Well, that was unexpected. Making the trip down to LA again, another 2 ½ hour drive in rush hour traffic, gets you to thinking about why we do all of this. The movie theater is down the street and I have a subscription to Netflix and Shudder with thousands of movies I have yet to see at my fingertips, why devote the 5 hour round trip to seeing a live show? Sometimes I wonder that and sometimes the answer is so clear that the question seems almost absurd. That revelation is even sweeter when it sneaks up on you as it did recently with Señor Plummers Final Fiesta from Rogue Artists Ensemble.
The show begins in unassuming fashion, as you enter a small theater lined with WW2 war bond posters and are greeted by Jack Preston, the man of the hour whos celebrating the release of his book Señor Plummer: The Life and Laughter of an Old Californian, which he penned under the pseudonym Don Juan. He takes the stage to give a small presentation on Eugenio Plummer, a man who once owned 160 acres in what would be West Hollywood that was whittled down by greedy land sharks to but a few acres now known as Plummer Park, where the show takes place. Were told that Eugenio isnt feeling up to making it to the show, but Preston manages to make even this part of the production, which is but a small appetizer in the grand scheme, quite enjoyable with his charmingly hokey slideshow and shameless self-aggrandizing. Things take a dramatic turn from here, though, as Eugenio makes an unexpected appearance, thrusting us into a world straddling the line between hazy memory and pure imagination.
There are many players in Eugenios world, each bringing their own perspective as a possible tour guide through this fantasy world. Youre initially given a choice of 4 or 5 characters, but that number increases to encompass the majority of the shows 20 actors as youre freely permitted to follow different characters as you please. This poses a considerable logistics challenge as, over the course of 2 hours, different groups are being led by at least 10 different actors, all of whom have to be in certain areas for particular scenes as well as bringing the entire group together for major plot points occurring in the main square. Not only that but unlike other shows that use this model of separating the group to expose guests to different facets of the experience which might require multiple trips to fully explore, Señor Plummers Final Fiesta is constructed so that everyone is able to see every aspect of the show in a single visit.
There are roughly 5 major areas, with a few smaller set pieces scattered around the main square. I wont detail much in the way of specifics to preserve the surprise, but I will say that theres a staggering variety of styles and media used to tell this story. Theres puppetry, animation, and a huge gradient of different stylistic approaches that range from the more grounded to sets that feature elements of magical realism and pure abstraction. Each is used to great effect to illuminate different aspects of Eugenios experience, from the good times at the saloon to the inner turmoil experienced from the horrors and aftermath of the Mexican-American war. The saloon is where youll be spending a good chunk of your time and I wouldnt have it any other way, as the characters bring the space to life through song, dance, and hilariously engaging vignettes. A performance is only as good as its actors, though, and The Rogue Artists Ensemble has put together a tremendous cast to express its expansive vision. There is so much talent here with top-notch singers, dancers, musicians, animators and actors that manage to make the whole production seem graceful and effortless while managing what must be a daunting organizational effort to make everything come together on schedule.
I have a confession. I am a sour, miserable wretch of a person. I hate children, Christmas, and general merriment, but yet Señor Plummers Final Fiesta managed to put a smile on my face that refused to fade for the entirety of the time I spent exploring the inner workings of Eugenios mind. For theater fans, its a wholly unique exploration of the power of live performance. For fans of comedy, its an absurd and expertly-timed piece of raucous slapstick comedy. For horror fans, theres a mini haunt that approaches that from a fresh and artistic perspective. Its even educational, featuring a number of real characters from a period of US history that I dont believe most Americans have a strong handle on. Mostly, though, its a joyous celebration of California history that I cant imagine anyone not enjoying. Combine that with a ticket price of $45 (or $55 for a ticket plus two beers and a special keepsake) and youve got potentially the best dollar-for-dollar ticket in LA right now. There are few shows that I consider unconditional must-sees, but I cannot recommend this one enough. Rogue Artists has found a permanent place on my radar and my only regret is not making it out to see them before now.
Señor Plummers Final Fiesta has performances from Thursday-Sunday and recently announced an extended run through November 18th, so there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy this one-of-a-kind show. Get your tickets here.