Fringe Fest Reviews
Another year of Hollywood Fringe Fest is upon us. There are SO many shows and so little time to catch them all. We went through the schedule and picked out some that looked interesting to us. Here’s what we were able to see in the first week.
One show that immediately caught our attention was The Toxic Avenger Musical. It kicked off Russell’s Fringe Festival and will close it out for Mike. Providing all the fun you could possibly hope for from a musical centering on a nerd-turned-superhero (of sorts) dealing with love, corporate greed and the aftereffects of a bath in toxic sludge. Russell wrote an in-depth review of this and can be seen here.
Mike: I am so freaking excited to see this. I’ve been a long time Troma fan and am even in the special features of the Toxic Avenger IV dvd! It’s the little things in life 🙂
Absolute Zero (How Lovers and Sad People Hold Up the World) –
Russell: This is a disturbing drama about obsession and the lengths that humans are willing to go to obtain what we desire.
Charles is a slightly insecure young man on the verge of entering college, leaving his hometown for the first time and dealing with the reality of separating from his high school girlfriend, Weighing heavily on the two is a pact they share that they will not have sex until they both turn 18 – for Charles that is only days away.
In a sudden bizarre turn of events, Charles is kidnapped by a neighbor. Held hostage in a basement as police, friends and relatives search for him, the reason for the abduction slowly unfolds in a non-linear fashion, jumping between a police interrogation and flashbacks of the hostage situation.
Very quickly, it becomes clear that “Absolute Zero” is not about mere obsession or infatuation, which plays a role, for sure, in the crime committed. This play is about the social masks each person in the world wears to some degree, going through every day life. The scenes between captor and victim are some of the most unnerving moments in the play… the tension coming from honesty, though, not threats of violence. As days pass, Charles comes to realize his captor may actually hold the key to unraveling some secrets of his own life.
At every step of this story, sexual politics are a factor. We get glimpses into the life of the girlfriend left behind and Charles’ older brother, Jeremy, a brash man who certainly where’s many masks, and Iris, the distraught girlfriend of the missing Charles, is starting to form some masks of her own. The level of deceit, denial and confusion among these two is fascinating to witness. This is complicated stuff and makes for some uncomfortable viewing.
Who do we become to get what we want? What lies do we tell ourselves and others? What masks do we wear to disguise our motives? In the end, it’s the most honest character in the show who has the hardest time in life. This is a disturbing piece of theater, not easy to unravel and well worth a visit.
Mike: I’m really looking forward to seeing this. This came onto our radar because it sounded very dark and haunt/horror-like. I’m even more excited after hearing Russell’s thoughts.
Punch and Judy –
Russell: “Punch and Judy” puppet shows have been around since the 1600’s. Especially in Europe, Mr. Punch came to represent a downtrodden class of citizen who felt oppressed by those above them in social circles. Well, as a puppet, the characters could play out all kinds of violence and mayhem directed at areas of society that in real life they were powerless to fight back against.
The School of Night has created a live action version of “Punch and Judy” that commits all those over-the-top acts of violence using real human beings – and very talented ones at that. Cirque du Soleil clown performer Jimmy Slonina leads a game cast through a series of clubbings, sword fights, sexual hijinks, fistfights, chainsaw shenanigans, wrestling, shootings and other good dirty fun. It’s probably the most rambunctious show you can catch in this year’s line up! This is so politically incorrect, you may be stunned at just how far these performers take the wackiness. You will laugh, but you might feel a little bad about it.
Broadway Noir –
Mike: This was a really fun musical that was set in the 1940’s and played off of the “noir” genre. We follow two of New York City’s best detectives as they try to figure out who is killing the “Broadway Babies”. This will have you laughing, smiling, and will even get you a little emotional.
Russell: One of the more polished, slick shows I have seen at this year’s Fringe, so far. The cast creates the perfect blend of noir/musical/mystery with a touch of thriller thrown in. Featuring strong performances all around, with a small but vital band of musicians, this was a stylish treat done with care and grace. Never veering into camp, which could have easily happened, this is a treat for fans of noir and musicals, both. This is a show I would love to see staged in a larger venue with fleshed-out lighting and sets. The tunes and cast are strong here, they deserve a bigger playground!
Mike: The songs being sung are great and catchy. I’ve caught myself singing the opening number, “We’re Gonna Bring You Back to the Beginning”, daily and it’s been over a week since I’ve seen it. The dialog between the detectives was impressive. There was a lot of quick talking/tongue twisters that they delivered flawlessly.
Alien Vs Musical –
Mike: I’m so glad this returned. We were able to see this last year and it blew me away. They’re back for round 2 and they’re bigger and better! Longer show, new songs, new scenes, and also, a live band doing the music (which I feel added so much to the mood and atmosphere). I love the Alien film series and the Alien Vs Predator and every combination of fan film that they have Alien square off against. If you have an Alien vs Anyone, I think it will be interesting, entertaining, and fun. This is no different.
Russell: This is such a romp. My inner theater nerd and my inner horror nerd had several full-on nerdgasms. This longer version of the show has managed to incorporate some new characters that add to the fun, but the reason to love this shows is still the same core concept. In The Land of Musicals, everyone gets a happy ending. Until that pesky Alien shows up.
You might be familiar with many characters in the cast already – including Maria from The Sound of Music, Danny from Grease, Effie from Dreamgirls, Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, Tracy from Hairspray… and the list goes on. Harold Hill from The Music Man almost acts as an emcee, wrangling the characters – who all remain true to their own origin story. The pleasure comes from seeing them all realize that this may be the one time they don’t get a happy ending.
Maria doesn’t want to rock the boat, Harold wants to figure an angle on how to monopolize the situation. And Annie? Oh… Little Annie. She’s the innocent here – but she will not be innocent for long. Perhaps the shows crowning achievement is the devastating sincerity when she admits that she has reached the emotional breaking point and declares there is “No Tomorrow.” It just might break your heart.
Mike: One thing I would like to say is that I am not a Broadway fan, I did not know who some of the characters were, I knew enough to understand who they were, but overall, I had to ask Russell who a couple people were. With that being said, if you do not know these characters, it doesn’t take away from the show at all. The performances and dialog make it so that it is enjoyable even if you don’t know every little thing about every Broadway character. You don’t feel ALIENated 😉 Sure there are inside jokes that are aimed at those people, but there aren’t enough to make you feel left out.
Russell: Really? ALIENated? Well, that kind fits the tone of this show! Mike raises a VERY good point. If you aren’t a full-on theater nerd, you will still have a good time because you WILL get the stereotypes being used.
Mike also points to the other fun aspect of this show. Just how would an alien react to all this musical theater stuff? Well, pretty much… it’s confused as hell. That’s a major reason the show is so fun. Most baffling to the alien intruder may be Effie, who grabs a defining moment and decides that it is definitely time for her to go… But if there’s one thing about Effie that we all know – she has a hard time leaving a room. Before she does, she’s going to make anyone – including a rampaging alien – uncomfortable. There are numerous other finely tuned hysterical moments. Trust us, this is a fun ride!
Mike: It is one of the best 90 minutes you can have. I was constantly smiling and laughing.
Nilbog: The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Troll 2 –
Mike: Do you love “so bad they’re good” movies? If the answer is “yes”, then you’ve probably seen Troll 2. Nilbog is the “Unauthorized Musical Parody of Troll 2” This was such a fun show! There was audience participation. Drinking games. Live tweeting (to decide what happens during a certain scene). Also…green popcorn. How can you go wrong?
Russell: Okay, I will say how it went wrong for me… slightly. I wish the cast had been a bit more rehearsed than they appeared the night we attended. This type of craziness, for me, works better when it is being played a tad straighter and tighter than it is in this production. This is a minor quibble, though. I do want to be clear I smiled the entire time, was tapping my feet and completely along for the ride. It definitely helps, for obvious reasons, if you know the source material they are lovingly poking fun at. There are some big laughs here and I definitely enjoyed myself. Also, kudos for the cast in making use of every square foot of the space, intermingling and sometimes climbing over the entire audience at various times during the night. The party atmosphere was lively and a great deal of fun.
Mike: See, I disagree. If you’re doing a parody of one of the worst movies ever, I think the production should come off as…not perfect. I think that’s what made this what it was. The actors go over the top because of what the film is. It is a great time!
Mike: Despite the name, this was anything but. This was a really clever production that makes you think and reflect on yourself and your feelings about people.
Russell: This, I think, has been the greatest surprise of the Fringe Festival for me. The cast tackles the material with ferocity. It is not easy stuff, either. This show digs deep into racial politics, romantic fumblings of a new relationship and the affect family ties can have on our daily lives.
Mike: We follow the story of a parking enforcement officer who meets one of the most amazing girls he’s ever met while giving her a ticket. She then does….”something” that he can’t get over.
Russell: For me, the highlight of the play are the scenes involving that incident… which nearly destroys the entire relationship and, in fact, an entire community. In watching the lengths these characters will go to protect their dignity and pride… at the risk of destroying the most precious things around them… you may find yourself gasping at the choices made and the ramifications they have.
Mike: You witness a wild ride of love and emotions and you really start to wonder what you would do in his situation. Could you deal with what happened? On top of that, there is another plot of the story of a serial killer that cuts off the victims head as well as a rookie cop (who doesn’t swear) trying to impress his new Sergeant. There’s so much going on in this story, but it’s never overwhelming.
Russell: And, one of the more surprising endings, I bet, out of the entire Fringe line-up!
Bump in the Night: Tales of Monsters & Fools –
Mike: The description of this show had me REALLY excited. This was one I was really looking forward to, however, I was left disappointed with what I had seen. The description said that it took inspiration from shows like “Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth”. I LOVE those shows. I thought the show would be about hunting monsters, but it was not. It was basically a “behind the scenes” look at what could happen on one of these shows. Things like taking a picture at the right time and making sure a certain event was recorded for the show. The story was mainly about internal conflicts between the characters, which is fine, but based on the description, left me wanting more, but not in the good way.
Russell: I, too, felt mislead by the description of this show. I went in expecting something truly fun, and was treated to a series of dramatic scenes that barely connected with the “reality show” conceit of the entire set up. The cast is not to be faulted here, they give their all and it was entertaining because of their efforts. Those efforts, however, are undermined by a sense that the show does not quite know what it wants to be, and in the end that makes any message about personal triumphs seem muddled, at best.
Not Another Horror Story –
Mike: This was a fun parody of horror. Taking inspiration from American Horror Story as well as other modern horror movies, we see all the horror cliches…the nerd, the pretty boy/jock, the “normal” girl, the slut, and…the black guy. They wander through the woods and come across a cabin. Once inside, the fun starts to happen. I don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is a really fun play on horror movies and how ridiculous the plots are sometimes.
Russell: Mashing together an astounding number of cliches into one story, this works best when it is not just embracing those cliches, but rethinking them, as well. The sexy cast has obvious fun along the way. The show really shines when it rethinks the genre it is playing around with… a chase sequence staged like a bedroom farce/slapstick comedy routine. How about a pivotal decision for one character suddenly resembling a game show? Those touches are the ones that make this journey more and more fun as it swiftly moves along its merry way.
Simon Coronel: Alien of Extraordinary Ability –
Russell: Magic, when done well, is enchanting and inspirational. When you are in the hands of a master like Simon Coronel, it becomes transformational. At the top of the show, it is made clear he intends to mystify you, but he wants to engage your brain, as well. To say he succeeds is an understatement. With incredible grace, a series of magical demonstrations take on greater meaning as Coronel sets out to remind you “that the impossible is possible.” The mastery here is that he actually expects you to understand there is misdirection and skill being displayed… and isn’t it wonderful that, even when knowing your mind is being mislead, it is still a joy to behold? I found myself gasping, my mouth hanging open in wonder and my spirits being lifted.
Mike: First, let me say, sit in the front row if you can. Get there early and do this. Chances are, you will help him and participate in some way. The show was such a fun and unbelievable time. He does card tricks, rubber band illusions, and more. If you love magic and love being amazed, then this is a show for you. I left this show in such a good mood. It’s not often you can see someone like this in such a small and intimate setting.
Tony Danza’s Letterz 2 2Pac: An Evening With Tony Danza –
Mike: The more I think about this one, the more I love it. It’s such a clever idea for a show. This one man show centers around impressionist Steven Benaquist playing the rolls of Mr. Danza and 2Pac. What follows is part monologue (from Danza’s point of view) and a back and forth of letters written to each other. Some of the letters are hilarious given the who and why of them. 2Pac wondering if it was the “real” Tony Danza writing to him and to prove it, Tony sent him something that only Tony Danza would do. It was great! I really liked this show a lot and would definitely recommend it to anyone who thinks this story sounds absurd. Is it true or not? “Sometimes it’s better to just believe.”
A(partment 8) –
Mike: Wow….this immersive piece takes you through someone else’s life. You are in their skin and see and hear things meant for that person. It’s an eye opening look at your own life, emotions, and thoughts.
Russell: I was stunned. Also, I realized several tears were streaming down my face probably somewhere between minute three and five. What was revealed hit me at a very personal level. To achieve such an emotional impact in such a short amount of time is an achievement that deserves applause. But, this show does not really offer the chance for you to do that, so I exited and thanked the persons I could. This is theater that has the power to destroy… or heal. This is why live theater exists.
Mike: This show is only 10 minutes, but do not let the time frame fool you. This will treat your emotions like a punching bag for those 10 minutes. I’ve gone to pieces that last 2 hours and have not felt the emotions I’ve felt after going through this. This is so well done. This is a MUST SEE. The rest of the shows are sold out, but they do offer waiting lists. On any show night, get to the corner of Lillian and Santa Monica at 8pm and sign up for a wait list spot. You won’t regret it.
Also I’d like to point out, that this is the first, of a very ambitious series of 26 shows. One show for each letter of the alphabet (which is why this is called A(partment 8)). They give you something that is a very clever at the end of the show. I don’t want to say what it is because of spoilers, but it is such a cool and smart touch.