The Hollywood Fringe Festival wrapped up this past weekend, but here comes another exciting aspect of the festival – show extensions!!! Multiple shows will be extending their runs, so if you missed something during the main festival, you may be able to catch it when additional performances are added. Keep an eye on the main Fringe Festival page for information about which shows will be adding to their runs. Some shows are already announcing dates!
Here is a look at shows I was able to fit into my schedule during the second half of the festival. It’s a mix of genres, for sure! – Russell
The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraska
Milking big laughs from a mildly bizarre premise, this hysterical short play feels like a mix between a derailing “X-Files” episode and a sassy family sitcom. Yes, as the title indicates, it is a debate between local Tranquility, Nebraska mayoral candidates. Less obvious? There’s an evil taking over the town, these folks live in terror of offending the mysterious beastly presence and are wrestling with the ramifications of knowing that it’s lurking nearby. (Specifically, down at the park in a gazebo!)
With one-liners flying rapid-fire across the stage, it’s surprising that the cast isn’t actually ducking to avoid all the insults being hurled at each other. Anyone who has had the horror of witnessing a poorly produced local television level panel, conversation or debate can relate to the set up here. Three politicians and an unqualified (but plucky!) host enter a competition of one-up-man-ship that, for them, has life or death consequences in the mix.
Tensions rise and the candidates begin to hurl laugh-a-minute tirades at each other attacking political agendas as well as personal foibles. To be honest, part of the humor comes from the fact that some of this feels painfully real. One can imagine this sort of hatred boiling just under the surface of our nation’s real politics. Don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm for this rambunctious comedy, though. They’re not making bold statements, they just want you to laugh. It’s a goal they achieve viciously and effectively.
With an almost bittersweet twist at the end, the whole thing comes to a close with some surprising revelations. Will these people change? Probably not. Even in the face of undeniable, pure evil, some people will never change. In this case, my funny bone was very happy about that.
Dramatic, disturbing and ingeniously staged, this claustrophobic piece tells the story of miners trapped below the surface after a cave-in. Cleverly, the audience is arranged in a manner where they serve as the borders of the shaft these minors are trapped inside. Lit only by the headlamps they carried with them at the time of the disaster, what unfolds is a tense exchange revealing inner turmoils, personal fears and, quite honestly, some unpleasant traits of the minors we are spending time with down there in the darkness. Yes, at times the show effectively uses total darkness to allow the audience to empathize with the trapped characters. It’s a simple choice that pays off in multiple ways. Characters often change location in the dark and the result is constantly shifting sound and visual perspectives that can often surprise and rattle the audience. (Bless live theater, there is no way a movie would be able to give you this type of visceral sensation!)
Personally, I found it a little hard to relate to the characters specific predicament in this piece but the show is so fascinatingly staged and definitely manages to create palpable tension in multiple scenes, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. There’s even a few jump scares in the darkness. Highly entertaining, innovative and impressive, this is a fascinating journey.
An impressive pairing of dramatic one acts, “Guilt” offers two stories that are related in theme and tone. “The Holy Name of Apostasy” by Ryan Lisman and Benjamin Schwartz is a provocative, creepy tale of a young man, Dylan (Brandon Courture), a victim of predation within the Catholic church. Unfortunately, the young man does not seem to be able to escape the questionable attention of a new spiritual counselor, the controlling and opinionated Mother Dawn (Varda Appleton).
There is a fascinating power exchange dynamic between these two characters as young Dylan reveals a dark inner turmoil. His confessions of vivid dreams mixing religious symbolism with sexual self-awareness seem to encourage the caring, although misguided, Mother Dawn to insist on more control over the young man. She manages to visualize a future of exploiting the man’s faith and innocence. (in the name of God, of course.) The cast here handles the challenging material quite well, with the characters jumping between sincerity and manipulation when needed… and sometimes leaving us wondering if they are even aware of there own actions. Titillating at points, disturbing at others, this is a well-crafted short piece that is ripe for an expansion into a longer format.
The second one-act, ‘Man vs. Armadillo’ by Benjamin Schwartz, is a touching and disturbing piece of quiet, heartbreaking sadness. The dilemma of John, a man with relationship and job responsibilities weighing heavily on him, facing the aging parent who may not be able to care for themselves anymore is not ground-breaking territory. The strength of this piece is the relatability of John, played by Ryan Lisman in a subdued, pitch-perfect performance, and the genuine feeling of concern he expresses for his father, Dick, played by Kevin Scott Allen. The play never feels trite, instead mining the frustration of both characters, each of them unable to act on certain things they both desire, for maximum effectiveness. I have witnessed several impressive dramatic entries into this year‘s Fringe Festival and these two one-acts are definitely up near the top of the list.
Siegfried Tieber is a magician who is not interested in showing you tricks… it seems he is more interested in showing you how your own mind can play tricks on itself. His skill is impressive, often revealing that slickly timed illusions and incredible sleight of hand moves have passed before you even catch on he’s manipulating your attention. In a briskly paced 50 minutes, Tieber manages to lead the audience through multiple scenarios where free choices and random decisions line up to reveal fascinating and sometimes inspiring results. It’s clever. It’s fun. It’s truly thought provoking, as well.
The overall effect is to have the audience walk away pondering how even the most simple decisions we make in each day’s journey can possibly affect our own outcome as well as those around us.
It’s deceptively simple, and quite a joy to experience.
Dandy Darkly is an impressive storyteller. He is an over-the-top performer who yearns, or perhaps NEEDS to tell you some very dark tales. In an energetic sing-song cadence, he balances between narrator and hypnotist as he weaves the story of a young boy who witnesses evil. That tale then twists and expands so we see how that innocent boy matures and becomes an integral gear in the mechanism of the world that rushes forever forward, running on greed, hope and dreams.
There really is no way to describe the fantastical tale that unfolds in this show. It’s part science fiction, part horror, part coming-of-age story… all drenched in a Southern Gothic vibe that truly is enchanting. In the end, you can’t help but wonder about decisions made by the characters within Dandy Darkly’s stories of triumph and failure, but isn’t part of being human making decisions and then living with the consequences? This is a mischievous mix of dark humor and optimism. It is well worth taking this ride.
This energetic one-man show explores the hassles contained in the life of a serial killer. Quite frankly, serial killing his hard work if you intend to be successful and to do it well. Writer / performer Mitchell Bisschop explains it all to you.
Portraying several characters involved in the scenario, Bisschop explores what it takes to research, track and exploit the weaknesses of potential victims all while hiding the activity from his wife and kids. There are numerous clever and humorous moments involving the balancing act of life, but things progressively turn darker – especially since there is a pit of telepathic Goblins nearby making demands on this busy man’s time. Life is hard, sometimes.
Using a large video screen backdrop – there are several transitions in the show using a variety of music, animation and video images – some created for the show, some real footage of serial killers. It becomes a visual montage that adds a surreal vibe to the wacky shenanigans being discussed. The high-point may be a hard day’s work of murder and mayhem being set against the audio of a popular Dolly Parton tune. It’s definitely humorous to to watch but also a bit unsettling.
On a larger scale, Pit of Goblins can be seen as a metaphorical tale exploring what each of us must honor, nurture and feed to keep our daily grind intact. When do you give up on dreams to simply make ends meet and keep a roof over your head – and the heads of the ones you love? If the monsters become too hungry, what’s really important in life is going to suffer. The success of this show is the very funny way it has of exploring this very valid point.
A thought-provoking piece, “Red Bar” sets up a support group for serial killers and explores how such a system could be useful to those in need of counseling as they indulge very dark tendencies. Red Bar is an invitation-only club where these killers can feel comfortable being themselves and relating to others with similar, shall we say, hobbies.
Overall, the show feels a little bit like basic world building. There are several rituals that we witness which come off as slow at times but do offer fascinating glimpses into what would actually make such a premise work in real life. Sometimes, these passages linger too long, slow pacing undermines the effectiveness here. The cast is earnest on all fronts, but are undermined by a choice to always address the audience rather than each other. It feels awkward that a support group filled with people who can help each other never make eye contact with each other.
The show has too many characters to be completely effective, but the number of people on stage also help support the concepts of community. So, for me, the show is a mixed bag. However, I truly like this idea and found it fascinating to think about long after the show ended.
The final ritual is touching and heartfelt in a way that was very surprising. Definitely a successful experiment, it would be interesting to see this flashed out into a longer piece, or quite potentially… multiple pieces as a series of shows.
(One small quibble, this was designated as a “partial immersive” experience. The immersive rules were not clear in any way to the audience. I tried to interact with a character before the show, there was no response. During the show there is a moment when you could probably interact, one person chose to do so but because of my failure before the show I didn’t feel comfortable participating. It’s a tricky immersive thing to call yourself “partial immersive” and then offer no guidance to the audience of what they are allowed to do. This piece certainly lends itself to playing in the immersive genre and could be an utterly fascinating journey if that type of format is explored in the future.)
Overall, “Red Bar” works as a glimpse into a surprising underground that could be resting under the surface of our own culture right now. Definitely thought-provoking and original, but could have been much more effective.
Taking the clever idea that the story of King Kong parallels the story in that theater-phenomena named “Hamilton” – both stories are the tale of an immigrant coming to America, finding success in a big city and then running into female troubles – this rambunctious parody / musical offers up some pretty funny stuff.
Presuming most attending will be familiar with the tunes of “Hamilton,” the fast-paced “Hamilkong” offers up clever tweaks of the popular lyrics and moments known to many. Kong is, indeed, a scrappy immigrant. The entire cast is not gonna waste its shot in telling this creative riff on getting things done as the story unfolds.
The cast here is definitely up to the challenge of this fast-paced romp. Totally in on the joke, the entire ensemble keeps it it silly, heartfelt and are giving 110% from the opening moment to the finale where beauty does what we all know it is gonna do.
Admittedly, the premise is thin and it does not seem to have much on its mind other than having a good time. Sure, I guess you can grumble that “Hamilkong” is a one-joke show or concept.
But, hey… it’s a damn funny joke.
Once again, I encourage everyone in the Los Angeles area to check out the schedule for extensions of various shows from the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival. This is an affordable way to see interesting, often experimental live theater and support local artists. Definitely check out the main page of the Hollywood Fringe Festival website for the latest news!
See you at the theater!