Review: THE BOTTOMING PROCESS at The Renberg Theatre

The Processing continues through June 12

By: May. 31, 2023
Review: THE BOTTOMING PROCESS at The Renberg Theatre
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The well-acted world-premiere romantic comedy THE BOTTOMING PROCESS smartly takes on many complex issues, such as self-hatred, stereotypes, and reverse racism, yet in the end is undermined by a critical flaw: a lead character with no redeeming qualities.

Milo (George Salazar) is an Asian 29-year-old in Los Angeles who is trying to break in as a writer. One day, while working in a coffee shop, he is approached by 42-year-old Caucasian John (Rick Cosnett), a successful novelist who is embarking on a screenwriting career. Thus begins a year in the life of their relationship.

Review: THE BOTTOMING PROCESS at The Renberg Theatre
George Salazar and Rick Cosnett

The problem is, there is never any indication why John pursues Milo. Milo is off-putting and closed off and self-hating and annoying and ragingly insecure. He actively pushes John away with his noxious disposition. An unlikable mess of a lead is a rom-com trope, but those leads are usually lovable losers. Milo is just a bully who takes his anger at himself out on everyone else. His issues and shortcomings are always someone else’s fault. He’s a black hole of self-absorption. And it’s not like he and John are thrown together for a work project or through friends and they get to know each other. John earnestly and enthusiastically pursues him from the get-go, and Milo is vicious and destructive from the get-go. It’s the same problem that torpedoed the film “Bros.” Why do these lovely men throw themselves at such poisonous people?

As both Milo and John struggle and succeed with support from friends and colleagues, John grows, he changes. Milo just continues to whine and accuse and throw tantrums. Even if John’s just fetishizing Milo because he’s Asian (which there is no indication of, though Milo, in his raging self-righteous self-hatred, accuses him of anyway), there are thousands more appealing gay Asian men in the world. It’s fine Milo is plagued with issues and insecurity, but he also needs to have some sense of self-awareness, which would give some reason someone would want to be his lover—or even just his friend. This stands out more than it might because the other characters are all complexly drawn by writer Nicholas Papil. If Milo was the Best Friend, he would likely work because he’d be spouting his toxicity in small doses. Salazar does what he can with the role, but it’s written as one note and you can play one note only so many ways: one.

Review: THE BOTTOMING PROCESS at The Renberg Theatre
Rick Cosnett and George Salazar

Otherwise, IAMA associate artistic director Rodney To has a breezy touch with the lighter moments and imbues the more blistering junctures with harrowing drama. Cosnett has an affable, easygoing demeanor, which is a startling contrast to the abrasive Milo. His John seems like a genuinely good guy. Anisha Adusumilli as John’s agent, Charlie; Julia Cho as Milo’s best friend, Julie; and Ty Molbak as both Julia’s fiancé and a potential lover for John are aces, bringing depth and humor and pathos to each of their characters.

It doesn’t help that the script dissolves into shrill preachiness by the end, hammering home points that would have had far more impact if they’d been presented with a gentler touch. Milo’s soap box gets a lot of use as he rails his virulent anger at the world—his anger at, seemingly, being gay and being Asian, and directed at anyone who is unfortunate enough to come into his orbit.

Review: THE BOTTOMING PROCESS at The Renberg Theatre
Ty Molbak and Rick Cosnett

Scenic designer Christopher Scott Murillo populates the stage with handsome and stylish furniture that can be used in many different setups, while projections designer Nicholas Santiago uses a number of screens to illustrate locations like a coffee shop, LA, and various homes in addition to texts, tweets, and TikToks that move the story along. 

This could have been a compelling exploration of interracial and intergenerational relationships, but with Milo being so hateful and the script being so sharply heavy-handed, any impact is lost. It would have benefitted from a more well-rounded lead and a bit of subtlety.

A co-production of IAMA Theatre Company and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, THE BOTTOMING PROCESS is performed at the Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Place, through June 12. Tickets are available at www.iamatheatre.com or by calling (323) 380-8843.

All photos by Jeff Lorch




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