Hollywood Fringe Fest 2017 – Week Two Reviews
Hollywood Fringe Fest has just completed it’s second week and we got to see 16 more shows between the two of us. Some of them Mike had seen previously and others Russell had seen previously. This was a good “catch up” type of week. You can read and listen to our other reviews by checking out our Hollywood Fringe Preview Week written reviews and Preview week podcast, as well as week one written reviews and the week one podcast.
One more week to go! Try and see as much as you can while you can!
Mike: “Bloody Awful” is two dark comedy shows for the price of one! The first show, entitled “The Callback”, is a story of a girl that just can’t accept that she wasn’t called back after an audition and the great lengths she will go to in order to prove she was worthy. The perkiness of Molly (played by Kelly Ohanian) is what made “The Callback” so great. How can this perky, and mostly upbeat, girl do these things?
The back and forth between Molly and the director, Mr. Ashford (played by Joey Rich), is great. You start to care for Molly, even though she may be in the wrong here, because Mr. Ashford sounds like Hollywood scum. It’s really hard not to like Molly in this horrible situation and she seems to be an avenger of sorts.
Overall, the show was great! There were a couple points that didn’t make sense to me though. When Mr. Ashford gets a hand free, he never uses it to do anything else to help his cause. There were a couple times when I was thinking “Ok, now’s your chance!! Do this or that!!”, but instead, he remained being the victim.
The second show, entitled “The Slaughter House”, is about Kurt (played by Dennis Woullard) and the apartment he just moved into. His new roommates, Fyodor (played by Josh Duke), Wendell (played by Jonny Perl), and Greg (played by Soren Royer-McHugh) are all serial killers. They suspect he is also a serial killer (he isn’t), which is why they let him move in.
Kurt is constantly trying to play along and…ignore…certain “activities” happening at the apartment. When his girlfriend Caroline (played by Alex Elliott) comes to visit, that’s when things really start to get fun. We see Kurt constantly try to shield her from the goings on in his apartment. When he’s the only one who can unclog the sink for a specific reason, she gets alone time with Fyodor. The conversation about love and relationships between these two is hilarious and is one of the great parts of this show.
The ending was something I saw coming, but that didn’t take away from the show at all. I really hope they extend this into a full show. I’d love to follow the zany adventures of these serial killers and the everyday problems they run into in day to day life. I could see this being a sitcom on Adult Swim or something.
Mike: Dracula is a tale told many times over and in the 120 years since Bram Stoker had written it, there have been many variations on it. “The Rise and Fall of Dracula” is one of these variations. In the version, there is no Count Dracula, but a Madame Dracula. It’s a lesson to people that need to understand how gender means nothing when it comes to such an iconic name and legend.
The show has it all…love, violence, blood, betrayal, etc. The stand out for me is the violence because of the fighting. The fight scenes, taking place in such a small area, with no audience member getting accidentally touched, were so impressive. There were beautiful moments with a tinge of darkness as well within this show.
I only had one small issue with this show. Because this is an immersive environment and you move from room to room as scenes play out, there are times when the sight lines are problematic for some people due to the size of the audience. This only happened to me personally twice and I was able to maneuver my way through to see, but some people missed entire scenes due to that issue. I’m not saying this makes this a bad show, it doesn’t at all. It’s really well done and overall you will not have an issue, but audience flow could definitely be improved for certain scenes.
Mike: We’ve all been at this point in our lives. We’ve all had our hearts broken by someone. What if there was an operation you could have where all of that pain, anger, hatred, and betrayal could be removed? If only it were that easy. This is the premise of “Emergency Operation”.
We meet Adam (played by Ben Bergstrom), whose girlfriend Kelsey (played by Jess Moore), just cheated on him. Adam is so hurt from his heart being broken that he has an emergency operation to fix his heart. After his operation, the memories of what happened are gone and he can start fresh, but can everyone around him do the same?
This show takes delicate subject matter and twists it around to make it funny for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, there are definite triggers of heartbreak in this show, but the comedic moments definitely outweigh them. The funny moments come from everyone in the cast, but mostly from the emergency room patient (played by Tahmus Rounds), the sarcastic, bad joke telling doctor (played by Colleen Elizabeth Miller), and Adam’s overprotective mother (played by Sigute Miller) and his father (played by Alan Ehrlich) who just wants to give him his space.
I left the show with a smile on my face, but also left reflecting on certain times in my life when my heart was broken and felt just like Adam or when I unintentionally broke someone else’s, and felt like Kelsey. It’s a lot easier to see things like this as a spectator instead of being in the middle of it.
One last thing I want to point out are the song selections before the show and during the scene changes. If you put them all together as a mixtape or a playlist, I think it would be a fantastic “Broken Heart” mix.
Mike: Suicide is such a permanent solution. What if you could cryogenically freeze yourself instead? It’s temporary and you can be in a comfortable sleep until all your problems pass. “A Void” shows us the pros and cons of this solution via two sisters. Judith (played by Rachel Sondag) has made her decision to freeze herself and gives all the reasons why. Rita (played by Mary Holland) tries to convince her to deal with her problems, but instead, rethinks her own way of handling life’s challenges.
This show is more than just taking an easy way out and not dealing with your problems. It’s also about sibling rivalry and competition between sisters. It’s about family and the dynamic of each person within.
Russell: This show made me extremely uncomfortable. That is a tribute to the lead actresses. The two women create a family dynamic as sisters that is incredibly honest, effective, and completely believable. The relationship, already awkward in vibe, gets more uncomfortable as the play unfolds. Every head turn, every condescending sideways glance conveys years of frustration and competition between these two women.
Mike: The conversations the sisters have is so natural and I’m guessing anyone with siblings can relate and understand each of the sister’s point of view.
Russell: The mildly sci-fi elements of the plot becomes the excuse for way too much honesty to come flooding out of them both women. Their verbal interaction is the heart of the show, and it succeeds incredibly well. I felt like I was eavesdropping on something I shouldn’t hear. The humor is amped up by the absurdity of the whole premise, but a strong message about avoiding responsibility for you own actions resonates by the end.
Mike: By the final part of this show, you realize just how well Judith knows Rita and that knowledge will leave you with your jaw on the floor.
Too Many Hitlers or: The Decoy Decameron
Russell: Starting with the premise that Hitler used physical body doubles as decoys to avoid possible assassination, this show asks the truly funny question of what would happen if all those decoys wound up in the same room at the same time? Well, to be honest, some hilarity does ensue and the wacky situation holds tons of charm.
The brisk hour is filled with antics, people taking themselves too seriously, pomposity which keeps getting punctured by those in the room who know how silly this entire premise is, and, for the most part, the cast pull it off nicely.
However, farce is a delicate game. Usually for it to work it has to be sincere. This premise feels like it could’ve come from the brain of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. The difference is when those guys struck comedy gold, it was from a place of heart and soul and honesty. For me, Too Many Hitler’s contains a little too much winking at the audience and too much wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude. If they had played it straight, I believe the piece would have been even funnier. This show does not escalate, it just keeps going is the characters realize that everything is about to come tumbling down and they are jobs are quite literally not going to exist soon. The rats start to leave the ship. However, I think the final moments of the show would have had more impact if everything had been played more honestly leading up to that. That being said, there is some really funny stuff here along the way!
It’s a mixed bag, there is plenty of funny, but certain scenes are better than the whole. Multiple entrances by the Hitlers, their reveal of different personalities was great to watch unfold, a running gag on how to answer a telephone, and one sequence for the entire cast starts dropping movie titles into their dialogue is particularly clever and fun. But it seems to never build into a comedy frenzy, which I think this cast is obviously ready and willing to have the fun with and could have pulled off.
Charlatan: Secrets of the Victorian Psychics
Russell: This show was on my radar and I was happy to hear, Mike, that you really enjoyed seeing it last week. Boy, am I glad I saw this! This immediately has become one of my favorite shows of the Fringe festival.
The deceivingly simple premise of a Dr. Mark Gasson lecturing about spiritualism and the tricks of turn-of-the-century mediums becomes a wonderfully clever demonstration on the power of suggestion, hypnotism and the gullibility of the human race. Touching gently on people’s optimism and how that can make us vulnerable to trickery and manipulation by dishonest people, the show is a fascinating mix of creepy and empowering. Part lecture, part magic, part psychology… this is a show that I truly wish had a longer running time. I did not want this one to end.
The Second Coming of Klaus Kinski
Russell: This is a one-man show exploring the life, passions and obsessions of the controversial artist/actor Klaus Kinski, perhaps best known for collaborating repeatedly with filmmaker Werner Herzog on films including Nosferatu, Aguirre:T he Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. It is important to stress previous knowledge of Kinski’s work is helpful but not necessary here. This isn’t about a single man, this show explores the depths of a passionate artist constantly frustrated by human limits.
Embodying the role of Klaus Kinski in a stunning performance, Andrew Perez explores the man as a perplexing mix of passion, creativity, heart and insanity that burned so bright it nearly destroyed everything in his path – even himself. In a show structured somewhat like a dream, Perez’s solo presence is never less than riveting. At times touching , at times… terrifying. This is obviously a passion project, the result of much research and interviews with people from Kinski’s life. Even if you are not familiar with the actor or the infamous tantrums he would sometimes throw in the name of art, this is a performance that you should not miss. The audience I was with was mesmerized, the only time so far I have seen this year at Fringe that an audience actually demanded a second curtain call from a performer. I cannot stress enough how deeply moving, scary, sexy and disturbing Perez is in this show. The man may be part demon. (I mean that as a compliment.)
The piece explores many areas of Kinski’s life… his temperamental disposition as demanding performer, his lust to experience everything he did in life to a sometimes damaging extreme, his loves and losses… which were many. Under Perez’s spell, you see the human aspect of some really horrid behavior. That’s quite an achievement.
Somewhere in the middle of the show, Kinski proclaims, “I am defending my life here in this nightmare!” In ways, that is the perfect summary of the performance Perez gives. This is a man fighting desires that he feels might consume him, living to the fullest his passions, hopes and fears. The intensity is incredible and Perez manages to convince that this is, indeed, a life and death matter.
Mike: Magic duos are always fun. They can play off one another and have a great back and forth dialog. “New Bad Boys of Magic” is a duo of magicians – one of whom is the typical clean cut nice guy (Daniel Donohue) and the other is a drunk, perverted, down on his luck guy (Eric Siegel).
Russell: I love how this is a magic show inside an unfolding story. Near the beginning of the show, we learn of their past and how one disappointed the other. The tension between the two magicians escalates into a competitive vibe that adds to the impact of the tricks performed.
Mike: This show is for adults. There’s adult language and adult situations. This is not your typical, family friendly magic show. Now while this is definitely raunchy, it should not overshadow the fact of how skilled these guys are. Sure, at times, they use things like alcohol or make the occasional dick joke or two, but do not let those things get in the way of seeing what the tricks actually are.
They perform some great tricks throughout the show and one card story that will make you realize just how good they really are. I want to see more of these guys in the future. Hopefully Eric won’t corrupt Daniel too bad going forward.
Russell: The “story” sequence, Mike, was my favorite portion of the show. The skill on display is amazing! I loved watching these guys as a team. Definitely, I want to see these guys again, I had a blast watching this show.
Blamed: An Established Fiction
Mike: This has been the most impressive show I’ve seen so far.
This show takes a look at classic stories, through wonderful storytelling that uses visuals, singing, dance, and music from a live band, where a woman is blamed for doing something wrong. The amount of talent on that stage is second to none. I think there were around 12-15 people (including the band) and each one of them had their own highlights during the show.
Russell: For me, this has been the biggest surprise of the 2017 Fringe. I went in grabbing a last minute ticket out of curiosity and was rewarded with one of the best shows of the festival.
Most of these stories you will recognize. There are stories of motherhood gone wrong, deception, banishment, torture, death and shame. In some, the women are active participants, in some they are victims… in all of them… blame for chaos is always laid at the feet of the woman. Yet… somehow, this is the most uplifting show I have seen at Fringe.
Mike: With that many people on a small stage, you might think there was some frantic chaos, but it was definitely the opposite. What you did see was wonderfully orchestrated choreography that will make you be in awe of the intricacies of people weaving. It’s a beautiful thing to see and experience.
Russell: The very large cast becomes a community before our eyes… a diverse, rich community filled with love and support. The stories being told may be dark and unhappy… but the point is not the misery… the point is the support shown between the storytellers. Whatever tale is told… it ends with acknowledgement of what it takes to remember, pay tribute and learn from these things we have often heard but may not have paused to explore.
Mike: Angelic voices, radiant dancing, and charming visuals, leave you enchanted with each story and every performer. To cram that much talent on such a small stage is a feat unto itself.
I am definitely going to keep tabs on this company and will see whatever they do next in a heartbeat.
Mike: There are horrible things that happen in the world. Horrible things that could be happening right next door or thousands of miles away in another country. Some of us turn a blind eye to them because we don’t see it happening. “Toys” tries to change that with a performance piece about sex trafficking through a metaphor of children’s toys.
Russell: A simply staged, yet chilling, interpretive dance performance art piece, “Toys” may be the simplest concept for a show in this year’s Fringe – you watch as a woman (portrayed with creepy intensity by Christina Evans who also created and directed the show) reveals the emotional devastation of being a victim caught up in a situation too hellish to possibly survive.
Mike: Christina Evans performs this one woman show to express the pain, anguish, and distress that someone caught in the sex trade experiences. She does this in eerily creepy ways. You can follow the story along and each step of the…process…and is heartbreaking to watch. It really hits you when you see her repeat certain positions over and over again. It makes you realize that this is truly happening and not just a performance. This makes an impact that you will not soon forget.
Russell: A one point during the performance, a simple, perverse twist on a lullaby solidified for me the horror of the entire show. During those quiet heartbreaking moments, Evans showed me a broken soul and it was gut-wrenching.
Mike: This is a powerful piece that brings light onto a dark subject.
Russell: Never stepping anywhere near exploitation or shock tactics, this is about simple changes of expression of physical moment to convey the damage being inflicted upon this innocent victim. Featuring a brief running time of less than 30 minutes, “Toys” is a powerful, poignant glimpse into hell.
Russell: This comedy feels way, waaaayyyy too timely for comfort. A very strong cast brings to life the machinations of a firm that promises to fix any crisis you or your company might have. The premise may sound dry or vaguely political, and some of that does come out in the show. However, to me, this is scary comedy. The willingness of the characters to use manipulation of image, social media and those pesky things called facts is truly harrowing. The show is at its best when that type of verbal warfare heats up and the characters can lash out to destroy or hide behind bureaucratic firewalls of verbiage and avoidance. Wow. I laughed but I cringed and had the urge to change all my social media passwords immediately after seeing this.
Mike: Most of us only know one side of Bonnie and Clyde. We know the outlaw side of them. We know how their story ends, but what we don’t know, is what leads up to that point. “Bonnie and Clyde” shows us the last day or so of their life. Bonnie (played by Claire Bronchick) shows us an innocence in a time of guilt. She loves Clyde (played by Joel Sutton) with all her heart and all she wants in return is some attention. Clyde has other things on his mind, like how copy cat crimes are being blamed on him. You witness the struggle of love and affection and even some sexual tension during their last few hours of life.
Clyde also narrates the last moments of their life in moments of flash forwards that really start to inch it’s way into the way you view the back and forth between them. You know what’s coming. He tells you, in great detail, those final moments and when we return to the conversation between the two, it makes you feel for them since they have no idea what’s about to happen.
The set was dressed so well and really added to the piece. There was a live music that added to the ambience and even serenity of the show. The actors were top notch and really pulled you into this. The dialog, the mannerisms, all of it, was delivered with perfection by Bronchick and Sutton.
Mike: This concept is such a fun idea! There are four magicians and three of them compete to win the show while one hosts. There are two rounds and after each round you vote via your phone for which act you like the most. At the end of the show, the winner gets to name the show.
Russell: Take four top notch magicians, give each of them a few minutes to charm or amaze or fool an audience – what do you get? Pure fun.
The chance to see four magicians in one show is fairly rare and this Fringe show is a gem. Each magician is different in style, so the show constantly shifts in tone. This adds to the fun as the men poke fun at each other and their achievements. Mixed into the proceeding is some audience participation and voting rounds which leads to each show unfolding differently.
Mike: On the day we went, Jon Armstrong was the host and Nick Paul, Simon Coronel, and Handsome Jack competed. I was familiar with Nick Paul and Simon Coronel (seeing their fantastic shows at last year’s Fringe) but had never seen Handsome Jack perform before. Everyone was great and this is such an opportunity to see 4 different magicians on the same show. This is like the sampler platter of magic shows.
Highly recommend this show if you’re a fan of magic and love that feeling of being amazed at the impossible. Also, Jon Armstrong has a solo show at the same venue, so check that out too!
Russell: Each magician is given a chance to shine and they make the most of it, highlighting their individual styles and uniqueness. The tricks ranged from amusing to full on amazing.
Also, the final group trick in particular had us trying to figure it out for quite a while after the show, it truly felt like we were witnessing something physically impossible to achieve. This is a Fringe show I want to see a second time!
Mike: I just have one question for this show, how does it work if Nick Paul is the host? (For those who don’t know, Nick Paul does not speak :))
An Evening with John Wilkes Booth
Mike: Have you ever seen a show where the actor was so good, charismatic, and charming that he was able to turn a historical figure that most people hate into an underdog that you want to cheer for? That’s what happened when Stephen Spiegel took the stage as John Wilkes Booth.
You get to hear the how and why directly from Booth himself. He tells you about his family, acting, and why he planned on kidnapping Lincoln for the betterment of the country. In his mind, he should be considered a hero, not a villain. I was intrigued hearing his point of view. I was clinging on every word and was realizing that he was changing my outlook about him.
Not since “A Regular Little Houdini” and actor Daniel Llewelyn-Williams have I seen such energetic and powerful story telling. Spiegel throws himself into this role and owns it. He will keep you entertained and captivated about his story.
Mike: One of the greatest parody films of all time gets transformed into a Rocky Horror-esque type of fun stage show. Most of the classic scenes and lines are there and you are encouraged to shout out the lines you know and love (along with lines from other movies you might know). They also added updated scenarios which definitely worked for the show. While the updates are not part of the original film, they are done with the same style and love of the originals.
You can tell this was made and performed with such a fondness for the movie, which makes it that much better for the fans. This is something I could see having a cult following and performed on the regular around town.
Russell: Sometimes, you just gotta love goofiness. This show delivers perfectly on that. I must admit, I was not sure what to expect. The idea of recreating “Airplane” for a live audience did not sound very intriguing to me at first. However, Mike, you pointed out why this works… love. Every moment of the show is delivered with obvious affection for the source. There is just enough tribute, faithful recreation mixed with hip and funny “remixing” of the movie that this all works as a light-hearted hour of fun.
Mike: Since this is only an hour, some things needed to be cut out, so if you’re looking for a 1:1 re-enactment, you won’t find that here. What they did include were the top story points and top lines. It’s a great time for casual fans who only know a couple lines and a great time for a hardcore fan who can recite it word for word. I’m excited to see and experience whatever they do next!
Mike: This show is one of the hidden gems at Fringe. A Gothic romance story set at the end of the Revolutionary War that makes you think about love and responsibility. The exchanges between John (played by Jensen Chambers) and Castella (played by Maia Kazin) are heartfelt and at times, heartbreaking.
When John gets separated from Castella, there’s a flashback of their life. The emotional breakdown that follows shows you the pain and anguish he’s in as he’s reminiscing over his true love.
The only criticism I have is I would have liked to have heard an actual voice at times (Porter, Ship’s Captain) instead of the actor starting the conversation and having a second of confusion.
Russell: I agree that the lack of offstage voices was an odd transition, especially for one important conversation which separates the characters at an important moment. However, focusing on the couple does seem to add to the isolation they feel, particularly in the second half of the show.
This is a sad tale of romance and loss, for sure, but as it unfolds it played more like a mystery for me – at times – I found myself consistently surprised by the fascinating revelations as characters uncovered more about each other’s motivations.
Mike: You see what love can do to you and what you’ll do for it…to keep it close to you.
Russell: Yes, but you also see how people deceive each other when in love… how dishonesty can lead to heartbreak.