One Night at a Time: To Connect or Not to Connect, That is the Question?

Daniel Dorr and Hope Lauren, Photos by Jeff Lorch

Writer/director Tim Venable takes off the gloves in Baby Foot, a searing three-hander that bravely dramatizes the struggle to overcome addiction at a recovery center. Alexis (Hope Lauren) is completing the 90th and final day of her treatment program and preparing to reenter the big, bad world-at-large when she encounters (the unfortunately named) Blackie (Daniel Dorr) on the very night he is admitted to the three-month-long sobriety ordeal. Throughout the 75-ish minute one-act play sparks fly, as this boy-meets-girl story with a cleverly concocted premise unfolds in the offbeat setting of a rehab facility located somewhere in deepest, darkest Los Angeles.

Alexis is an attractive 20-something blonde clad in a midriff baring top, while the bearded Blackie is a Caucasian probably in his late twenties or early thirties. She is a frustrated musician; he a thwarted actor (a wag might say “it’s a match made in hell”). Their conflicted interactions are characterized by a yes-no syndrome that varies between intimacy, rebuffs, longing for contact, withdrawals (no pun intended), openness, insensitive rejections and so on. To tell you the truth, after a while, this constant back and forth, yin yang clash wears out its welcome, but the play’s tiresome repetitiveness is redeemed by great acting and dialogue. Beneath the repartee and give-and-take, is there a brewing and stewing sexual frisson between Alexis and Blackie? 

To its credit, Baby Foot’s stark realism takes viewers into the sordid, sorry realm of addiction, and the fight to overcome the devastating condition of substance abuse. According to the playbill (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), Venable knows where of he speaks from firsthand experience. Although Baby Foot doesn’t have a “happily ever after” grand finale, Venable’s powerful drama does point to a path out of the lower depths, through human connection, which can bring about the highest highs naturally.

As Alexis and Blackie alternately fight with their inner demons – and one another – they are joined onstage by a third character, an older former addict named Fred (Paul DeBoy), who works at the recovery center. Although DeBoy has a small part, he does play a key, pivotal role in the story, and acquits himself well.

The West Coast premiere of Baby Foot is being mounted by Rogue Machine as only the second production to be presented upstairs in the Matrix Theatre’s diminutive Henry Murray Stage, a space so small that it puts the intimacy into intimate theatre. But the venue’s lilliputian size works to the advantage of this compelling drama, as the 30 or so theatergoers are literally close enough to reach out and touch the thesps. This proximity enables the viewer to watch the sizzling performances, up close and personal.

Keep an eye on Dorr’s fingers, which skillfully crackle with character-revealing tension. I’ve had the pleasure of observing Dorr before on the boards, in Rogue Machine’s outstanding Finks, about the Hollywood Blacklist, wherein Dorr (in a multiple role) depicted director Elia Kazan. In another 2018 play with leftwing subject matter, Dorr portrayed the eponymous avant-garde Soviet poet in Mayakovsky and Stalin at the Lounge Theatre. The soulful Hope Lauren, who imbues Alexis with an exquisite sense of longing, combines beauty with talent and is likewise a gifted artist worth keeping one’s eyes on.

I don’t know whether or not Venable named Lauren’s character “Alexis” in reference to the AI digital voice assistant “Alexa.” But it is most unfortunate that the dramatist gave  the male lead character a name that for some may have racial overtones. In the story there is no reason given for this nickname, that some might consider to be offensive, and the playwright should consider kicking the habit, so to speak, and changing this character’s name. The play is also monikered after a table soccer game found in the rehab center’s community or rec room, but a more apropos name for this drama about people embarking on a 12-step-program of recovery, one day at a time, might have been Baby Steps.

Aside from this quibble, Baby Foot is for grown up ticket buyers interested in the subjects of substance abuse, addiction and recovery, as well as for fans of intense, well-acted and directed drama with excellent acting and insightful dialogue. It certainly gave this hopelessly addicted critic his daily dose and fix of his drug of choice: The live stage. Just can’t get enough of it!

Rogue Machine’s Baby Foot is being performed 8:00 p.m. on Mondays, 7:00 p.m. on Fridays and 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through November 20 at the Matrix Theatre upstairs in The Henry Murray Stage, 7657 Melrose Avenue, L.A., California, 90048. For reservations call ​(855)585-5185 or https://ww

Photos by Jeff Lorch