Hollywood Fringe Fest 2015: What You Should See

Heather Gottlieb in Hamlet-Mobile
Heather Gottlieb in Hamlet-Mobile
Photo by Shing Yin Khor

One of the Hollywood Fringe Festival's many venues is an old van laden with graffiti and suitcases, with shrinelike decorations in the back. The vehicle, like the show that occurs within and around it, is called Hamlet-Mobile, a notion written and directed by Lauren Ludwig and presented by a company named the Moving Shadow. The van parks on side streets off of Santa Monica Boulevard for ad hoc, free, street-theater performances. The troupe discloses the van's location via Twitter (@HamletMobile). Audiences show up and are allowed in – singly or in pairs – for one of eight 15-minute scenes inspired by Hamlet. Audience members receive a punch card, so they can return seven more times after the initial experience to see different playlets.

I was escorted into the driver's seat; neurotic Gertrude (the excellent Lizzie Prestel) sat in the passenger seat, staring forlornly at a cellphone. "He won't pick up my calls," she said, handing the phone to me. "Can you type out a text?" she asked. The phone was programmed to send messages to "Hamlet."

She dictated all kinds of poetical statements, which I dutifully pecked into the phone. She then demanded that I erase them, as she wanted to revise her missive. "Why is he so mad?" she asked me.

"Well, maybe because you married his uncle who'd just murdered his dad," I proffered. Gertrude then put her head in her hands, sighed and replied, plaintive, "I know!" Meanwhile, Claudius (Hunter Seagroves) was in the back on the van, playing out a scene for a different audience member.

Hamlet-Mobile is on par with the Moving Arts' equally delightful Car Plays of several years ago – playlets performed in parked cars for audiences of two. Like much of "immersive theater," it removes many of theater's traditional accouterments (a theater, a stage, lights) while the audience, however reluctantly, becomes a player. It blurs the divide between theater and life in another, enthralling embodiment of "all the world's a stage."

As usual, solo shows dominated the Hollywood Fringe, usually performers writing about the journey into the world of performance, via all manner of more intriguing side roads. At Elephant Studio, Heather Dowling's perky Unemployed. Finally. (staged by Jessica Lynn Johnson) races through dozens and dozens of jobs she left (including a stint in the military), men who left her, all leading to her pursuit, here and now, of a life on the stage. Dowling is a fine performer with a sharp, quick delivery, but her rim-shot structure dances over her show's most intriguing aspect – the relationship between an employee and a long string of bosses.

Alina Cenal's Words From a Cuban Father (at Theatre of NOTE) uses dance strategically in her autobiographical meditation on the death of her dad – who was a law school roommate of Fidel Castro in Havana. Her dad eventually fled to Miami in 1961, and the family soon followed. The show, directed by James Dolon, contains a vivacious string of anecdotes and impersonations of family and friends, a sexy dance through life. The whimsical clash between Cuban hip-swaying and the aesthetic formalities in a Florida ballet class is lovely. The family's political softening and the harrowing scenes of caring for a dying patriarch are quite moving, leading to the inevitable "My career's going OK in L.A., and here's my show" frame.

All of this gets parodied by the ebullient, quick-witted Peter Michael Marino (aka Lance) in his delightful solo show, Late With Lance!, which is fueled by high-octane sarcasm. Imagine Paul Lynde's forgotten son. He promises a talk show with celebrities, who fail to appear, so he plugs in audience members (one who stands in for Liza Minnelli): "So how's the rehab going?" "What's your biggest dream that never came true?" and "Why haven't I made it?" His "autobiographical" component includes the death of his mother by strangulation during a skating accident on a cruise ship – now run by his "two gay dads."

Ensemble entries include a spotty, all-female, S&M-laced Taming of the Shrew (adapted by Danielle Ozymandias) called Fifty Shades of Shrew (Broads' Word Theatre at the Lounge). Adam Hahn's absorbing The Mermaid Wars (Skypilot Theatre at Studio Stage), spinning from the Greek myth of the sirens, imagines an invasion of the United States by mermaids as an instigator of antiterrorism policies. Nubile mermaids cavorting throughout the action can't compensate for the rhythm-crushing scene transitions. There's also a topnotch American Idiot (Doma Theatre Company at the Met) – the musical descendent of Hair and Rent.

Back at the Hamlet-Mobile for a second spin, the Gravedigger (Seagroves, now in overalls) regales me on the sidewalk while trying to fix the van's broken engine. Prestel reappears, as a second gravedigger, popping out from under the van and announcing s/he's going on break. "Do you have a death plan?" the first Gravedigger asks me. "Death is coming, but nobody wants to think about it. ... No matter what you've taken or what you've given, how long you've lived or how little, we all end up as dust."

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He then embraced me and wished me well. That's one hell of a theatrical moment on a sidewalk off Santa Monica Boulevard. –Steven Leigh Morris

More Hollywood fringe reviews:

There is a tantalizing moment in The Poe Show when creator Ed Goodman’s satiric sendup of the insipid familiarity of the late-night TV talk show almost transcends the mere comically clever to achieve the wickedly inspired. That’s when morose host Edgar Allan Poe (a wonderfully sallow-skinned, baggy-eyed Brendan Hunt in a jabot) welcomes guest Abraham Lincoln (Eric Curtis Johnson), who proceeds to hype other Hollywood Fringe Fest shows. Genius! A nightly Fringe mock talk show that incorporates the real Fringe! But all too soon the conceit is dropped for what proves to be a conventional evening of hit-and-miss, ensemble sketches amusingly filtered through Poe’s jaundiced, 19th century Gothic sensibility. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; through June 27. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2324.
–Bill Raden

Shakespeare as a Rock Star
In previous shows like Doomsday Cabaret and Exorcistic: the Rock Musical Parody Experiment, actor-singer-songwriter Michael Shaw Fisher has become something of a Hollywood Fringe legend for writing smart, fully realized and lavishly staged ensemble book musicals. This year, his Shakespeare’s Last Night Out, a one-man, folk-rock biography of the Bard that's stripped-down but surprisingly polished, is just as funny and erudite. For sheer entertainment value and uncanny comic timing, Shaw’s dozen-song impersonation of an alcoholic and dissipated Shakespeare on the eve of his death – defending his authorship from posterity’s naysayers – can’t be beat. Musicians Alistair Cooper and Allison Sulock provide the expert period accompaniment. Orgasmico Theatre Company at Three Clubs, 1123 N. Vine St., Hollywood; through June 27. (415) 994-4760, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2339.
–Bill Raden

Hollywood Fringe Festival, Various locations in Hollywood; through June 28. hollywoodfringe.org

Correction: The original version of the story had the wrong title for the show Unemployed. Finally. We regret the error.

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