Hollywood Fringe Fest 2018 – Preview Week Reviews
Hollywood Fringe Fest has started! Shows have had their previews and are in full swing. Below, we talk about the shows we saw during preview weekend. Get out there and enjoy!
Mike: There’s been so many things written about Charles Manson, but not a lot has been done from the perspective of The Family. “Manson’s Girls” is a musical about the Manson murders, told from the perspective of the women in The Family.
Russell: I went into Manson’s Girls not knowing what to expect – the subject matter does not seem to easily lend itself to being a musical. The show follows Charles Manson’s female followers in the period of time leading up to the infamous murders committed by members of the close-knit “family” that followed the charismatic man.
Mike: That charisma from Manson (played by Troy Barboza) shines through. You always wonder how anyone can follow someone like that, but when you’re sitting there with him and hearing how he talks, you understand. Even I wanted to go on the Creepy Crawl after hearing him talk about it.
Russell: The creators of the show explore the relationships, friendships, romances and politics of a world that seems to have existed separate from normal society. That emphasis on shifting beliefs and tenuous comradery of the group is the strength of this piece. Very smartly, the musical concentrates on the love, fears, joys and tensions that arise within this tight-knit band of hopeful young women trying to figure out how to become adults in a tumultuous world. Interestingly, the men who are present seem to be calling the shots, but they are the ones that make the worst decisions – endangering the very “family” they claim to want to protect.
Mike: It was interesting to me to see the power struggle within the ranks and the impact some decisions that were made to various members of The Family. Seeing how calculated and thought out the hierarchy was and the lengths and mind games that happened in order to keep it that way was another highlight for me.
Russell: Since the crimes of the group are so well known by many, it is difficult to put a human face on those behind them. This show manages to do that with very few missteps. How far would you go to prove your loyalty or faith in someone who seems to offer you everything you need? Don’t expect an evening focused on the evil acts, this is about the people caught up in something or investing in something they don’t realize is going to end badly. The songs themselves focus on the hope of the individual girls as they find their position within the community they are helping build. They want to be supportive of each other but basic human patterns of fondness, jealousy, favoritism, betrayal and desire for power threaten each character in different ways. Not surprisingly, violence manifests itself… in the name of community.
Mike: The crimes are what got me interested in this show, but you only know what you read and what you see portrayed on the screen. Watching this show was like being transported back to the 60s and get to see the inner workings and the plans to carry out these plans. It takes a different tone when you put a face and personality to the infamous names you’ve heard about all your life.
Russell: One reason this piece works at all is the earnestness and charisma of the cast. Uniformly, the voices are strong. (At the preview performance we saw, there were some volume issues. Hopefully that will be worked out.) Also, the songs in this piece cover a wide range of styles and there are genuinely touching moments as a result of some very passionate delivery from the cast. Particularly effective is a repeated statement that, as a community, “We are strong.” As the shows moves toward its conclusion, that particular refrain takes on multiple meanings and a truly eerie tone.
Mike: Whenever you have a musical with a live band, you run the risk of now having the music and singing being all level. Often times, one will drown out the other. Like Russell mentions, there was some of this at the performance we saw. When songs were sung on stage, away from the mics, it was sometimes tough to hear the voices over the live band. This didn’t detract from the show at all, just a few times I was struggling to follow along.
Manson’s Girls is a strong entry in this year’s Fringe Festival.
Mike: I always say that I can judge on how good a show is by forgetting I’m at a show. Once the lecture for “The Witnessing” started, that is exactly what happened. I wasn’t at a Fringe show, I was at a Paranormal lecture with Dr. Daugherty who was debunking any and every thing that could be considered “paranormal”.
Russell: The format of this Fringe offering is a nice misdirect. Using a lecture as a framing device, the fun comes from realizing that this show really just wants to tell you a good ghost story. I was concerned that the lecture vibe was going to be off-putting as the night began because it actually does succeed in feeling like you have opted in for an evening of dry, intellectual Powerpoint-driven boredom. Quickly, the creepiness starts to unfold and you realize that the facts being presented truly do present a fascinating mystery. It is a clever way to seduce the audience.
Mike: The doctor takes us through a presentation of the Davidsons’ “experiences”. There is strange audio to listen to, “cursed” objects to look at and hold, and stories that…just don’t seem to make sense. If you’re a fan of paranormal investigating, you should definitely see this show.
Russell: The tension between the two characters plays out nicely, even if some of the moments may have seemed a bit convenient or forced at the preview. One of the greatest charms of the show is the relationship you see revealed by action and annoyances the two men aim at each other. Their final debate makes some universal points about belief and faith that did stick with me long after the show’s end. Also, the observations they push the audience to consider succeed in making you question how we fool ourselves in our day-to-day lives.
Mike: The dichotomy between the researchers builds up throughout the entire show. The tension, uneasiness, and frustration comes to a head in the final act and makes you really feel for them.
Russell: With such a strong build-up, I do wish the ending had included a more specific outcome, a bigger bang of some kind… but that is a minor criticism. If you like ghost stories, you may get a kick out of this piece. You get creepiness, humor, ghosts, mystery and more. The only thing missing from this show is a campfire and s’mores.
Mike: I agree with you Russell. When I realized the show was over, I was hoping to have a better resolution with what just happened. You do find out what happened, but I think that could have happened within the show and it would have still made sense.
Despite the evidence and the logical answers, “The Witnessing” makes me still want to believe.
Mike: I first got intrigued by this show from the “Duran Duran” reference. I love New Wave and went in expecting stories about adolescent youth and the fanaticism of a certain band. While there are elements of that in this show, this is much, much more.
Sam Shaber pulls you into her life with stories that run the gambit from pre-teen Sam, to present day. You meet important people in her life and the effect they’ve all had on her. After each story she shares, she plays a song (live and with a guitar) that was written about who she just spoke about. You will laugh at times, you will want to cry at times. If you’ve ever dealt with a death of a close personal friend or loved one, you will understand this show and appreciate it that much more.
Russell: This will end up being one of my favorite shows of the festival this year. The idea of a one-woman show reflecting on life lessons and travels could sound like hell to some theater-goers. This concept can easily go wrong. With this show, however, personal reflection and observation take on a universal feeling that feels like a warm hug when you need it most. Sam Shaber does have some sad tales to tell, but that’s not the point… her winning personality and upbeat outlook on life is truly inspirational. With a beautiful, charismatic presence, we are led down the journey of someone looking for themselves, and finding out they can be so much more than they expected. I am afraid I am sounding like a Hallmark card, but this show genuinely moved me. Starting with a decision to be a rock star at a young age, we are led through an often surprising series of encounters that share a common theme of connection. Whether it be to our friends or family or to our own tangled dreams and desires, connection and influence shape us. That’s the beauty of being human. Sam Shaber is a talented woman with a fascinating tale to tell. I highly recommend you give her the chance.
Mike: I think you nailed it. It’s the positive outlook she has that makes everything “ok”. This show will make you realize a lot of things about your life and yourself. It will make you see that life is beautiful and to live it and love it, as well as loving yourself and your friends and family. It will also show you that life is unfair, cruel, and horrible at times, but you can overcome that. We all can.
Mike: “The lyrics made me do it” is the basis for this show. Hell Kross, the 80s metal band is in court defending themselves and their music.
Russell: Normally, if someone was to tell me I needed to listen to a heavy metal band play for an hour, I’d say they would have to heavily restrain me to a chair first. Heavy Metal music? Not something I enjoy. I am a newbie to the art form. (Yes, I do realize it is an art form.) So, I was not sure how I was going to do with this show.
Mike: I was instantly in love when I walked in and saw the instruments. Once I saw that and realized there would be live music, I got that much more excited. Not only was the show hilarious, but the musicianship of the band was top notch. If you’re a fan of “This is Spinal Tap”, you need to see this show. If you’re a fan of fun and laughing, you need to see this show. If you’re a fan of live metal, you need to see this show.
Russell: Played heavily for laughs, this show won me over quickly. I do appreciate the fact the program had printed lyrics. Reading a few of the songs before the show began helped me, definitely. The wacky, over the top performances are the perfect mixture of cliché and affectionate tribute. As a whole, the show manages to mix in some pretty cool (if sometimes obvious) political statements while never losing sight of the goofy premise and just how silly the whole affair truly is. Having grown up in a very religious area of the country I certainly appreciated the jabs at the folly of establishment trying to blame art for the actions of people.
Wait… maybe there is a little punk in me after all.
Mike: Russell, just…stop…please.
We’ve been focusing on the band, the music, and the lyrics and how great and funny they are, but none of them would make sense if it wasn’t for the other people in court. The attorneys and judge are the glue that hold this show together. Without them, their anecdotes, and their own songs, this would just be a band playing funny songs. They add context for the show and are interspersed beautifully throughout it.
Russell: This was so not my comfort zone and I had a blast, so that should tell you something about this show. Oh, and I appreciate the ear plugs!
Russell: The story is standard “slasher movie” plotting featuring the usual gallery of potential victims for any maniac that happens to wander into the plot. However, the format is definitely an attempt to take such familiar territory and provide a fresh take on what is so familiar. The title is derived from the idea that the audience is participating in some study of human behavior centered on the “fight or flight” response to fear.
Structured as a “choose your own path” style adventure game, the audience has the opportunity to vote at specific plot twists to direct the actions of the characters onstage. At times, the device is fun and provides some interesting twists. Alternately, the device can suddenly end the story of a character you were actually invested in.
Mike: I was really excited to see how they would do this. How would the “fight or flight” work exactly? Would the audience turn against one another? Would we be scared and run away? Would we get angry and fight? My questions were answered and the way this show happens is an interesting way to do it. I applaud anyone involved in making this because everything can change in an instant.
Russell: The preview performance we attended was severely hurt by dreadfully awkward and long scene changes. A couple of technical issues also left the audience more confused than engaged. Hopefully, these situations will be smoothed out.
A big issue I had with the show may or may not have been with the device of the audience altering the storyline. Almost all the characters are despicable. Behaving hatefully toward each other from the opening moments of the show, you do not care to spend time with these people, with only two exceptions, perhaps. The “maniac” characters were given no backstory at all which meant they seemed to act with no motivation. Was there any more depth to these characters that different audience choices would have revealed? I am not sure. The cast absolutely threw themselves into the portrayals and managed to bring forth several moments of genuine humor or concern or sadness, but overall the audience quickly grew restless with the constant bickering and insults these people kept hurling at each other.
Mike: This. The cast of characters were horror stereotypes. The jock, the promiscuous female, the level headed one, etc. and almost all of them went into overdrive instantly to make you not really like them all that much. So when it came time for some killin’, you had no emotional investment in them and were glad when they died because that meant you didn’t have to hear them fight with the rest of the cast any longer.
You have to wonder how/why these people are even friends. Why are they all going camping together? If you hate others that much, then why bother?
Russell: I did enjoy how the cast made the most of the fight sequences and violence. There were some actual thrills to be had as the show played out some surprising twists with some ambitious moments of violence. (One sequence, however, was so dark and grim it seemed out of place in the midst of the surrounding scenes of bickering 20-somethings complaining about their relationships and sex lives.)
Mike: That dark and grim scene was a welcomed change for me based on wanting to see certain people die. For the overall tone of the show though, it felt a bit out of place. It went from slasher flick to torture porn very quick and a lot of people might have problems with that.
Russell: What could have been a clever twist on the slasher genre turns into a clever and fun gimmick. Look, William Castle would have been proud of this concept and would, no doubt, have relished the chance to exploit the idea.
Kudos to the cast for giving it their all and it is definitely an achievement to pull off the “choose your own adventure” style show, but it would have been nice to play this game with characters you could sympathize with on some level.
Russell: Ghosts is a classic play by Henrik Ibsen. It was originally performed in the late 1800’s and was considered very controversial due to content involving sexual infidelity, religion, STDs, potential incest and mercy killing. Let’s face it, this play is a downer.
DREAM WALKER has tackled this piece with style and intelligence. The design of the play is deceptively simplistic in feel… a dining room table sits at the center of the room on a strip of black tile. That table takes on the role of family gathering spot, alter, deathbed, and confessional. The lighting is often harsh or dim. The incredibly effective sound design underscores the intensity of every compromised ethic, every perceived betrayal within the family we witness unraveling. A complex story of a son returning home to a family filled with a history of secrets and cruel intentions, the cast approaches the material with a grim tone that fills the room with dread and sadness.
Mike: Russell, you’ve read this play before, so had some context going in. I never have and while I wasn’t able to fully understand what had happened, I was able to follow along for the most part. The story was depressing and the actors made me feel it that much more. The portrayals of the drunk dad talking to his daughter and where he wanted her to work, the son coming home, the priest talking to the wife…all of these interactions were heartbreaking. They made you feel their pain and sorrow.
Russell: I found this production beautiful. However, I truly dislike this play. I read the piece many years ago but this is the first time I have ever seen it performed and I am grateful I saw this version. Even though the overall tone felt grim and depressing, the characters were portrayed with an honesty that was, at times, brutally unsettling. There is so much being done right here… but the piece does not speak to me, personally.
I must also say I found the claim that this piece was “immersive” to be misleading. When I first entered the room, I had one character offer me a chocolate. Beyond that, there was little that could be called immersive. The table was placed at the center of a large room, the audience stood or sat around the action. Even though the actors sometimes walked among audience members, this is basically a theater-in-the-round staging. It is a very well-designed show, but I feel it is a stretch to call it immersive.
Mike: Sometimes the shows that seem the simplest are the most complex. A cup of coffee (or tea or vegan hot cocoa) and a conversation. On the surface, that seems pretty simplistic, but what follows are emotional ups and downs. This isn’t a Fringe show, this is a conversation you’re having with a friend. This is your friend wanting to open up and let out things that are on her mind. This is the type of thing we all need to do, but rarely get to.
Russell: Not truly a play, not truly a monologue… what is Death and Coffee? A confessional, perhaps? With a brief running time, it feels like a quick, grabbed conversation with someone you know on your way to something else. Relaxed and rushed at the same time, somehow. The subtle story that unfolds seems, at times, unfocused and unrelated to where you are going, what you need to get done. But, isn’t that how conversations go, sometimes? In the end, there are points that do resonate and there is comfort knowing that others are out there wrestling with stuff in their lives, just like you are in yours. Isn’t that the point of theater? To connect us all?
Mike: A lot of us are so guarded and have built up such high walls that we never let our insides show. Annie lets her insides show and shares some personal moments. This is your chance to do the same. The more you give to this show, the more you’ll get out.
Mike: Every year at Fringe, there’s a show that you go into not knowing what to expect. You then see the show, and like it, but with the days following, you can’t stop thinking about it and the admiration and love you have for it just grows and grows. “Hush” is that show for me.
Russell: A new company called Madcap Creative is behind HUSH, and they have created something special. From the opening moments of the show featuring someone playing with items that everyone associates with young girls – dolls – this group is determined to make you think. Throughout the show, there are moments that make you question the connections we make through our lives as to what we expect women to be, how we expect women to behave or what we expect femininity to look like.
Mike: They showcase an artistry behind what most people consider taboo subjects. They bring it to the forefront and it’s beautiful to watch. One scene in particular still has me amazed. The skill of how quickly it was set up (and safe). The profile of the woman in the middle of a spin. The peace she seemed to have felt. It was beauty personified.
Russell: Mike, I feel the same way, I loved the beauty of that whole scene. Ever since seeing this show, I have been pondering certain images, recalling how certain moments made me feel. There is beauty here. At times erotic and captivating, at times oddly distant and cold, the women in this dream-like series of scenes are challenging us as well as entertaining us.
I would also like to say I enjoyed the excellent score for the show. It seamlessly moves from eerie underscore to pulsating dance rhythms.
Mike: This is Madcap Creative’s first show and if this is an indication of where they’re going and what they’re doing, then I am in for any and everything they do.
Mike: “Furries and cannibals”….is there really anything else that needs to be said?
Russell: Okay, every year there is a show that I like to name the, “What the hell was that?!?!?!” show. This is the one for 2018. A madcap farce with over-the-top comedic moments, huge performances built on wide-eyed mugging and slapstick-style double takes, this reaches a completely unique tone unlike anything else in Fringe I have seen so far.
Mike: This is a perfect example of what Fringe can be. That weird and experimental, but really good show. Where else but Fringe can someone write and produce a show that has goofy cannibals and loyal furries together and have it make sense and work?
Russell: The plot takes place in a future where crimes… ya know, I don’t know if I even want to reveal that much. It has cannibals wrestling with guilt that come from realizing your next meal might be someone you once cared about. It has Furries who are confused, sometimes, about the line between human and cat relationships… and politics.
In the end, somewhere in the midst of all this bizarre chaos, there is a message about friendship and protecting those around us that we care about. It’s a tasty message.
Mike: Really? “Tasty”? At a tight run time of 30 minutes, this show gets straight to the point. It doesn’t drag on and is non stop fun from beginning to end. I really liked the elements of sketch comedy in this show as well. At times, I felt like I was watching 90s sketch a la Kids in the Hall or The State.
Russell: People may know we have recommended shows featuring Dan and Eric, The New Bad Boys of Magic, in the past. We have mentioned their very successful monthly variety show called Dirty Tricks where they host an ever-changing roster of talented magicians and variety acts. Recently someone asked why I enjoy their work so much. My answer was simply, “Because they’re so much fun.”
Mike:That’s exactly it. If you go see the New Bad Boys of Magic, you will have fun. You will smile. You will be amazed. You will just…be…happy.
Russell: Coke and Mirrors delivers on what I like about these guys. Even though the show has a plot with very high stakes in place – the entire future of their career, if you buy into the premise – this show features the comedy and surprises audiences expect from these guys.
Mike: That’s what I really liked about Coke and Mirrors, the story. Even though they’ve had monthly variety shows, this show is a sequel to their Fringe show from last year, but if you missed it, you won’t feel lost in the story. Since reuniting last year, they’ve been doing their best to work together over the last year. They want to perform at the Magic Castle and this show is their “demo tape” of sorts.
Russell: Playing off their two different personas, with Dan being too straight-laced for his own good and Eric being too reckless for his own good, they manage to entertain with a mixture of humorous jabs aimed at each other as well as the idea of a traditional magic act as well. It results in some very funny exchanges.
It’s an intelligent choice to give themselves the backstory they spin, a twisted tail of tragedy and self-destruction. They are the underdogs and everybody loves an underdog, right? The fact they can also be their own worst enemy just raises the comedy factor.
Mike: I don’t know what you’re talking about with “personas” and “back stories”. It feels like you’re suggesting they aren’t like this in real life. Magic is about illusions and you’re ruining it right now!
Russell: But, wait. There’s more. Let’s talk about the actual magic. Although self-deprecating, these guys deliver some top-notch magic moments. They have a signature trick that defies logic and explanation involving a bottle of liquid. It’s simple in concept yet is jaw-dropping to watch unfold because it looks like they are physically doing something impossible. Or, I think it is an illusion. It looks damn real.
Their riff on viral videos is a highlight of misdirection. They actually discuss misdirection during the routine as they are misdirecting the audience. During the second half of the show, Dan begins a charming story that quickly self-destructs into a competitive scene of one-upmanship that clearly defines their onstage roles while revealing truly impressive card handling skills. It is a great mix of character, comedy and magic all happening simultaneously.
Mike: What they’re able to pull off is spectacular. Their tricks will leave you scratching your head (or crotch if you’re too close to Eric). Because they are “Bad Boys”, you may see the basis of a trick you’ve seen before, but never like this. Perhaps you’ll see alcohol, or condoms, or bodily fluids. All of these things make sense within the show, but never detracts from the actual magic. This is just a fun show for people who like a little raunch with their magic salad.
Russell: Why, however, should we dissect these guy’s skill and comedic ability? Just grab a ticket because they’re so much fun!!
Russell: This show is a cheerful throwback to a cultural phenomenon from the 50’s and early 60’s. “Ghost Shows” or “Spookshows” were traveling shows that would often pop up in movie theaters for late-night shows on weekends. These touring companies would offer a magician or hypnotist or séance show as live entertainment often accompanied with some low-budget horror film.
Mike: I’ve always heard of these sorts of shows but have never been able to experience one. This is everything I had heard about and everything I had hoped it would be.
Russell: Dr. Zomba is an energetic recreation of the live portion of such a show. Featuring goofy illusions, a mad doctor who may have committed acts of murder in the past, a sultry assistant who may not be there on her own free will, a henchman with an evil(ish) demeanor… what’s not to love? Presented with a fondness for the corny, an appreciation of the macabre and flat-out love for things spooky, Dr. Zomba will magically win his way into your heart. Then, he’ll probably rip it out of your body, but with a silly grin as he does.
The laughs come fast, as well as the groans. This vaudeville style show is truly a gem.
Mike: This show was so fun and charming. Even though there are evil tones within it, you can’t help but smile. If you’re a fan of carnival styled haunted houses and effects, you will fall in love with this show. This is just a great and entertaining show for kids of all ages.
Russell: One of the few shows this year at Fringe that plants itself firmly in the horror category, I was definitely looking forward to this one.
The usual suspects of horror plays make an appearance including flickering lights, mysterious sounds, things that go bump in the night, ominous phone calls… and don’t forget the dead body. Telling the story of a man preparing to put make-up on a body of in preparation for a funeral, the story takes a couple of unexpected turns that do prove to be a bit unsettling. The young man we spend this time with is an artist and he does have a plan to leave his mark on the world. Let’s just say, he has a unique artistic vision.
Sometimes the simplest format is the most difficult to pull off. This is one character on stage talking to himself. Smartly, the show starts at a brisk pace and maintains that for its brief running time of just 30 minutes. Delivering scares can be quite a challenge with such a set up, but this show manages several moments that got gasps and at least one scream from the audience I saw it with at a preview. There are moments of tension that play out effectively. Fun and short, if you want little hors d’oeuvre of horror, this show just might satisfy that craving.
Russell: An experimental piece that explores the story of a healer/charlatan/con man who manages to find a following of devout believers by spouting positive thoughts on a weekly radio program and claiming to be able to heal any affliction that exists.
The show was a mixed bag for me. There are several scenes that didn’t land effectively for me. Moments of odd choreography pantomime and dance sometimes took me out of the show rather than added to the narrative. However, overall the piece plays out as an effective, creepy warning about the dangers of misplaced faith. By being willing to take risks with the format, the piece is also able to create a tone of fear and eeriness at times as we witness people risk their lives based on very little evidence there is any worth to the Doctor’s promises.
A married couple wanting to have a child is the main focus of the story. Dr. B. promises a cure for the inability to conceive – for the appropriate price. I will not reveal Dr. B’s methods, but any man in the audience will be horrified at what is played out in the hopes of making the young man virile enough to give his wife a child. To call the technique unorthodox is an understatement. That storyline alone would have made for a fascinating show. However, the Puckwit Gang who is behind this piece is aiming for higher fruit. By exploring the ease with which people can be duped by buying into social beliefs, fads, questionable religious beliefs or –dare we say? – questionable political movements, this play ricochets from odd comedy to satire to borderline horror from moment to moment. Make no mistake, one of the reasons this piece plays as effectively as it does is the social climate we are living in at this moment. Yeah, there is deep food for thought here.
The piece is charming at first, but all I have listed above pays off in the last third of the show – that’s where the piece starts to truly shine. That is where the results of Dr. B’s methods reveal themselves as more dangerous than originally thought. As a young man undergoes a procedure that will alter him forever… even after colleagues warn of the dangers, the show provides a chilling reminder of how gullible we all can be if we want something bad enough.
Perhaps the glue of the show is a musical duo that moves us from sequence to sequence as we witness the “On Air” Radio broadcasts they host… and how they sometimes have their own doubts about what they are selling to the masses. Their antics are sometimes comedic and sometimes pathetic. The entire cast performs the show with such genuine earnestness, it is effectively creepily as the play comes to a close.
Russell: School of Night has offered up memorable pieces in the past including Punch and Judy and The Final Girl. Quite often, they feature broad slapstick comedy or intense fight choreography – or both. This year they bring a piece to Fringe that is a “new adaptation of a seldom produced play by the largely forgotten Roman tragedian… Lucius Annaeus Seneca.”
In a quick, passionate intro to the show, we get a quick download about why this playwright is important – he influenced multiple dramatists that followed him. Indeed, if you pay attention, as Hercules Insane unfolds, you might recognize a few moments that have obviously made their way into other works.
But, what about this show? Telling the story of Hercules after he has already proven himself able to defeat all the Gods can throw at him, this show is a mixed bag when it comes to being entertaining. Very stylized in its presentation, utilizing melodramatic narration, classical Indian dance, masks, dramatic fight sequences and sly humor, the show takes a while to pick up any momentum. The beginning almost feels like a history lesson as the history of Hercules and his many impressive deeds gets told and acted out for much of the first half. This all happens at approximately the same level of intensity, pace and volume. It’s fascinating story material, but the delivery feels distant and unmoving. It’s tough to emotionally invest.
However, once we get to the title of the show… I mean, when the home of Hercules is invaded and his family is in danger and Hercules shows up and is insane, the consequences of that series of events prove to be fascinating. There is a reason this is considered a tragedy. No character gets out of this show unscathed physically or emotionally. All that stylized presentation that did not pull me in during the first half of the show proves devastatingly effective when Hercules performs certain acts that will have irreversible repercussions for his entire family for the rest of his life. The blood, the violence… it does hit home when you realize that Juno, Queen of the Gods, begins the evening with a promise to undo Hercules for reasons of spite and jealousy and in the end… she delivers on that promise with horrifying results.
School of night has, in the past, been much lighter and “romp” feeling than this piece can allow. I found myself missing the playful vibe of those previous efforts. Because this is a tragedy, I totally understand why those elements can’t play out the way I fondly was hoping for when I walked in. Hercules Insane is a well done tragedy that will turn your stomach if you let it… it just took me a while to let go and let it.
Russell: This is a highly immersive, highly interactive short piece centering on loss and grief and the search for hope while dealing with both. Aaaaannnndd… that’s about all I can say without spoiling everything. The piece is very short, running only 15 to 20 minutes.
The cast was incredibly effective at immediately setting the mood. The scene was nicely interactive, intense and moving. This piece is made by the intense, passionate performances of the three characters you encounter. This is outstanding work.
Each audience member enters this world alone. It becomes quickly apparent how you can affect the characters and alter the events unfolding. It is a simple, elegant structure that provided, for me, a completely enchanting, sad and (oddly enough) playful world to move through.
You are given a few pieces of information before entering the show. If you choose to reveal what you know, the play will unfold in one direction. If you missed a clue or choose not to reveal the information you were given before entering, things will change in reaction to the missing information. (I spoke with another audience member who did not reveal the information and it led to a slightly different show.)
A couple of thoughts about entering the space. You are given many rules before entering the space, that process could possibly be simplified but I know it is in place because the audience behavior absolutely affects the path of the show. Personally, I thought it was a bit of overkill, but after doing the show I understand the repetition of the guidelines. (Also, I personally am interested in the subject matter of this show so I also understood how to interact immediately. There is a moment when an actress pulls out an item and I knew exactly what was expected of me to move the play forward… I think some people may not understand what is expected. I am SURE the actress could guide any patron easily, though.)
One of the best things at Fringe this year, for sure!!!
One last thing… I want this story to return in a longer show!!!!!!
Russell: (I want to stress I saw a preview performance and was warned there might be a few rough edges to the show. There were some missed technical cues, headphones that malfunctioned, hard to hear audio and a few glitches in timing. Those issues, I assume, will be smoothed out during the run. Also… there are some mild spoilers in this review.)
Okay… there is good news and bad news about this show.
First off… this is probably the most ambitious show in the entire 2018 Fringe Festival. Immersive, highly interactive, imaginative plotting and I am glad I took this ride. The bad part? The sum is not equal to the parts of this particular show.
Featuring a fun, quirky pre-show questionnaire to fill out online before arriving and an introductory video that sets up a potentially bold sci-fi plotline, I was excited to see where the story led.
The show begins with a huge, convoluted information dump that left the audience I was with confused. As a group, we were so confused that we stood motionless and befuddled as an actress leading the scene had to coax us to move forward. There is a mystery established concerning which characters are loyal to the “Rose Queen” and to investigate you get to choose a specific character to follow during the show. This is actually a misdirect because the path of each audience member seems to zig zag as you pass from one character to another. We started in groups of four, but were split up quickly in to smaller groups which were later combined again. Each character you encounter seems to have a different purpose, and all of this is explained in extremely dense, flowery dialogue that quite often ends up sounding like nonsensical gibberish. Seriously, I had performers took me directly in the eye and deliver dialogue that I have no clue what they were trying to say. It sometimes felt like they were speaking a foreign language. Later, I learned other audience members in my group also had moments like this.
I want to stress that the cast of this show was playful, energetic and giving it their all in almost every scene I witnessed, but the language and nonsensical story undermined them at every turn. Also, I witnessed some truly sharp improvised moments from performers reacting to and utilizing audience reactions during the scenes. That intimate interaction works really well and is a definite strength of the show.
Story-wise, I have no idea what happened during the show. The mystery I mentioned never truly paid off on my particular “track,” it is never dealt with if anyone is “loyal” to the Queen or not. I spent a long time in the Queen’s presence but I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I was led there by a character who received no introduction and seemed to serve no purpose. The Queen had a Bishop and some court members present, but their actions and dialogue seemed nonsensical. At one point, 8 or 9 audience members were standing before the Queen and we witnessed each audience member being given a task to complete… but I have no idea why and there seemed to be no reason for us to do so. There was no pay off for the long sequence. Oh, and then we failed at solving some puzzles. (In a room so hot audience members actually started removing layers of clothes because of the discomfort.) A riddle was given and one of our group new the answer, we were informed that this had “changed our destination.” But, since we had no clue what was going on or where we were heading anyway, that revelation had no impact on any emotional level. I am not even sure it was supposed to have an impact.
With the multiple tracks breaking off and audience members being pulled away and thrown together for numerous scenes, there was no overall through-line or plot to grasp. At one point, a never-before-seen female character wandered into the room and asked a question but none of us knew what it was in reference to, so we were left confused. Two patrons decided to follow that woman out of the room, which left the rest of us looking at each with a shared, “Wait, we can DO that?”
Maybe I did not understand that I had more options or agency in the show than I thought. Maybe I was supposed to be more proactive? We were told to respect the characters and follow instructions. Did I miss something?
At the end of the show, the finale was about to begin and three characters walked in that I had never seen before and had no clue as to what role they played in the show.
After the show, I was part of a group of six audience members who stood in a circle for 45 minutes trying to figure out the plot of this show. We did not succeed. Each of us had numerous plot points that we asked the others about only to learn that nothing we were asking about paid off for anyone at the end of the show. From that group of six patrons, it seemed two people had some very entertaining, interesting scenes they enjoyed and felt the show was worth seeing. Two people thought it was all just a confusing, jumbled mess but enjoyed how ambitious it was. Two people felt it was an ambitious failure that was a waste of time.
I know people in this town are rabidly hungry for immersive experiences and I do admire Unreal City for tackling the genre in a hugely ambitious manner. Seriously, this thing will blow your mind with its multiple tracks and moving structural parts. However, they seem to have forsaken storytelling for the sake of structure. Since it is not “open world” and you are led through this universe by the characters, I have to consider this a negative thing. Unable to latch onto any character or storyline emotionally left me disappointed at the end.
Go if it interests you to see a wildly ambitious experiment. You will not be disappointed on that level. But, story is not the focus of this show and that may leave you with only confusion at the conclusion.