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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Hollywood Fringe Reviews, Week 1

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Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 9:25 PM

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click to enlarge Pulp Shakespeare - COURTESY OF HER MAJESTY'S SECRET PLAYERS
  • Courtesy of Her Majesty's Secret Players
  • Pulp Shakespeare
The week that was, has arrived. The Hollywood Fringe is underway, RADAR L.A. Festival and the Theatre Communications Group/ National Asian American Theater  conferences are all kicking off. National critics from the NEA Arts Jouranlism Institute are in town, and have a press room in the offices of the Los Angeles Stage Alliance.

You can find the first round of theater reviews dedicated to the Hollywood Fringe by clicking the More button below.  These reviews are a coordinated effort by the L.A. Weekly and Back Stage to cover the Hollywood Fringe Festival as comprehensively as possible. Many thanks to Back Stage editor Dany Margolies for her graciousness and to her staff for their shared dedication to this important event. 

NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication: June 16, 2011

FRINGE ON THE TOP
Go to Hollywoodfringe.org for more information.

NEW REVIEW ACTOR UNDER FIRE In his solo piece, directed by Anita Khanzadian, actor James Gleason tells us how he enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, was sent to the war zone and assigned to act in a touring production of Neil Simon's The Star-Spangled Girl, performing in base camps, hospitals, villages, and on the frontlines. In addition to the comedy of acting under bizarre and hostile conditions, he describes the grim realities of death, maiming, and endless body bags. The piece has its charms, but they wear thin after a while. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Sundays, June 19 & 26, 3:15 P.M. (525) 455-4585 or hollywoodfringe.org. (Neal Weaver/LAW)

NEW REVIEW AMERICAN ADDICT What is the difference between a viral Internet meme and a live stage performance? Such is the question posed by this feeble and ill-fitted autobiographical object lesson (directed by Francesco Campari) by YouTube caricaturist Ricky Butler. In 2006, Butler's ham-handed clip of celebrity impersonations scored an astonishing 1 million hits, leading to further satirical video vignettes. Unfortunately, the digital metonymy that served him online proves a crippling liability onstage. Chronicling his years as a struggling New York actor, Butler impersonates a dozen of the downtown artists, street eccentrics, and out-and-out oddballs he encounters even as his pot- and alcohol-fueled life spirals out of control. Ultimately, the addiction that Butler addresses is the insatiable need of actors for the unqualified love of the public. Winning that love, however, is going to take far more than this pallid and imponderable performance. I. O. West, 6366 Hollywood Boulevard, Hlywd; Thurs., June 16, 8 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 25. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/336. (Bill Raden/LAW)

NEW REVIEW GO ARE WE NOT HUMAN? Outfitted in ugly jumpsuits, hideous eyeglasses, and ridiculous hairdos, Keirin Brown and Ilana Gustafson Turner spend a brisk hour poking mostly wordless fun at the female experience. The duo, dubbed Duckbits, dance, fight, apply makeup, bird-watch, and let their freak flags fly in this ode to oddity. Though both women are skilled vaudevillian clowns, don't expect big bells and whistles. They strive for simple, unabashed silliness and hit their mark with ease. In the hands of these humanizing comediennes, bickering becomes a nonsensical act, companionship an urgent essential. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 18, 10 p.m.; Fri., June 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 10 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/499 (Amy Lyons/BS)


NEW REVIEW GO THE BARKING PIG Writer-director Michael Shaw Fisher's world premiere play takes us to highly unexpected places. The setting of a sleazy bar inhabited by the dregs of society initially suggests a poetic Tennessee Williams tragicomedy or a bloody Tracy Letts thriller. Yet ribald hilarity and tongue-in-cheek metaphysical themes soon predominate when, at the titular dive, news arrives that an imprisoned maniac has escaped, vowing to come and slaughter one of the bar's denizens. The eight-member ensemble, led by J. Scott as the vengeful psychopath and Asher Lyons as a scummy con artist, is sheer perfection, proving that unadulterated ham can be a sublime guilty pleasure. Orgasmico Theatre Company at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., June 17, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 18, 1 & 10 p.m.; Sun., June 19, 2:30 p.m.; Fri., June 24, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 5:30 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 2:30 p.m.  hollywoodfringe.org/projects/473 (Les Spindle/BS)

NEW REVIEW CHARLIE! THE DEATH OF NANCY FULLFORCE In this musical by writer-performer Jasten King, hard-driving rock songs and multimedia imagery overwhelm a wisp of a narrative that apparently aims for subversive satire but mostly comes across as loud and annoying. Charlie (Robin Hall), a perpetually drugged-up journalist, attempts to solve a mystery surrounding the reported death of androgynous rock idol Nancy Fullforce (King in an Elvis Presley mode). Lucidity isn't a strong point here. Hall's New Zealand dialect and rapid-fire ranting don't help. Neither does Tyler Clement as Charlie's pal, who mumbles his dialogue while exhibiting a timid stage presence. Rent "The Sound of Music" and skip this incomprehensible enterprise. ArtWorks Theatre (Fringe Central), 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., June 17, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 24, 9:30 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/355 (Les Spindle/BS)

NEW REVIEW DREAMS FROM A DEAD CITY It's been said you've gotta have a gimmick, but the illusion isn't much good if the tits don't light up. Hopefully, as the run continues for Greg Machlin and Joe Luis Cedillo's abstract "L.A. sci-fi tech fable," things will go better if future audiences respond more freely, as the concept fails if viewers don't arrive with a sea of smart phones--and a willingness to share their numbers with the producers. Yet even if this rickety inspiration succeeds, these uncomfortable-looking but gamely committed players need a workable script, not an incomprehensible Samuel Beckett-meets-Ayn Rand rant that evokes a continuous spew of pop references from Sylvia Plath to Don Draper without making much sense. Company of Strangers at the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 18, 6 p.m.; Sun., June 19, 11 p.m., Mon., June 20, 10:30 p.m., Tue., June 23, 11:30 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/505 (Travis Michael Holder/BS)

NEW REVIEW EAVESDROPPER 2012 The titillating trifecta of sex, drugs, and violence cannot save this premiere production from its wretchedly uninteresting fate. A mind-bogglingly problematic set obscures much of the action, and unintelligent blocking drives the large cast (nameless here, due to the absence of a playbill) into various corners, where they amateurishly grasp for dramatic motivation. The script, by members of the Mississippi Actors Group, finds costumed college kids drugging, groping, dancing, and dishing in the bathroom on New Year's Eve. Lurking in the shower is a gangbanger hiding from the cops. The bacchanalia culminates in a fatality. Even the bend-her-over banging is a bore. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thurs., June 14, 11:45 p.m.; Sat., June 18, 11:45 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 11:45 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 4:15 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/577  (Amy Lyons/LAW)

NEW REVIEW 8 PIECE LEGS AND THIGHS Choreographer Beth Megill and her dancers--Geneva DePalma, Erin Riddle, Karissa Smith, and Elyse Villa--take lighthearted aim at current obsessions with sexuality, weight loss, and objectification of women. They embrace a variety of styles--including modern, jazz, tap, and jazzercise, and utilizing an exercise ball, ThighMaster, and hula hoop. Megill plays a naive high school girl plagued by the demands made by Cosmopolitan magazine, peer pressure, and advertising, and a weight-loss dance class begins with disappointing results at the weighing-in and ends in an orgy of backsliding and ice cream. The tap number generated strongest audience approval.  Megill & Company at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 9:45 p.m.; Sat, June 24, 9:45 p.m.; thru June 24. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/407 (Neal Weaver/BS)

NEW REVIEW GO ENDGAME Seated at a café table, Devon (Couso) is more occupied with scribbling on a notepad than studying the chessboard that's in front of him. That is until the beautiful Minette (Rachel Andrea Cox) enters. After some cryptic exchanges with Devon and Barrister Bob (Wesley Schillilng), in which familiar memories are hinted at, a game of chess becomes an eerie prelude to startling revelations. Writer-director David Wiseheart does a neat job of blurring the line between reality and fantasy Think Hitchcock with a dash of "The Twilight Zone." The writing is as good as the performances. Dorie Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Hlywd.; Sun., 12:15 p.m. & 5:15 p.m.; thru June 26. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/421 (Lovell Estell III/LAW)

NEW REVIEW GO FEAR FACTOR: CANINE EDITION Performer John Grady, a slender, balding silver-haired New Yorker, take the Spalding Gray approach of autobiographical storytelling to conjure a love story between himself and his 13-year-old dog, whom he's finally compelled to euthanize. The stage is spartan: a wooden chair that will hold the jacket of his gray suit. There's little that's cutesy about the quality of the story. Rather it's a probing and poetical examination of human relations and canine relations and what it means to be tethered to another living being. Grady's performance is as impeccable as his story is affecting. Theater of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.;  Fri., June 17, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 18, 12 p.m.; Mon., June 10, 10 p.m.; Thurs., June 23, 8 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/350 (Steven Leigh Morris/LAW)  

NEW REVIEW GO FIVE UNEASY PIECES Todd Waring's impressive self-penned solo show (with moody live accompaniment on double bass from Lyman Medeiros) plays like an actor's show reel. His six short monologues demonstrate the middle-aged actor's command of a range of accents and personae, while the unpredictable subject matter swerves between dark, sinister, and emotional. Characters range from a crotchety old black woman (with perfect, quaint Southern intonations) to a jovial Australian art instructor (broad accent is passable) whose simmering rage inadvertently surfaces in an art class to a foul-mouthed street gangster and a tough-talking Special Ops sergeant who goes rogue in Afghanistan. Disappointingly, the last piece, skewering a cheesy folk singer who amusingly gibbers nonsensical French, doesn't fit the bill. Five strong and one weak monologue is not a bad ratio. Devoted, Inc. at The Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs. & Sat., 8 p.m.; thru June 25. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/416. (Pauline Adamek/LAW)

NEW REVIEW HOG RIOT! This short play, written and directed by Laurel Long, is set in Manhattan in spring 1826, when pigs shared the streets with humans and were a continual nuisance to the city fathers. While the premise of the piece intrigues, it goes nowhere in this flat production. Long's script is mostly aimless, relying on thematic clichés and caricatures of rich and poor characters. The acting is student-level and the direction uninspired. A couple of fun tableaus at the end of the piece provide a moment or two of relief, but otherwise the show is missable. Dollface Ensemble at Arena Stage at Theatre of Arts, 1625 Las Palmas Ave., Hlywd.; Sat., June 11, 18, & 25, 2 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/447 (Hoyt Hilsman/BS)

NEW REVIEW GO INEFFABLE Two agile and inventive clowns with highly expressive faces, Jon Monastero and Stephen Simon (known collectively as Ten West) enliven a droll fantasy about the journey from life to death. Directed with grace by Bryan Coffee, their sly comedy is as much Cirque du Soleil as it is Chaplin-esque, with a little commedia dell'arte thrown in. They pull the entire audience onstage for a group photo, they pratfall, they execute stylized choreography to witty musical choices, and yet the show is over too soon. Ineffable means indescribable--suggesting their brand of cleverness should be seen firsthand. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 p.m.; thru June 25. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/489 (Melinda Schupmann/BS)

NEW REVIEW LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES Writer-standup comic Steve Ochs' mega-personal solo show about the inevitable outcome of aging deploys a faux-medieval fairy tale--projected overhead in Python-esque mode, drolly narrated by Wendy Cutler--to contextualize his trek through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief. The amiably irreverent, quip-happy Ochs aims to help viewers follow his lead and make peace with the Grim Reaper. Yet his relentlessly facile text yields few new insights that couldn't be found at a New Age retreat or Comedy Store benefit night. That said, the attending audience chortled throughout and seemed truly touched by Ochs' beatific guided meditation finale. Hero FilmWorks and Combined Artists at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 18, 8 p.m.; Mon., June 20, 7 p.m.; Tue., June 21, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 7 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/576 (David Nichols/BS)


NEW REVIEW GO A MESS OF THINGS: A NEW DOCUMENTARY MUSICPLAY Adam Tinkle's solo performance features himself along with an electrical guitar which he plays (and, briefly, a saxaphone, which he also plays), and the projected image of a kind archaic, helix-like invention that his grandfather concocted. That image occasionally dissolves into a stream, along which origami boats float. The primary narrative is recorded, and Tinkle riffs on the guitar against it, sometimes with accompanying lyrics. This recording consists of audio-documentary clips from an interview by Tinkle of his grandfather, an inventor and upbeat fellow who, as he aged, needed to move and remove the "junk" he accrued over the years. The interviews include the voices of the old man's daughters -- Tinkle's aunts. Time passing means looking back on things we no longer know, or need to know. Tinkle is a stoic yet passionate performer,  and his lovely performance is a kind of evocation to the essences of history on the verge of extinction.  Fringe Central, 6585 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 18, 11 p.m.; Wed., June 22, 3:30 p.m.; Thurs., June 23, 5 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/401 (Steven Leigh Morris/LAW)

NEW REVIEW PAINT: IMAGINING A LOVE STORY Spanning 57 years, this sentimental and unauthorized biopic by writer-director Dan DeNicola depicts the relationship between two notable 20th-century painters, Robert Rauschenberg (Harry Vaughn) and Jasper Johns (Eric Goldrich). The play begins in 1961 when Rauschenberg resolutely ends their affair. Johns carries a torch for the rest of his life, his obsession furnishing the focal point of the drama. DeNicola's conflicted friends-and-lovers dialogue rings true, but the play needs pruning, reshaping, and tons less schmaltz. Vaughn ably projects Rauschenberg's iconoclastic spirit; Goldrich's mournful persona needs fleshing out. Blue Rose Theatre at the Flight Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica
Blvd., Hlywd.;  Sun., June 19, 1 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., June 23-25, 7 p.m.; Sun. June 26, 1 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/385 (Deborah Klugman/LAW)

NEW REVIEW GO PULP SHAKESPEARE With grog, broadswords, and kidney pie standing in for beer, automatic pistols, and the "Royale With Cheese," this lively and imaginative onstage reinvention of Quentin Tarrentino's film "Pulp Fiction" as an Elizabethan thriller is an often appealing and unexpectedly harrowing drama. That the play, essentially a line-by-line transposition of Tarrentino's dialogue into Tudor-esque patter (credited to five authors, including director Jordan Monsell) works so well on its own terms is due to the fact that Shakespeare himself is top-heavy with the film's tropes of slaughter, betrayal, rage, and lust. Although the conceptual joke wears a little thin midway through, Monsell's production opts for suspenseful intensity over camp, with artful results. Actor's Circle Theatre, 7513 Santa Monica Blvd, W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., June 25, 11 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 3 p.m. (323) 455-4585. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/466  (Paul Birchall/LAW)

NEW REVIEW SALES ON HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD A computer store on Hollywood Boulevard is the setting for writer-director Kathryn Fielding's office farce, about the hidden motivations of an office temp (Jennie Sheffield) who shows up at the nutty workplace. That there are photo-bios for only two of the nine young actors involves at least a hint of what this production is all about. Even by the logic of farce, the play makes little sense; the acting is mostly overwrought in a presentation so assertively abject, it defies further description. The Complex, 6475 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Sat., June 18, 5:30 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/558 (Steven Leigh Morris/LAW)  

NEW REVIEW SPRING AWAKENING Jonathan Franzen's translation of Frank Wedekind's 1906 classic about burgeoning hormones in German teens (the guilt and repression leading to exile and suicide) gets largely obliterated under Dana Murphy and Patrick Riley's staging. The young and energetic cast romps through the text in costumes (by Camille Campbell) that blend the beginnings of that century and ours, and the co-directors show an admirable spark for theatricality, within the confines of cinematic realism. But the hyperkinetic pace and deliberately campy attitude roll right over the very shape of scenes, so that the sexuality, and parody, and tragedy, all roll into a blur.  Lonesome No More! at The Complex, 6475 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fridays, 10:30, Sundays, 2 p.m. (Thurs., June 23, 8 p.m.); thru June 26. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/412 (Steven Leigh Morris/LAW)
 
NEW REVIEW TOP THAT! This ensemble-written comedy, directed by Brandon Baruch and Courtney Dusenberry, is about child actors making a rocky transition into young adulthood. Affluent movie star Daisy (Emily Ingersoll) has invited her former co-stars of the "Pancakes, Oh Yes!" series (think "Saved by the Bell") for a weekend retreat at her resort cabin. The gathering is dominated by sexual tension--gay and straight--and resurrected grudges. The rambling interactions come to an abrupt end with a bit of Keystone Kops-style slapstick. Despite caustically funny moments, the effort is hampered by uneven performances and a two-hour narrative that desperately needs sharper focus. ArtWorks Theatre (Fringe Central), 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd; and Celebration Theatre, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 18, 3:30 p.m. (ArtWorks); Mon., June 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 19, 9 p.m.; Tues., June 21, 10 p.m.; Sun., June 26, 5 p.m. (Open Fist); hollywoodfringe.org/projects/351 (Les Spindle/BS)
       


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