Hollywood Fringe Fest 2017 – Preview Week Reviews
The Hollywood Fringe Fest doesn’t “officially” start until June 8th, but this past weekend had many shows testing the waters by offering previews and dress rehearsals. Between Thursday and Sunday, we crammed in 18 different shows between the two of us. Most were great, some were amazing, and some were…not so good. Below is everything we’ve done this past weekend.
Mike: Why We Become Witches is the story of Laura (or Aunt Lolly as she’s known to her niece and nephew) trying to take back her assertion. We see just how much Laura is taken for granted by her family when all she wants to do is be left alone and to be independent and to do her own things on her own time. With that constant badgering, she enters into a deal with the Devil as it’s the only way she can really get what she wants. This is a show about standing up for yourself and gaining your confidence back. This is a one woman show (starring Lisa K. Wyatt, who you might recognize as Kevin’s girlfriend on “The Office”) with voice recordings of other actors. Not only can you feel the disappointment and struggles she faces on the daily, but you can see into her good heart by the positive comedic responses she has at times. This is not about horror or pentagrams or cauldrons or any other sort of “typical” witch clichés, this is about gaining your freedom back by less than traditional means.
Russell: Mike and I reviewed a full-length version of this show, called Firelight, a few months back (LINK ARTICLE). For the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre has brought back a shortened version of their emotional show called Fire and Light. They have kept intact some of them most harrowing and touching sequences and split them up into two separate shows. You will need to buy a ticket to each portion, and they are in different locations. It is worth the effort to do both sequences. Linked in theme, they are radically different in tone. “Fire” is set at a Christmas party where two couples reveal the birth, progression, and possible death of multiple relationships through interweaving snippets of dialogue and memories. At times funny, at times sad, the beauty here is a cast able to convey the passage of time and the long-term shifting of emotions with a single sentence, gesture, or glance. This is ensemble work at its finest. For the second portion, “Light”, a smaller cast must be applauded for the same strengths. The level of intimacy on display is, at times, breathtaking. You spend a long portion of the time with two characters who have obviously been in a relationship for years, but this is never discussed. Every simple head tilt or hand gesture reveals years of love, pain, loyalty, and betrayal. This is some of the most subtle work in immersive theater you may ever witness.
Russell: As a prelude to a Fringe show – but not actually part of the Fringe Festival, this 15 minute-ish scene was an odd treat. I did not feel like I was part of a show at all, I actually felt like I was attending some sincere consultation with a “crisis management firm” where my “crisis” in life was going to be examined. The one qualm I have about the piece is that it became heavily focused on me, when I actually wanted to learn about the characters in charge of the meeting. It just didn’t pull me in as far as it could have. However, I love the idea of this experiment and hope it enhances the experience of the full-on Fringe show Dark Arts.
Mike: When immersive theatre works for me, I tend to forget that I’m at a show. I was not at a show playing a part at the Prelude to Dark Arts, I was at a crisis management firm talking about my “crisis”. The actors in the room were no longer people I recognized, but they were “Klein and St. Jude” and they were trying to help me get sorted. I have to admit, it really helped talking it out with them. I felt better afterwards. This prelude gives you some background information about Ms. Klein and Mr. St. Jude before you see them in “Dark Arts”. You do not need to see the Prelude to understand what’s happening within Dark Arts, but if you want a few nuggets of information that most people won’t know about and/or want to just have a chat with this crisis management firm, check this out. I’m somewhat torn to say to see this before you see Dark Arts because after seeing them in action, I’d really like another appointment with them if I have a bigger crisis.
Mike: Dark Arts is the traditional proscenium show of the Dark Arts trilogy (Prelude, this show, and the Finale) and is where we get to see these actors truly shine. This show had me laughing a bunch, due to the comedy and sarcasm elements, and it had me disgusted seeing as how there are agencies like this in the world that manipulate people, words, and then turn it all around to benefit themselves and their clients. There’s a fine line between this crisis management company and lawyers. The back and forth and dare I say, chemistry, between the two leads (Lawrence Meyers and Stephanie Hyden) brought a smile to my face and really brought this show to life. Since I attended the Prelude, I felt like I knew them. I knew what they were about, but seeing them in true “work mode” and how venomous they can be in order to help their clients, made me very happy that I was on their good side and a client of theirs. If you followed The Tension Experience, you may see some familiar faces as well as some Easter Eggs thrown in as a nod of respect.
Russell: Taking a campy premise and running with it full-tilt, this was damn fun. Exploring the idea that the werewolf mythology represents the most carnal desires hidden beneath the surface of civilized society is not new. The fun here is watching it play out in a campy, over the top setting of a fictional town called Perfection, California, where the political power has repressed every little thing considered bad or deviant. Obviously, this might be a problem for hormonal teenagers trying to “find” themselves as they face the challenges of becoming adults. The clash of sexual desires while yearning for more than a life of following the rules forever is well played out by the enthusiastic cast. I would also like to point out there is some very interesting commentary about sexual politics in this piece. I commend this cast for dealing with some very ugly sexual politics in the midst of all of the camp. It takes the piece, which starts out as over-the-top fun into a more meaningful and disturbing territory. The camp is always there, but there are some interesting points being made about the misuse of power, as well. Hollywood Fringe is a great place to test out material, I sincerely hope this show continues beyond Fringe, with a little streamlining this could be a favorite of theater companies around the world!
Mike: What happens when you take elements of “Grease”, “Pleasantville”, and even a movie such as “Haute Tension” and combine them? You get Nothing Bad: A Werewolf Rock Musical! This show was so much fun and was one of the shows I was most excited about seeing. Part of that reason was the man behind the music, Dan Sugimoto, who did the music to one of my Fringe Faves from last year, Broadway Noir. Much like last year, I’m still singing the opening number from “Nothing Bad”. His songwriting and musical composition is catchier than a cold. When you have great songs going alone with great acting and a fun story, you become that much more attentive and interesting. Everything just takes a hold of your senses here. One minute you’re laughing at how prude Christopher Cross (played by Jake Saenz) is and in that same moment, feeling bad for his girlfriend Lily (played by Lexi Eiserman). You really want them to work out in the long run, but the long run has some twists and turns in place. I had joked with Russell about there being a “Disney-esque” realization at the end, but not in that typical “happy-ending” sort of way, which is another reason I liked this so much.
Mike: There are words that people use that may sound negative, but are meant as a compliment…”Ridiculous” is one of them. Zombie Clown Trump: An Apocalyptic Musical was…ridiculous…in the best way possible. If you’re a fan of B-Movies, sketch comedy, or companies like Troma, I think you will like this, understand it, and “get” it. Zombie Clown Trump (played by Rick Cipes) takes current issues and situations from the real world and puts them into context in a way that makes you wonder if the real administration is done as a sideshow on purpose. This show had me laughing all the way through it due to song parodies (Michael Jackson, Madonna, John Lennon, and more) as well as a storyline that makes you shake your head, throw up your arms, and say “WHAT!!??”. Oh, did I mention there’s also a puppet named Sean Sphincter? The absurdity of this show is also its charm.
Russell: I can’t say that this premise is the most original I’ve ever seen, but I loved it being used the way it is in this show. The opening moments set up the idea that a prostitute becomes a tad uncomfortable with a client who prefers chatting over doing anything else. After some initial banter, she decides to tell him a story that might rock his world. What unfolds is a tale of obsession which adds an interesting twist to the legend of Jack the Ripper. Using the conceit that Jack the Ripper and his mistress are immortal, this story follows them through decades of cat and mouse shenanigans. One flaw with the piece is since it becomes a tale of obsession, it is difficult to sympathize with a woman who keeps making the same bad decision over and over again. (To be specific, pursuing a soulmate who is also possibly a horrible match for her.) I admire the fact that this is actually addressed inside the piece itself and discussed openly. However I didn’t feel there was a satisfactory conclusion as to why these two people kept winding up with each other even though they’re horrible for each other. This dilemma goes on a bit too long in the piece for my taste, however… I did thoroughly enjoy watching the journey and think this is an original, fascinating tale!
Mike: I loved this spin on the Jack the Ripper mythology. It’s told from his mistress’ point of view through the years. From the 1800’s through present day. She travels all over the world, meets some well-known people and ultimately, makes bad decision after bad decision. We see the heartbreaking journey of Victoria (played by Summer Stratton) meeting a man, tortured by him, falling for him, and in my opinion, being strung along throughout the centuries. Since she first met Jack (played by Zachary Guzman), he’s always just toyed with her. He kept her alive in his basement just wanting her to die. Then, when she overcame that, he would kill just so she would have to be alone and feel nothing except for him. Is it true love or delusion? When we see people in abusive relationships, we always ask them “How long can you live like this?” and for Victoria, her answer is “Forever”. Sigh…
Russell: The Faustus legend is familiar territory. A man sells his soul to the devil and then deals with the ramifications of that pact. This fast-paced, compact version of the tale adds a bit of a punk rock edge to the affair. This primarily affects attitude and interesting costume choices. It truly doesn’t affect the material heavily. Watching a preview, I felt the cast took a few minutes to find its footing, but once they fell into the groove their infectious energy pulled the audience in and provide a surprising amount of humor to such a dark tale. This is one of those shows where the cast is having a blast with some classic material and if you hop on board for the ride, you’ll have a good time along the way with them. The entire cast is game for the fun, with some of the supporting roles requiring several cast members to play multiple characters – each of them extremely well defined and quite humorous. Faustus and Mephistopheles, (the demon he got as a servant in his deal with Satan) played by Brando Cutts and Emma Pauly, work well together. If you like this mythology, give this a chance.
Russell: Jon Armstrong presents a clean, sharp, fun hour of clever magic. Concentrating on fairly intimate, close-up shenanigans. He brings a sincere air of levity and sense of humor to the show. One of his strengths is making the audience feel relaxed and yet completely engaged. Totally charming and highly baffling at times, what Jon Armstrong does is make you believe some things in this world are truly magical.
Mike: Hollywood Fringe is always a great place to see magicians perform. Jon Armstrong was such a treat to see. I had seen him on Penn & Teller’s “Fool Us” as well as the documentary “Magicians: Life in the Impossible” and seeing him perform live just confirmed everything I had seen on tv. He is a very talented and skillful magician. As soon as he comes on stage, you can’t help but to smile. You can tell he’s there having fun and doing what he loves. He performs some classic illusions but with a modern twist. He’s so good and smooth at some of these tricks that you didn’t even realize he did something. Make sure you get there early if you like to help out (pick a card, pick an envelope, etc.)
Mike: I had only done Capital W’s “Hamlet Mobile” before so I was very excited to attend “Red Flags”. “Red Flags” is an immersive, one on one, piece that puts you on a first date with Emma (played by Lauren Flans). Emma is a cute, nervous girl who has some…issues. One of the strengths of this show is that the “issues” are not over the top, they’re real world. This definitely helps you connect on an emotional level with Emma. As soon as she starts talking, you forget that this was a show that you got a ticket and time for, this was now a first date. What follows is roughly an hour of getting to know your date. You find out some things about her and she finds out some things about you. My date was Emma seemed to be ok. I was enjoying our conversations and walk around Hollywood. We shared secrets and frustrations as well as stories of being in love. When Emma shares, you can’t help but to feel bad at times. You really feel for this girl because you can tell she has a good heart deep down, but just doesn’t want to believe it herself. My date ended and we went our separate ways. I don’t know if there will be a 2nd date with Emma as of yet. I really hope this gets remounted in the future and I also hope there’s an option for a 2nd date with Emma. I’d really like to catch up with her and see how she’s doing.
Russell: TGWJOTHS is an award-winning piece that has been seen in several Fringe Festivals around the world. This one-woman show, performed perfectly by Joanne Hartstone, focuses on an actress who has reached the end of her rope in 1949 Hollywood – tired of the auditions, tired of being told she is not fit for any role and will never be a star and will never fit in anywhere. She decides to take her own life by throwing herself off the “H” of the Hollywood sign. She acknowledges that this is not an original idea, there was a famous suicide off the Hollywood sign years earlier.
As she shares how she wound up in this particular moment on this particular monument, a compelling tale of self-discovery unfolds, interspersed with beautiful renditions of classic tunes. Some of the tunes you will recognize, some may be new to you. This show is a gift, it is history mixed with sobering observations on the dangers of high expectations that can never be met. This is a woman who had dreams. Hollywood doesn’t cater to dreams though. It manufactures a fake reality and asks the rest of the world to believe it. This is a touching story of a woman who goes behind the scenes of “The Dream Factory” only to find it’s a harsh place to live and many do not survive there for very long. It creates a beautiful piece of theater that transports the audience to another era with style and grace.
Mike: When I first read about Monsters on the Fringe site, I was really intrigued. It was in the Immersive Theatre category as well as being tagged as a horror comedy. The story is about two actresses on a reality show. One of them becomes paranoid after getting a big part and starts to see things. Unfortunately, this did not work for me. This was not an immersive theatre piece. There was no immersion and no interactivity. Also, the run time stated it was an hour long, but we were done after about 25 minutes. It was to the point where we left, then went back to see if we left too early…we did not. If this was on your radar due to it being “immersive”, please realize this is not the “immersive” you’ll want it to be.
Russell: This may end up being one of my favorite plays at Fringe this year. Dark, funny, very disturbing. Set in a fraternity house days after a pledge has committed suicide, the drama reveals the stress of the surviving fraternity brothers realizing they really didn’t know their supposed “brother for life” at all. What ensues is an examination of the politics of grief. Each character seems to be wrestling with some aspect of “how do I become an adult?” What does that even mean?
For one female character, it means moving on from an unpleasant encounter that unfortunately may threaten relationships for the rest of her life. As we learn more about the fraternity brothers, it is obvious that massive insecurity reigns behind the bravado of womanizing, drinking, fighting guys who are actually terrified of real life. Some may be just trying to compensate for insecurity, others actually buy into the idea that this is manhood. The ending of the show offers no comfort and the realization that sometimes those rising who gain power in this world may only have their own interests in mind. It’s not a comforting ending. But, for these individuals, the ending is appropriate.
Russell: We saw a preview performance of this, it was marred by clunky transitions and some awkward staging. That being said, once the kinks get worked out here – this will be a show to catch! Fun, energetic, and willing to make some very sly commentary on human nature. Playing off of the idea that we are all attending a convention for vampire fans, cosplay begins taking on a weird new edge as one woman becomes convinced that the coolest vampire in the room is just that – an actual vampire. Deciding to pursue this fellow, she finds herself in a position where she’s emboldened to make brash life choices that have devastating effects on her reality.
Mike: This brought me back to the days when vampires, and dressing like vampires, were cool (no really, there was a time like that!). This production really worked with me because I’ve seen those people. I’ve seen the “Vampire groupies” and I’ve seen the “Vampires” due to working at a certain store in the mall while growing up as well as going to the same clubs as them. As soon as I walked in, I heard Joy Division, Siouxsie, Bauhaus, etc. The soundtrack is perfect for this show. I was having such fun watching this. Seeing Brenda (played by Carrie Bell-Hoerth) want something so badly that she’s willing to give everything up, including her family and best friend, was funny, but also heartbreaking. Watching those scenes and hearing that dialog made me reminiscent of what people do when they join a cult. The only sense brought to the table was from Brenda’s best friend, Georgette (played by Emily Donn), who was ultimately cast aside for the pursuit of Brenda’s ultimate goal. The metaphor of this show and what people will do to get what they want really sinks in at this point.
Russell: There are a mixed bag of ideas going on here, but the cast is game and ready to play. The scenes of seduction generated howls of laughter due to their over-the-top sincerity combined with the awkwardness of an ernest girl who just wants to find the right guy. Even if he’s a dead one. Hey – she’s willing to compromise.
Mike: The writing for SYWTBAV is horror comedy at its best. It’s a perfect mix of humor, mocking, sarcasm, and even legitimately meaningful words. The last third of show I did not see coming at all and I applaud writer Marni Troop for not taking us to the “typical” ending you would expect in something like this. You will be surprised, shocked, and horrified with what you end up witnessing.
One of the main reasons I was excited for this was the announcement of a “Splatter Zone”. I haven’t been in a good Splatter Zone since Re-Animator the Musical or Evil Dead the Musical, both of which left me drenched and stained red. This however did not leave me drenched. Actually I don’t think I got any splatter even though I sat in the front row. I’m not sure if this is because it was a preview night or because that’s just how much the show had budgeted. I think this is something that, over time, will grow into something more. Soaking your audience can be risky, especially at something like Fringe, but I think the feedback will let them know to go bigger and wetter!
Russell: If you’re going to advertise a splatter zone, you better deliver splatter. That was a little lacking at the preview hopefully this increases in future performances. Also, most of the “splatter” came from a scene that was awkwardly staged off to the side of the audience where many people couldn’t see what was going on. That’s an unfortunate decision. Again, this is a show that has a great deal of potential. If you want to take the chance on some campy fun I definitely think you might find some worthy laughs waiting for you in the darkness… along with a vampire or two, of course.
Russell: This production is perfect for the Fringe Festival. This presentation is a 90 minute version of a musical that bravely tackles very heavy subject matter in a humane and, at times, uplifting manner. Inspired by a true incident, in 1973 a bar in New Orleans caught fire. 32 people died. In the aftermath, it was learned that it was a gay bar and therefore the authorities did not pursue the case with any real interest and justice was never served. So those 32 lives were lost and then forgotten by almost everyone not directly touched by the tragedy. The musical takes us into the bar to meet the friends – actually, it’s a family – and we see that everyone there is just struggling to be true to themselves in a time that doesn’t allow such freedom. Featuring several beautiful songs, the cast is uniformly strong and this is obviously a labor of love for everyone involved.
Dealing with a space that might be a bit too small for such a large cast, they make it work and pull you into the lives of these people. Knowing some of them are doomed adds to a sense of melancholy that permeates the whole show. This is a story of people struggling with every day life not realizing how short that life might be. Perhaps the most interesting portion of the musical is after the fire. The exploration of regrets, how some characters are haunted by the tragedy and how two of them wrestle with the concept of forgiveness managed to move several people in the audience I was with to tears. This is heavy stuff. It is a tragic story that should not be forgotten, and this moving musical manages to end on a sad, but cautiously hopeful note. In the end, it stresses that humanity suffers as a whole when we inflict suffering on each other.
Russell: Featuring an odd but charming mix of mentalism and music, this show proves to be more philosophical than magical, taking off from the premise that all humans share the universal connection of music. The discussions of music, what it offers to us and the effect it can have on our emotions was the most enjoyable aspect of the show for me.
As far as the magic goes, it is mixed into the conversations and feels like a bit of an odd fit at times. Also, there seemed to be “plants” in the audience. For me, this was a distraction that detracted from the mentalism but I still thoroughly enjoyed the musing and discussions about music and history.
Mike: I really liked the premise of the show. Music and magic? I’m in! Musician/magician Riccardo Berdinni takes control of the audience as soon as he walks on stage. He has a charming and likeable presence about him. He is a fantastic storyteller and I was captivated by his stories. He leads his on stage band in rhythms and songs as they make sense to the story. While this show was good and Berdinni is one hell of a performer, I lost interest about half way through the show. I went to this show expecting a magic show and while there were some magic/mentalism type of things going on, it was more focused on storytelling and music. Also, it got to a point where his mentalism seemed to work on the same people over and over again…the same people that happened to be sitting in the seats that had “Reserved” written on them at the start of the show. Because of this, my suspension of disbelief went away. I couldn’t “believe” anymore due to what seemed to be plants in the audience. Using plants are fine, but using them over and over again in the same show, it becomes obvious and the illusion is ruined.
Mike: 2017 happens to be the 40th anniversary of the release of “London Calling” by The Clash. It’s fitting to have this production at this year’s Fringe Fest. This one was the top show I wanted to see. I built it up so much in my head that anything less than spectacular would have been a letdown. This was NOT a letdown. This is everything I hoped it would be and it still left me wanting more.
This shows the life and struggles of Tom (played by Samuel Meader) the guitarist in a garage band who still lives at home and has no job. What starts off as a bunch of friends playing in a band turns into how each one of them strays from what Tom’s future vision is. You can see inspiration from movies like Quadrophenia (I couldn’t help but think Tom and Jimmy would have been best friends) and Trainspotting where one bad decision can have such an effect on your life and everyone around you. You follow each band mate as they go through their life and how they end up. They use Clash songs intermittently to give certain scenes that much more context, power, and meaning. No song ever felt forced or out of place and the actors delivering these songs did so with the perfect amount of angst that would make Joe Strummer proud. It was difficult for me to not sing along!
This cast is so strong and work so well together. You could see the energy between them all. Even when you had serious and somewhat heartbreaking moments like when Tom would speak to his parents, you could see just how committed and enthused everyone was. Everyone was having fun and that is so important in a show like this. One of the best things for me was when there were scene changes, the same two characters would switch the backdrops out and these characters took on a life of their own (one of whom looked like a young Siouxsie Sioux). It was almost 4th wall breaking when something didn’t line up right and she’d just turn and look at the audience like “Oh well, screw it” and we all laughed. I cannot recommend this show enough and will probably go back to see it if my scheduling allows it. If you’re a fan of The Clash, British culture, or just really good musical theatre, you need to see this.
Russell: Watching this show was an absolute joy. Fun, energetic and heartbreaking, the music of The Clash provides surprising effective insight into a series of adventure had by a group of mates facing the onset of adulthood and the conclusion that dreams and money don’t always come hand in hand… until they do.
The charming cast puts everything they have into every moment. Winning the audience over in the opening moments of the show, even as they fumble through awkward life changes, the audience can only hope each character finds their way without wrecking their lives in the process. To say that they do not always make the right choices is all I will say about their journey. Along the way, the treat is seeing familiar Clash tunes charging those journeys with energy and fun. This was a blast!
Mike: Fringe is about experimentation. This is an experiment and the results are an amazing combination of the Buffy and Twilight universes. Buffy the Vampire and her crew come across Edward and the Twilight crew and what happens is a glorious battle of one franchise versus another. You can tell that they are fans due to the hilariously pointed out plot holes and trivia that were in the show. This had me smiling and laughing through the whole show to the point where my face hurt. It’s that good.
This is a musical and they deliver some great and funny songs that will leave your eyes tearing. This takes place at the Three Clubs, if you’ve been there, you know how small the stage is, so huge props for the fight scenes that took place on that stage. It always felt like one more step and someone would have fallen or twisted an ankle. Buffy Kills Edward was the most fun I’ve had a show in a while. You will have so much goofy fun even if you’re #teamedward
Russell: Hell, yeah! That’s about all I got to say on this. Goofy. Energetic. Totally aware of its glorious silliness, the cast grabs the mythology of two of the most popular vampire universes and throws them into a blender and hits frappe. Oh… and… is anyone REALLY #teamedward??? Don’t even get me started… Geez.