friend Danny Shapiro (Kyle Bornheimer). The first time the audience meets Bernie he’s in the middle of telling Danny an incredible sexual conquest he recently had. Bernie holds nothing back as he proudly puffs out his chest recounting the night. Danny has no problem being a captive audience.
Danny falls in love with a free spirited commercial artist Deborah (Julie Mintz) and after a few dates the couple quickly moves in to live together. Much to the dismay of Bernie, who at first sees it an opportunity for a threesome, and Deborah’s former roommate Joan (Pip Newson) considers the relationship doomed. Living together isn’t as blissful as the couple envisioned. They fight over minor details and realize that moving in causes more friction than pleasure.
Sexual Perversity is a series of brief, rapid scenes still connected to form a great story. Along with the ups and downs of dating, the audience gets to see a more personal side to each character. Joan is a neurotic schoolteacher who’s sexually frustrated and ironically can’t stand kids. Earlier, she meets Bernie at a bar that manipulates the conversation after she turns him down. This is a perfect example how the dating regime clashes and burns. Bernie is old school with no hint of changing whereas Joan is trying to own her new female empowerment and not doing a great job. Rusch is hysterical as the over-inflated Bernie. He’s funny, talks a lot of smack and sees nothing wrong with his candor. As the poster child for an extinct male species, he’s admired by fellow men and a true to life nightmare for women. The war between sexes has never been so funny and sad at the same time.