Hollywood Fringe Fest is well underway! In the first official week of Fringe, we saw some more shows! If something sounds interesting to you, make sure you get a ticket sooner than later as many runs are already becoming sold out!
Russell: The beauty of the Hollywood Fringe Festival is the opportunity to just explore and find something new and entertaining. Each year I deliberately choose a few tickets just to explore. Sometimes, you get really lucky and find a show like The Rental.
Playing out in real time, a sexual encounter between two strangers (played by Alexandra Astin and Jake Corvino) shifts from sharing a moment of tenderness to an intense examination of personal integrity and sexual politics. (How self-aware are we, really? Even the best person with the best intentions may carry subtle personal prejudices they are unaware of possessing.) This fascinating drama takes a familiar sounding premise and manages to create a thought-provoking, fast-moving hour
The premise is so familiar it’s almost a joke. A virgin encounters an escort, it’s a familiar set up that has been played out before. However, this show takes the set up very seriously. The result is a fascinating conversation as secrets get revealed and personal beliefs get challenged and, sometimes, destroyed.
The solid writing, direction (by Benjamin Ubinas) and strong performances manage to move these two characters through several surprising perspective shifts. Sex changes everything between these two people. When each person compromises a personal rule or two, even to a small degree, the honesty concerning what is truly important to each of them is revealed – sometimes brutally. It’s a tricky balance and this show does it well.
The sexual aspect of the show is handled with grace and humor and is the perfect set-up for the surprises to come. Perhaps the pace of the show could be slightly quicker in the first half, but it’s important to know these two well before their actions begin to test their fragile connection to each other. One of the more mature, thoughtful pieces I have seen this year.
Mike: Walking into Psychodelicate’s Magical Mystery Comedy show was like walking into an acid trip. There’s so much going on that it was like an attack on the senses and A.D.D. was in full effect. Should you stare at the 3 rainbow wizards smoking? Or the band? Or the preacher reciting verses? Or Psychodelicate herself?
This was a variety show and it has a bunch of different things going on. While it was a bit too new-agey at times for my personal liking, it was a cool concept and definitely had some things that sparked some thinking in my mind. It seemed out of place when they called up a teacher that spoke about ancient algebra, but that was one of the highlights of the show for me.
While only their second performance, it did seem like a rehearsal still. It wasn’t running that smoothly (or on time), but I believe this will be fixed in future performances. If you’re going to this show for the “magic” aspect (I spoke to a couple people who thought this was a magic show), you might be disappointed. The show I saw did not have any traditional magic, but I guess there are special guests at each show.
Russell: Four super-heroes share an apartment in a city where there is no crime. How do you fill the days? How do you deal with everyday tasks and personal interactions? What if, in the end, being a superhero and being an average person isn’t all that different? Except for the whole crime fighting thing, of course.
A broad comedy that milks the ridiculous concept for big laughs, this show manages to make some sharp observations about romance and commitment.
With no crime to fight, though, who needs them? When the heroes find themselves needing to justify their existence to the city they live in, it ends up being reflected in a need to justify what they get from each other. As one hero, The Human Fly, begins to doubt the stability of his relationship with Leopard Woman, it begins a series of deceptions that lead to some pretty universally relatable outcomes. If a relationship is going well, why do we naturally want to doubt the validity of it? If there is no chaos, why do some people need to create it?
Crime reappears and our complacent heroes find themselves awkwardly getting back into the crime-fighting game. In doing so, old issues return, with Rhino-Man facing a dark memory and Silver Streak finding his leadership position being threatened by the shifting relationships around him.
Taking cues from sketch comedy, farce and a bit of Abbott and Costello style verbal antics, the emphasis is on jokes and goofiness and it plays out well. The perfect example of this is a scene involving an off-stage encounter that leaves the on-stage characters hysterically reacting to and interacting with what they are overhearing. It’s big and over-the-top and left the audience howling with laughter.
The superheroes are larger-than-life versions of people we probably have in our lives already. Normal human faults, quirks and desires complicate everything. In the end, perhaps if we just manage a little honesty with those important to us, the world could be a better place.
Mike: There’s always advice to writers of “write what you know”. “When Skies Are Gray” was written by Ashley Steed after her mother’s death. This show is a recount of the days leading up to her mother’s passing and all of the things she had to deal with. You can see the love, admiration, and selflessness that Ashley gives to her mother, even when it seems her mother might not be her usual self.
This is an important show to see for a few reasons. We will all experience death at one point (or many points) in our lives. Many of us don’t know what to expect or even how to deal with it. WSAG can help prepare you, in a way, for what could happen. It can give you a chance to say good bye to someone you didn’t get a chance to. It can help you share your grief and sadness with others in the room.
This is an emotional show because you are there. You are with Ashley in her mother’s final days. This stops being a show and you start being her friend and want nothing but to console her. When was the last time that has happened in a “show”? This is raw and real.
You have an option to register as a nurse. As a nurse, you can help take care of the patient and other visitors (if you wish). You will have to say a few lines (they will be provided to you) and handle props.
There are only 14 people per show and tissues are located underneath each seat. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to let it out. You’re all there for the same reason….to say goodbye.
Mike: One of the few magic acts at this year’s Fringe, Caspar takes a more traditional route of magic. You’ll see all the things that made you fall in love with magic in the first place…coin tricks, rope tricks, mentalism, and more.
Russell: Traditional magic is a good thing. Caspar Thomas certainly fits into that category. Creating a casual, conversational tone, the show takes on a feeling of someone you like showing you some really cool things.
One particular effect involving Mike’s phone had me truly baffled. I understand the concept behind the trick, but the demonstration was incredibly cool and seemed like a miracle. I was blown away.
Also, mentalism always intrigues me. The demonstration shown here is quite effective and left me thinking about it for quite a long time.
Mike: Same with me! I was up close and personal with him while he did this. I picked the book, you picked the word, another woman picked the sentence…and he still got it.
Caspar has a skill at balancing comedic sarcasm and sleight of hand and turns this one man show into something you’ll laugh at, as well as be amazed by.
Russell: Some plays have a theme or specific message that resonates long after the show ends. Glitch is a message piece, for sure. It does not hide its intentions very deeply. What you see is what you are to walk away with… we need to focus on the issue of guns, gun control and the role guns play in American society. Also… we need to do it now.
Framed as a conversation between a journalist (Gemma Pilar Alfaro) and a man (Jordon Klomp) convicted of killing multiple people in a school shooting, this piece does not concentrate on the issue of guns, instead it concentrates on the issues of people. The “Villain” of this piece actually comes across as a normal guy with the same issues many of us face in our lives. That’s the point. At one moment in the conversation, the journalist points out the difference between herself and her interview subject – she chooses to deal with her problems without using a firearm while he chose to pick up such a weapon.
The performances are low-key and effective. It would have been easy to portray the journalist as angry and self-righteous and the gunman as evil. Emotionally, that might have been more crowd-pleasing. Intelligently, Glitch does not take the easy route. The matter-of-fact approach and simple staging emphasize the complicated points being made. There is no comfort here… and there shouldn’t be.
There are no easy answers to these dilemmas we, as a nation, are facing. Many issues are brought up within this piece. It’s a fascinating conversation to witness unfold. The final moments of the play hit hard as very disturbing facts about our current national history are mentioned. Is this a call to action? It can be interpreted that way, but it is also a warning as to how complicated a mess we have gotten ourselves into.
Russell: The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights creates a show with the premise of presenting several 10 minute plays, all written by different playwrights. The inter-locking thread is that each play needed to contain a medieval-ish looking ax as a prop somewhere in the play. It sounds like a set up for an evening at a comedy club, right? Well, that’s the basic result.
Most of these short pieces lean toward comedy, some of them providing silly laughs while others dig a bit deeper. There are also some clever points being made about personal relationships, greed, first impressions and how much weight we put on what others think of us.
It’s light comedy with a fun cast having a fun time. Definitely a contender if you are looking for some laughs at this year’s Fringe.
Russell: Hard hitting drama is a tricky genre, but when done well it can be thrilling. Man Is Wolf achieves that level of impact. It is a drama that explores difficult subject matter and the unfolding of events is consistently surprising and unsettling.
The premise of a high school wrestler, portrayed by Landon Tavernier, stranded after a competition due to a severe storm and miscommunication with his family, is deceptively simple. A spectator at that day’s competition, played by George Oliver Hale, allows him to take shelter in his hotel room as the young man waits for his family to arrive.
Two strangers sharing a small space leads to some very awkward getting-to-know-you questions and answers. What follows is an odd, tense unraveling of image. Does the older gentleman have any hidden agenda or is he just a helpful sort of guy? Is the all-star athlete really as perfect as he appears to the world? Both men share athletics as a passion, but their perspectives are very different. When comparing histories, it becomes clear each man has had issues with aggression and violence in the past.
The beauty of this play lies within the delicate conversations that unfold, handled by the two performers with pitch-perfect realism. Two guys sharing a drink becomes dangerous territory to maneuver as shared stories are misread or misinterpreted. A common theme here is that at times, in anyone’s life, you can be predator or you can be prey. Who are they to each other, right now? More important than that… how did they become the men they are? Were they made this way by being victim or aggressor?
This is all explored through often subtle dialogue, moments of awkward silence and insightful confessions. Sometimes a stranger is the easiest person to confide in, right? The two actors are superb and deftly maneuver the emotional piece as it escalates.
Stories by each man about what has happened to them in their pasts reveal what has helped shape who they are now. Some of it is not pleasant, but it is understandable and relatable.
As alcohol flows and secrets are revealed, the evening gets punctuated by outbursts of anger, frustration and truly disturbing moments of violence. (The stage violence in this piece is perfectly executed and adds to the intensity of the evening.)
Man Is Wolf is an intense, thought-provoking piece of theater.
Russell: Ceaseless Fun, the immersive folks who recently brought Agnosia and The Who Saw the Deep to life, have brought a show to the streets of Hollywood.
This show unfolds as a mini-adventure down Hollywood Boulevard. As the night moves forward, you encounter several people who want to share a few thoughts on image, fame, personal legacies and how Hollywood shapes the desires of so many people in this world.
Like some of Ceaseless Fun’s earlier work, the emphasis is not on story here, but on ideas. Each character offers their perspective on what it takes to be known or get ahead in this world. Often, they are unafraid to criticize each other or re-spin something you have been told by someone else. Hollywood is a place where everybody is working an angle, after all. For some people, I think this trippy philosophical and mental gymnastics approach may not prove relatable. In this case, much of it did resonate with me, though.
Being an immersive piece, you are given some rules as you begin. I had been instructed not to speak, so there were some awkward moments when I felt like I wasn’t providing what the performer needed in a scene. That took me out of the show a few times. The confusion was sparked by the characters seeming to expect answers at certain times. In the end, I found myself simply nodding in agreement or offering a simple shoulder shrug. It is unclear if those awkward moments were 100% intentional.
Ranging from cynical to hopeful, these brief encounters relate to each other but make individual points. My personal takeaway from the show was a reminder that I sometimes get lost in my own agendas… work, family, social obligations. Sometimes I don’t stop myself to reflect for even a moment on what I need to be happy or healthy.
Russell: The first in a series of planned plays called The Foxhole Stories, this is a piece written and performed by veterans and people directly affected by military service. With that development, it is no surprise that the pieces plan to deal with specific veteran’s issues and to make veteran’s concerns relatable to all.
In this first installment, Adam (portrayed by co-writer and former Marine Matthew Domenico) is wrestling with PTSD from time served in Afghanistan. His patient girlfriend, Leah (played by co-writer Katherine Connor Duff) is facing the challenge of a boyfriend who is fighting to keep numerous emotional demons in check.
Taking the form of the memory of a soldier key to Adam’s pain, his friend T-Dog (played by Brock Joseph, who served in the U.S. Navy) represents everything Adam wrestles with to make it through a normal day. The play explores memories that haunt the young man and keep him from settling into his life with Leah.
The play is a fascinating piece. Knowing it is derived from actual experiences of soldiers adjusting to their return home, there is an authenticity to the storytelling that automatically adds weight to the piece. But, does it work? Yes, it absolutely does.
There is a familiarity to the basic story – a young couple is wrestling with aspects of their relationship which threaten to tear them apart. Indeed, at times it may feel a bit too convenient, almost cliché. Personally, I feel that is actually an intelligent tactic, it provides a false comfort as it takes the audience to someplace uncomfortable. What this piece manages to do is bring to life and physicalize the mental demons that Adam is hiding from his partner. Effective use of sound and visuals add to the dramatic affect as Adam and T-Dog reenact harrowing moments from the past – and share a beer or two. The play seems to shift radically at times from heartwarming to gut-wrenching, all depending on what Adam is remembering or trying to suppress. It is intense, thrilling and often heart-breaking. The mixture is deceptively clever at revealing what haunts Adam and by the time the final confrontation is reached, the audience aches for him. There is excitement in watching the war stories unfold but at the same time it is disturbing to learn what is keeping this man trapped in the past. One confused moment of aggression and violence threatens to destroy his relationship with Leah, but her final decision on how to react is, in the end, a very understandable and welcome one for the audience.
This is theater with a purpose. This is theater aiming for social change and healing. By using a familiar story and smartly delivering a message of hope infused with harrowing accounts of trauma and death, this piece demands that it be followed by conversation… by awareness… and, hopefully, for some, action. The Foxhole Stories is off to a strong start and I want to know more about what is to come.
Russell: Another entry into the “immersive” category, this offering delivers on that promise on every level. Slyly, this piece pulls you in from the moment you check-in for your “appointment” with the company called, Closure, Inc. and continues to pleasantly surprise every step of the way.
Mike: Closure Inc. is a new start up company that can help you figure out “what went wrong” in your relationships. The case study we were in was about Shelby and Nick. We were given their memories to view and then filled out questionnaires and discussed the moments from their relationship we were seeing.
Russell: It’s a simple premise… Closure, Inc simply wants your opinion. Through modern technology, you will review (through the magic of VR headsets) the memories provided by the couple that has, apparently, ended a relationship and now seeks to learn from the experience and move on. A little sci-fi, a little romantic drama… this piece is actually a bit genre-bending.
To say anything else would be too spoiler-y and the magic of this piece is to simply be present and witness it unfold. By the end, some nice points are made about where we all are and where we are all heading. Whether we do that alone or with someone by our side may just be irrelevant.
Mike: This piece had it all, and that’s what makes this stand out to me so much. It’s the unexpected questioning at the end that really propels this show to my favorite list. I wasn’t ready, but was excited, to back up why I chose certain answers.
Russell: I agree, Mike, that sequence was a surprise and I actually wished it had gone on longer! I found myself really wanting to dig into the topics being brought up more than time allowed.
Mike: Yes! I’d love to see that part extended and have that be more of a focus. I loved this show and would love to see more shows that combine different styles, genres, and unexpectedness into an immersive piece.
Mike:: Puppetry, animation, dance, and even a choir, Shilo Kloko will keep you intrigued and full of wonder. There were so many different aspects to this piece, that you really couldn’t see what was coming next.
Each part of this show was done with such style. There were sad/emotional moments, there were silly/funny moments, and there was everything in between. All of this done with a combination of butoh (a style of Japanese modern dance featuring dancers covered in white body paint) and puppetry. There’s a curious beauty to this style of performance and something I’ve never experienced before, but I am very glad I did. Where else can you help build a human peacock (a highlight for me) or realize what those beans represent (and the mess you have to clean up)?
The show’s ending had me smiling and humming when a parade of about 7 women got on stage and sang. The harmonies and melodies that came out of these women blew me away. It was so unexpected which made the beauty of them, and the show, shine so much brighter.
I really enjoyed this show and am looking forward to see more in this style.
Russell: Come on, times can be tough in today’s world for a vampire, am I right? Dracula, you’ve heard of the dude, I’m sure, is trying something new. Testing out a line-up of performers for his new club – which will open soon, he promises… as soon as all the permitting crap gets worked out – he wants to see how audiences will dig his new gig as host of some cabaret-style shenanigans.
Unleash the goofiness! Hosting sing-alongs, hurling puns likes grenades, riffing on the perils of lost loves and the inconvenience of bringing them back from the after-life, inviting a few friends like Frankenstein’s Monster or Quasimodo over for a chat and a few jokes… this thing works best when it is going full steam ahead and doesn’t care if the occasional joke brings only groans.
Crowd-pleasing fun, this is a show designed specifically to entertain the Fringe crowds, managing to work in Fringe-oriented jokes that the experienced Fringe-goer will definitely appreciate. If you are a ghoul that just wants to have fun, drop in and say howdy to Dracula and his friends. He’d love for you to stop by for a bite.
Russell: A chance to hang with The Almighty Himself? Definitely an intriguing premise.
Part comedy, part immersive piece, part philosophical discussion, this play from They Played Productions boldly takes on the concept of portraying the un-portray-able in a fashion everyone can relate to on some level. The solution? Portray various images of God.
It’s a thoughtful concept. Mildly immersive, the audience members can choose a couple of different interactions to have – even this choice smartly represents a real-life observation concerning people who want it all but cannot achieve that. We will always be missing out on something, that’s part of life. (And… it’s fine.)
The show unfolds with a casual ease – we are visiting with an old friend after all, aren’t we? – with observations being made about how we (HIS creations, don’t ya know?) have related to him in past generations. Sometimes we need him to be lovable, sometimes we need him to be tough. Plus, there may also be a few observations made about better ways of relating to him in the future. (Sometimes we may need to be a bit more loveable – or tough – with each other, too.)
In the end, this show offers up plenty of food for thought in a clever manner that makes a few points about faith and hope along the way. Also, it seems to suggest maybe a few people around these parts take it all a little too seriously. Another valid point this shows tries to, gently, put forth.
As far as the title goes? Yeah, God does offer up an apology for one thing in particular. It’s probably not anything you would guess going into this show, but by the end… you’ll probably see his point. Well, I guess he will know whether or not you see his point… being all seeing / all knowing and stuff.
This God person? He / She had a few interesting things to say.
Russell: Wounded is one of the most emotionally complex and devastating plays I have seen in a long time. A Fierce Backbone Production, directed by Liz Lanier and written by Kerry Kazmierowicxztrimm, the show explores a complex relationship between three adults connected by pain and hope.
A young married couple, Angelica and Tommy (Jessie Holder Tourtellotte and Scott Kuza) face the horrific result of war when he returns home with a debilitating brain injury that renders him unable to speak effectively or take care of his own most basic needs. Angelica has assumed the role of caregiver for 5 years and is now trying her best to find some relief to the situation by introducing a new friend and beau into the situation, Samuel (Kyle Felts).
What follows is the unraveling of the barely stable household Angelica had managed to create with the barely functioning Tommy. With the new help of Samuel, what should have lightened her burden and made life easier quickly becomes an even bigger challenge.
Without revealing much else than that, I feel the need to point to the performers of this piece. There are multiple emotionally harrowing scenes as the three try to work through a seemingly hopeless situation. Bad things have happened to these people and they are not well. They can get there, but surviving day to day becomes the focus.
With painful honesty and realism, these three adults reveal all the fears and hopes and compromises each have made to end up where they are now. It is not pretty. They may not even be good for each other but they are trying to make it work… if they don’t sabotage each other along the way. There are moments of anger and judgement that threaten to destroy the few glimmers of optimism any of them might embrace. Very smartly, Tommy is present onstage the majority of the show… his physical limitations a constant reminder of how much he relies on Angelica and Samuel. There is love in this home, clearly, but sometimes it is hard to see. The juggling of constantly shifting emotional focus and needs of these three people is where the beauty of this piece becomes apparent. There is not a false moment in the entire show.
The raw sense of despair that permeates the show does not end on a completely hopeless note, but there is no easy path ahead for these people and the piece wisely does not shy away from this observation. In some way, each of these people have been deeply Wounded. It’s up to the audience to decide for themselves if healing is on the horizon.
As I watched this show unfold, I fought back tears twice and at one point became uncomfortable enough I wanted to leave the theater. Other audience members near me at the sold-out show were openly crying as the final few minutes played out. If the purpose of live theater is to connect us with others and illuminate their experiences so we can learn about ourselves as we witness them, then this piece has achieved its mission. It is an honor to have witnessed a piece of theater that can have that effect on an audience. I highly recommend this show.