Hollywood Fringe Fest has officially started! In this first week of Fringe shows, we were able to see another 16 shows! What we saw this weekend has run the gamut from goofy fun to dark and disturbing…as well as everything in between. If there are shows you are interested in, make sure you buy your ticket as shows are already selling out their entire runs.
Mike: I want to preface this by saying I have neither read “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Anderson, nor seen the animated movie by Disney. One of the benefits of Fringe is being able to explore territory you are unfamiliar with to see if the piece is still able to move and entertain you without having any prior knowledge of the subject matter. This piece accomplished both.
There is no verbal dialogue in this piece and relies on the movements of the actors, specific songs playing in the background by the band Evanescence, and the biggest thing of all…the actors expressions. The pain, anguish, and sadness of The Little Mermaid (played by Rachel Lynn Walker) made me get teary eyed. You could see and feel the love and the emotions she had just through a simple facial expression. When the father came walking to the stage, I was afraid. You could feel his power and strength within this piece. I had an instant hate for the Sea Witch and her minions for the same reasons.
Even though I had never read or seen any incarnation of “The Little Mermaid”, I was still able to follow and understand the story. If you’re a fan of this work, definitely check this out for a new way to experience this story. If you’re like me and have never read/seen it, you can still enjoy, follow, and be emotionally invested in this piece. All of the actors did an amazing job with this and, for me, succeeded with an emotionally impactful piece.
Mike: Walking into this show, I thought I had an idea of what I would experience. In my mind, I’d be going to show/lecture about Victorian-era “psychics” and the tricks they pulled in order to make money by making people believers in their “powers”. Some secrets were revealed, but what surprised me and made me fall in love with this show was that, in addition to the history, you got to see and experience what these cons were.
Dr. Mark Gasson takes you through a short history lesson about Victorian-era psychics and then re-enacts some of the things that made these “psychics” what they were (spoiler alert, they’re just normal people with no special “powers”). He makes you realize just how easy it is to be manipulated by people who know how to take advantage of our subconscious. He will leave you amazed and spellbound and if that can happen nowadays, you can understand why people in the 1800’s thought there were mystical powers going on.
Part history lesson, part illusionist act, this show is a perfect combination of both.
Mike: This was such a charming show! This is a “back to basics” type of magic show and I loved every minute of it. Magician Jonathan Sky fuses New Orleans jazz (complete with trumpet playing), storytelling, and some clever magic into this performance. You’ll see illusions you would expect such as card and rope tricks, but you will also see some things you’ve never seen before. There are some fun, child-like things he does in this show, but they never cross that line of being silly. With that being said, 2 parts of this show that involved drawing (one with crayons and one with a marker) will have you laughing and smiling ear to ear. It will make you feel like a kid again and leave you asking over and over “How did he do that?” If you are a fan of classic magic, definitely make sure to check this show out.
Russell: Shine On, seen at last year’s Fringe with THE TRUTH, have returned with a glimpse into a new universe. Fans following social media closely were recently directed to a mysterious Craigslist ad focusing on a man in search of a woman who appeared to be lost. If you responded, this man, named Phillip, replied with a tale of searching for his dream girl and asking for help from a fellow dreamer – perhaps you.
When the show begins, you meet Phillip in person (the well-cast Alexander Echols) and he explains his quest to you, then you are encouraged to relax and let your own dreams take you away… for that is where his lost dream girl may be found… actually inside dreams. The opening felt a little unsure on preview night, with points being stressed too heavily. The unfolding of his tale, including some visual aids which are a very nice touch, seemed a little too intense too soon. In such an intimate space, a subtler tone in the first few minutes might have made things more dramatic as Phillip reveals just how intensely he feels he must find the lost girl of his dreams. It’s a very minor quibble, but the moment when Phillip chooses to stress his desperation to me was a gasp-worthy moment of acting which could have hit harder if it had been more of a surprise. As I said, I saw a preview and I am confident a smoother tone will develop quickly.
A quick transition leads to another short encounter in a unique, surprisingly beautiful and effective setting. It seems Rose, the girl in the dream, (played with eerie, frantic charm by Hannah Faust) has created a twisted version of a home for herself. But, where exactly? It reflects the secrets and sadness that abound in the dilemma of this universe.
There are those that seek and those who may or may not want to be found. Phillip seems to be wrestling with this dilemma. He chose to make one final point about his quest and my meeting with him, I admit it was unsettling to hear he now considers me an ally in his mission.
Shine On’s strengths are numerous and include the ability to take an average setting and tweak it just enough to create a magical shift in time and space. That happens here, even in a show of such short length. When I left, I felt the urge to know more and I intend to follow this story into the larger offerings later in the year.
Russell: An oddball comedy with bittersweet moments of heartbreak and loss, Quantum Entanglement features an incredibly strong cast. The performances here are the highlight of the show. Offering a story filled with mysterious family relationships, the conversations relating to family dynamics with ideas pulled from studies of quantum physics are mind-spinning in their complexity. There are hugely satisfying scenes throughout this piece – but the parts seem a bit more juicy than the whole.
This play begs to be expanded. With only one hour to play with, the short length works against the material a bit. One character has no satisfactory conclusion, certain aspects of the mother/daughter interaction are never satisfactorily explored. But, I was intrigued to a point that when the lights came up , I was disappointed there was not more…
I want to stress the strength of the cast for this piece, tackling some dense and, at times, beautiful passages of dialogue, they all rise to the occasion. Payden Ackerman is endearing and maddening as a science geek who cannot sense the delicacies of emotional conversation, Amanda Zarr is relatable and bewildering as the mother who never answers how you expect. Katelyn Shiller wrote the piece and shines in her role as a daughter who has never understood where she stands in her own family. (Also, kudos to the charming cat, played by Amy Shine!)
Add to the stellar performances a warm and inviting tone that asks the audience to ponder how we are all connected in this wacky universe, you have a show that confounds and warms the heart simultaneously. Now, I hope it develops into something bigger that makes more sense of it all.
Russell: A complex rethinking of the Dracula tale, this show defies description. Part mildly interactive immersive theater piece, part heavy drama, part dance performance, a strong cast energetically throws themselves into the material (sometimes literally) and produces a sad tale of a woman who rose from tragedy to become a monster.
Catch that detail? Dracula is a woman in this version, and it adds a level of gender politics to the piece that never is pointed to heavily, simply enhances the proceedings. (For example, it enhances the devastation of a certain betrayal.) As you move from room to room (representing different portions of Dracula’s journeys) you are thrust into the middle of almost each significant turning point in her life.
It’s a piece that pulls you in through simply placing you in the center of the action. Dramatic encounters take place inches from the audience, sometimes even overflowing into it. At times intimidating, at times enthralling, this experimental staging, for me, increased the intensity of the show, for sure. The cast is strong, with Cassandra Ambe (Dracula / choreographer), Tamara Burgess (Mina / fight choreographer), Sam Flemming (Harker) and Matt Jennings (Van Helsing) leading the ensemble. Specific mention should be made of music by David Kayser, perfectly setting the tone and strengthening the piece overall.
The tweaks that have been made to this familiar tale are fun and surprising. If you want to dip your toe into the immersive category at Fringe, this is a fine show to satisfy that urge as well as your urge for the mysterious and creepy.
Russell: Definitely one of the most innovative premises at this year’s Fringe, this “interactive play” is a combination of scripted monologues, improvisation and audience participation. The premise, I feel, is both a strength and a weakness. The audience witnesses a charity sale of donated items. At times, actors present the history of the objects – which audience members can actually purchase with special funds provided before the show. However, if an item is purchased, the attached actor leaves the stage. This causes an odd emotional hiccup – after hearing the story of how an object came to be here among the charity sale objects, the audience is then denied the emotional satisfaction of knowing the emotional reaction an object might feel to being bought. (Especially if that history is a sad tale.)
At times it seemed audience members were a bit shy to jump in and “play” but that soon changes as the concept becomes clear. Conversations among the objects are a combination of the mentioned pre-written monologues and improvisation. This free-flow structure sometimes can lead to interesting exchanges – or awkward filling of time waiting for an audience member to browse the items and maybe make a purchase. All of this flows more smoothly overall than it may sound possible, but it did have some very clunky sections.
Credit must be given to director Aaron Vaneck for trying a truly innovative format, even if the results are mixed. (This is an adaptation of a LARP – Live Action Role Playing experience. Part of the fun here is that obvious influence on the piece.) This is one of those Fringe experiments you might want to check out if you are on the lookout for some innovative, unique story-telling.
Mike: Murder, an insane asylum, and patients believing they’re some of the greatest physicists ever…what could go wrong? Written by Friedrich Durrenmatt in 1961, this is the story of three patients in an insane asylum. The first patient we meet is Herbert Georg Beutler (played by Gera Hermann) who believes he is Sir Isaac Newton. The second is Ernst Heinrich Ernesti (played by Brenden Weinhold) who believes he is Albert Einstein. The third is Johann Wilhelm Mobius (played by Josh Mann) who has King Solomon appearing and speaking to him.
When a murder is committed by Einstein, Inspector Richard Voss (played by Phil Ward) comes to the asylum to investigate. He speaks to the woman in charge, Fraulein Doktor Mathilde Von Zahnd (played by Jacque Lynn Colton), who seems very motherly to the patients, but as we learn later, isn’t motherly at all and has her own agenda and plans. If you’ve never thought a woman on a motorized chair could be intimidating, you have not seen Colton scowl while riding towards you.
The acting in this show is superb and has many comedic moments. How could you not when you have people thinking they’re someone else? Also, there is a live music component which adds a really nice feel to this show. Anytime you have live music instead of prerecorded music, it definitely adds another element to the show.
This show has a few major plot twists and just when you think you know the full story…BAM….another twist and turn. This show will have you guessing until the very end and nothing is at it seems.
Russell: My favorite drama I have seen so far at the fringe Festival is Normal written by Anthony Neilson. A disturbing exploration of the crimes of Peter Kurten, a German serial killer convicted of murdering eight people (including several children) in 1931.
Boldy staged and never afraid of depicting the heinous acts being discussed, this piece strikes deeply on an emotional level. Delving into the life of Kurten (chillingly portrayed by Steve Madar) and the man assigned to defend him, Jutus Wehner (Arthur Keng).
The two men debate the borders of what can be considered “normal” in a society that condemns the actions of some for certain behaviors while turning a blind eye to others. It’s a maddening series of double standards that Kurten uses to exploit Whener’s somewhat sheltered world view. As Kurten educates his defender in the true violence of the world, he also reveals that love can exist in almost any heart. It is at times dizzying to witness the verbal sparring – made all the more disturbing since one man is clearly better at it than the other. At times I felt like I was watching a snake toying with its next meal.
Helping confuse the poor Wehner is the character of Frau Kurten (a complex performance by Carolyn Deskin). At times playing victim, feminist, lover and friend, her presence seems to leave both men aroused and confounded.
Dark and disturbing, this piece will have you questioning your own boundaries of what can be considered… normal.
Mike: I love when Russell and I see the same show, at the same time, and come out with a different outlook on it.
This might be one of the darkest shows I’ve seen at Fringe…and I loved every minute of it. We see the story of Peter Kurten, a German serial Killer, through flashbacks and current time meetings with his lawyer. What I liked about this show is that even in the world of being politically correct, where any little thing is scrutinized and protested, they followed through with showing some of the violence that Kurten had used. This is so important to do to make an impact. It was not exploitative, but emotional. You felt for these characters and the trauma they’ve been through.
We see Kurten play the role of master manipulator with his lawyer. Yes, this story is about Kurten, but it’s also the story of Jutus Wehner, his lawyer. We experience Wehner become just another plaything of Kurten’s. Is Wehner acting on subconscious things Kurten has told him? Or is he confused as to what is normal nowadays? It’s not hard to imagine this happening since Kurten is pretty charismatic and charming for a violent killer.
The use of lighting in this show was perfect. It gave eerie effects for the actors and even the audience. The backdrops were stained, groady, and disgusting. To me, they appeared to be made of human skin. It’s subtleties like that, the attention to detail, that help engulf you into this, into his, world.
Russell: Look, if you know the stunningly bad – but oddly endearing – cult movie this is based on, then you know you are in for a goofy experience. Embracing horror movie stereotypes, we are treated to the musical version of a tale of aliens destroying all of mankind… except for one family and a couple of expendable characters.
I think you enjoyed this a bit more than I did, Mike, but I definitely had a good time. Playful and sweet, this is a piece of light-hearted camp that strikes the perfect tone of loving parody. Overall, I think this production could stand to pick up the pace and perhaps be shortened just a bit, but those are small concerns. The cast is the strength here, in my opinion, deftly mining the oddball material for some big laughs. (My personal favorite moment? One character dies but manages to bring one last big laugh with their changing of the set.)
Mike: Robot Monster is one of the best “bad movies”, so it would make sense to turn this into a musical! Some of the best and funniest musicals I’ve seen have been based on bad/cult/B movies. Robot Monster The Musical follows this with 90 minutes of hilarity, camp, and playfulness.
This had me laughing and smiling throughout the show. The cast was great and really played their parts up. Roy (played by Andrew Villarreal) who had the macho, 50’s type, man’s man, down to a T (I’m surprised I didn’t see a sparkle from his teeth every time he’d smile). Any time you have adults playing children is a recipe for awesome. The two “children” (played by Dana Deruyck and Stephanie Thomas) were having so much fun playing the part that it was contagious. And how could I forget the Robot Monster? Whenever Ro-Man XJ2 (played by Marcus Chavez) came on stage, you couldn’t help but get excited.
Everyone in the cast had their time to shine and show their vocal talents (even the Robot Monster!) The songs were funny and ridiculous. If you like musicals based on bad movies, definitely go and check this show out!
Russell: The premise is definitely a winner – a wacky send-up of The Hunger Games featuring characters from various video games. I had fun watching the funny mixing of worlds, but admit I am a little bit lacking in my knowledge of the worlds themselves. I am going to default to Mike on this one as to how successful it was on the nerd level of funny. (I am nerdy in other areas, haha.)
I will say I loved how the entire cast was willing to throw themselves into the roles and admirably fought (literally) their way from round to round of the competition. Once again, this is a show made fun by the cast enjoying the characters and finding a good balance between winking at the audience and committing whole-heartedly to the material.
Mike: Did you ever think you could have a conversation with Donkey Kong? What about Mario? Or Samus (from Metroid)? Well, in The Video Games, you can!
The Video Games is a play off of “The Hunger Games”, but using video game characters. You’ll see (and meet) characters from Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, Halo, and more. They all try to get you to vote for them (via Twitter hashtags) for them to survive and earn the ultimate title of “Player One”. This brings a fun and “replayable” aspect to the show since no show will end the same. (I heard people in back of me say that the last time they went, Scorpion won).
If you aren’t a gamer, you can still recognize some characters (right Russell?). There are some nerdy deep cuts that people who play the games will understand, but those things are thrown in and not necessary for the story.
This is listed as immersive theatre and at points, it is. You can have conversations with the characters, but those conversations don’t seem to change the story. That happens via Twittering and hashtagging rather than the actual conversations.
This was such a fun and entertaining show! If you have enough quarters, you can replay this many times and will see something different each time.
Russell: When we picked shows we were intrigued to see, this was one of my top picks. I am familiar with the piece, having seen multiple productions over the past decade. The premise is simple – three energetic guys will perform some or all of Shakespeare’s plays in 90 minutes. What unfolds is a frantic race through the Bard’s classics (and a few of his not so classic pieces). Slapstick, puns, over the top fisticuffs and an outlandish tendency to portray all female roles with an outrageous sense of melodrama and unfortunate choice in wig styles – it’s all here and it’s all fun! The cast of Paul green, Jordan Merrimee and Dorian Tayler seem to have no fear of doing anything for a laugh. They are having a blast and their excitement is infectious!
Mike: Often times, we talk about how a show speaks to us or how we can relate to it. Comic-Con the Musical was this show for me. I’ve collected comics and toys and have been to Comic-Con many times. As soon as I walked in and heard the Cantina theme (from Star Wars) followed by the Star Trek theme, I knew I was in for a treat.
When we meet the cast, I instantly had flashbacks of cons I’ve been to. We’ve all seen these people. The cosplayer, the indie comic creator, the fan fic writer, etc. When Allen Gray (played by Mark Lewis), announces a surprise pitch contest as a plan for a comeback (after 27 movies in a franchise), Jason, indie comic creator of Super Christian Psychic Alcoholic Alien Detective (played by Davis MacLeod Haines), Anna, Vempire Fan Fic writer (played by Christina Lea), and Drew, cosplayer with no origin story (played by Michael D’Elia) team up to think of a story for him. But, DB Coates, creator of the CW series “Vempire” (played by Ryan Shrime) learns of their plan, he teams up with real life Alien, the Flarg Princess (played by Mariah Rose Faith) in order to take what they believe is theirs.
While most cast members have their own songs to sing (which are all fantastic), this piece shines when all of them are on stage and singing together. I was really impressed with this and the amount of times this happened. This is a show written by someone with a pure love of comics and cons and it shows. This isn’t mocking the culture at all, but shows it love. To this point, after all the backstabbing and betrayal that happens, there is such an inspirational message at the end of the show. Be proud of who you are and what you’re into.
Also, if you show up in costume, you can take part in the con’s costume contest!
I can’t help but wonder who some of these characters are based off of, specifically Allen Gray and DB Coates. I have my thoughts, based on similar conversations I’ve had with friends that I heard in this show. Maybe these thoughts are universal…and if it’s who I think it is, then it makes sense.
This is so well done that even if you have no knowledge of comics or have never attended a con, you will still find this enjoyable. The story, the music and songs, the acting, etc are so well produced. According to the Fringebill, this is not their full vision for the show. This is so exciting to me because I want to see what more they do in the coming months/years to make this more into their vision. It’s great as is, but I can’t wait to see this show again when they feel they’ve reached the next level.
Mike: This is one of those shows where I’m not sure how I should feel towards the character. Domino (played by Mitchell Reiter) meets up at a museum bar with his old friend, and current detective, Tommi (played by Teresa Yslas Beardsley). Tommi tells him that her husband cannot make it, so it will just be them. Domino starts spilling his guts about things that have gone wrong in his life, which are “man” type issues such as needing to use Viagra or losing a fight in front of his ex. His life seems to be going into a downward spiral and Tommi is doing her best to keep him out of it. When Domino tells his stories, you feel bad for him. His stories can be relatable for some people. But when Tommi excuses herself to make a phone call or go to the restroom, Domino ruins anything that you’ve felt for him
When Tommi is away, he’ll have conversations with the bartender (played by Staci Rodrigues) about topics such as women’s gymnastics. I almost feel as if he’s taking everything out on the bartender. His conversations with her make him sound ignorant and misogynist. You stop feeling bad for him and almost want bad things to happen to him. Thank goodness the bartender takes none of his crap and knocks some sense into him.
In the shows final act, you learn about Domino’s ex and why she’s his ex (the reason is not what you might think). You also see the culmination of all of his thoughts and ideas.
One thing I’d like to know more about is his relationship with Ron (Tommi’s husband). The way they both spoke about him made me want to meet him. If he was at the bar, would things have turned out differently?
Overall, this show was entertaining and an interesting plot, but like I said, I’m confused on how I should feel about Domino.
Russell: Looking for some challenging adult content at this year’s Fringe? This might be the show for you. Exploring the world of a frustrated, stressed out playwright named Colin, sincerely portrayed by Aaron Stall, we meet a man with a great deal of life-stuff on his plate. Already facing career disappointment, an ill mother and a dying cat, Colin finds that things can go from stressful to borderline suicidal rather quickly.
A slight mishap involving a manuscript he’s been working on ends up revealing a rather disturbing urge that Colin has been hiding from his girlfriend (Autumn Bruewer) and older brother (John Woodley). When the truth becomes know, everyone immediately condemns Colin as he wrestles with how to redeem himself in the eyes of those that mean the most to him. At times, each person seems to offer safety or judgement… it’s a tricky set of negotiations. Also in the mix is a younger brother (Ethan Barker) who provides some nice comic touches, but always based in the love of family.
The wonderful thing about Apathy Killed the Cat is frank and awkward adult conversations about sexual desire and the ramifications of acting or not acting on such desires. As the situation alternately offends or titillates various members of Colin’s immediate social circle, the idea of shaming someone turns into an exploration of why certain desires exist in the first place. We all have desire… and the heart does not choose what it wants, it just wants. As the brothers and Colin’s girlfriend explore the past, the revelations of what endears each of them to each other is quite touching even as it threatens to destroy their relationships.
Weirdly balancing fantasy, comedy, heavy drama and some truly awkward family dynamics along the way, this piece is a call for people to simply respect one another and try to understand each other without irrational judgement. The is one of the most positive shows I have seen so far at Fringe, even if that positive message is hidden amongst some very dark ideas.
(It should be noted this show contains some very adult conversations and nudity. Not for children.)
Russell: This is really charming. Offering up two children who discover they have a path to a magical area of a forest where they can tell stories… and those stories will come true, the idea of what stories can mean to us is explored.
Using fairy tales as a jumping-off point, the kids find themselves expressing their own fears and hopes by telling stories where everyone “lives happily ever after.” Even as they sense this may not be the case in real life, their insistence on upbeat or tragic stories when playing in the woods reflects what they each fear. With a parent can’t fix something, isn’t it natural to fantasize about the Prince who can fix everything? Or the little girl who escapes the monster before being eaten?
The simplicity of the staging here, utilizing ladders and Christmas lights and a sheet, shifts the focus to the emotional core of the show… how stories protect us.
Mike: This is another show that we saw together that I took a different way. I love this!
I took this show as the story of “how” the Grimm brothers started. We see them as children creating the stories that became what we know and love. We see their innocence and imagination coming out and seeing these thoughts in real life.
We see the charm and innocence of children telling stories. All of which have a happy ending as a metaphor for themselves and their own life. Everything will be ok if we just write it that way.
This was a great and original retelling of stories we’ve heard a million times before.
Russell: Wow, Mike, that’s a really nice takeaway from this and it adds to my own interpretation of the show. You sum up the optimism of this extremely well. There definitely is a feeling that we control our stories and we can use them as we need them.