Roberto Zucco

Roberto Zucco
a kate west review
by Bernard-Marie Koltès
at Open Fist Theatre Company, 1625 N. La
Brea, Hollywood 90028
Runs June 4 –
July 17, 2004; Contact (323) 882-6912 or

Murder itself is never justifiable but the potential for violence exists in all of us. What triggers that latent darkness is so
mething best left to the professionals to analyze and the rest of us to speculate about. French Playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès (1948-1989) explores this disturbing tendency for us in the Open Fist Theatre Company’s recent production of “Roberto Zucco.”

Inspired and loosely based on actual events, “Roberto Zucco” is a bleak, sardonic look at domestic and social violence, in a European surrealistic style reminiscent of Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett or Bertolt Brecht. Robert Zucco (darkly portrayed by Patrick Tuttle) is on the run, wanted for murdering his father. During the course of the play, he murders more people, including his own mother (Melanie Chapman). Because many of the characters are not particularly sympathetic, Koltès appears to be painting an ugly world which reflects different degrees of human evil. The Brother (Aaron Lyons) sells his sister (Jennifer Pennington) into prostitution, a spoiled, rich, Waspish Elegant Lady (fiercely portrayed by Michelle Haner) inadvertently sacrifices her own son (Sabrina Bernasconi) and the police force is generally ineffective.

Although some of the actors seem to be a little out of their depth, they handle the difficult material fairly well for the most part. Patrick Tuttle as Roberto Zucco becomes stronger as the play progresses and character actors like Weston Blakesley (The Father/Man 2), Andrea Fears (The Sister) and Rebecca Metz (the stoic Madam in a wheelchair) stride in and out of the action, adding to the bizarre, angry alienation of Zucco’s tortured world. Jennifer Pennington plays The Girl who loses her virginity to Zucco and in losing her innocence, she is abandoned by her family and by society. It is jarring to see that Pennington herself is obviously older than a young girl, but Director Russell Milton (and it is probably in the script as well) may have purposefully cast the role this way in order to reflect how short-lived true innocence can be. The choice of a Madam in a wheelchair is interesting as well, for a character whose livelihood depends on her body.

Set Designer Eric Hugunin maintains this sense of stylized isolation with his esoteric set, composed of huge, dark rectangles, in different shades of blue-grey, with a severe rake at stage left. The odd angles of the set add to the twisted perspective of the piece, where morality is not so easily defined and normal decency is rare. Who are the real criminals – the actual murdered or the cruelly pathetic members of society who created the wanted killer?

Avant-garde theater is an acquired taste and this production may be difficult to watch but in the end, one appreciates the thought-provoking influence it has on the audience, even while not drawing any satisfactory conclusions. If you are comfortable with unanswered life questions, then by all means brave this theatrical experience.

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