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2012 Hollywood Fringe Reviews

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Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM
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Check out our growing docket of 2012 Hollywood Fringe theater reviews after the jump, which are scheduled for publication June 21. Also, check out this week's Stage Feature, a wrap-up of the festival.


HOLLYWOOD FRINGE REVIEWS, scheduled for publication June 21, 2012

(Check back for more reviews as they come in through the weekend.)

GO
ALL ATHEISTS ARE MUSLIM
 

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In her appealing if slight autobiographical solo show, writer-performer Zahra Noorbakhsh describes her decision to move in with her slacker boyfriend - a choice that would scarcely seem monumental were it not for the fact that such behavior is anathema to her first generation Iranian American Muslim parents, who are unable to get past the Koran's injunctions against shacking up with white foreign infidels.  In director Lisa Marie Rollins' sweet and good-natured production, Noorbakhsh's charming impersonations of both her gruff, matter-of-fact Muslim dad and her slacker boyfriend are delightful - and it is amusing to watch the ultimate compromise (which appears to involve the boyfriend unwittingly being converted to Islam and accidentally agreeing to marry the girl) being hammered out.   Flight Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; CLOSED   (Paul Birchall)


ALTARCATIONS Writer/director Steve Julian's indictment of

the Catholic church's mass cover-up of child abuse allegations feels a little

musty. After all, the scandal broke almost 10 years ago. Special here, however,

is the focus. Instead of pointing the finger solely at gay priests, Julian

widens the scope to include heterosexual heads of power; instead of bashing the

abusers, he balances accusations with shows of the struggle to best temptation

and reconcile godly profession with Biblically-forbidden sexual inclination.

Worth the price of admission alone is the astonishing Travis Michael Holder's brandy-soaked

scene with homosexual Father Bart (Robert Keasler). Jeff Gardner's

design-on-a-dime projections and the theatre's church-pew-like seating quite

successfully create atmosphere.

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Australian-born writer/director Sarah Doyle draws on a 12-year-old Sydney private school scandal for her hard-hitting drama. Stripping away the sensational aspects of the case, she explores bullying and sexual abuse among peers, exposing the long-term trauma that besets the abusers, victims and the guilt-by-association of the witnesses. When successful defense attorney Matty (Martin Dingle Wall) learns that an old school friend Phil (Jonathan Roumie) has committed the violent murder of another former classmate, Matty feels obligated to defend the killer. His mean-girl wife Bivva (Jordan Ballard), however, argues a different tack. Intense writing and blisteringly powerful performances, also from Jeremy Glazer, make for a riveting experience. Pink Oil Productions at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed.-Thurs., June 20-21, 10 p.m.; Fri., June 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 11 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/910 (Pauline Adamek)

THE ANNUAL MEETING FOR THE SOCIETY OF LONE FISHERMEN WHO HAVE FOUND DEAD BODIES
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In his solo "expedition," T.S. Cook plays the role of an angler at the helm of his boat who shares with the audience a love of the sea and fishing. It's the type of easygoing storytelling you'd expect from an avid fisherman with a trusty pair of sea legs, filled with interesting anecdotes about life, family, friendship, the sea and even a sprinkling of politics. Cook is refreshingly honest, with a contagious sense of humor. However, the loose, rambling style starts to grate toward show's end, and his use of sound effects is overcooked and, at times, terribly corny. Artworks Theater, 6567-6585 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat.-Sun., June 16-17, 4 p.m.; Thurs., June 21, 8 p.m.;  Sat., June 23, 6 pm. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/808. (Lovell Estell III)


BEFORE THE RED TREES COME

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A man-baby - an Everyman type - awakens in a room and learns  to dress himself. He ventures into a park and encounters a cranky, throat-clearing fellow who just wants to read his newspaper in peace, a hobbling old man, a pretty lady and a nearsighted gardener. Our hero discovers sunlight and the joy of nature. Written and produced by Kristopher Lee Bicknell,  co-produced by Jessica Lauren Richmond, this silent and whimsical absurdist play relies heavily on the performers' unremarkable physicality and silent movie-style recorded piano accompaniment. Unfortunately, the whole 45-minute show plays out like a clown-school improv exercise, with each actor swapping roles. Pointless but sweet. The Actors Company, 916A Formosa Ave., Hlywd.; Fri, June 15, Sun., June 17,  Fri.-Sat., June 22-23, all perfs 9 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/868. (Pauline Adamek)

GO BUTTON WAGON

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This whimsical piece of performance art is the

collaborative work of two artists: Ember Bria, a dancer and

limb-twisting contortionist, and Poki, a movement artist who specializes

in kooky interactions with tattered umbrellas, giant sewing needles and

silver hoops. Watching them work - perhaps play is the better word --

is to be drawn into an odd, illusory world absent the logic of words but

with its own chimerical inferences about  curiosity and friendship. The

idiosyncratic set includes an outsized spool of thread and a statue of a

rabbit whose usefulness eventually becomes clear. A  fun fanciful

soundtrack frames the magic. Artworks Theatre, 6567-6585 Santa Monica

Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues., June 19, 8 p.m.; Wed. & Fri., June 20 &

22, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 23,  4 pm., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/785

(Deborah Klugman)

CONFESSIONS OF THE WORLD'S WORST MISSIONARY

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Lina Alfinito performs her own show about a 20-year-old student at the Christian Azusa Pacific University (east of Los Angeles) who enlists in a program to visit South Africa as a missionary. It's an earnest and sometimes arch account of a cloistered young woman discovering the breadth of the human condition. See stage feature on Wednesday eve. Artworks Theatre, Mon., June 18, 10 p.m. See Stage Feature. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/710 (Steven Leigh Morris)  


CRUSHED Somewhere in writer-performer-director Kiersten Lyons' chaff-cluttered autobiographical one-woman show, there lurks the whole grain of an edgy and genuinely funny coming-of-age confessional -- if only Lyons had the courage to thresh it out. It is not, however, in the toothachingly cute inventory of childhood crushes that the performer wastes over half of the evening reeling off. Rather, it emerges late in the show, when Lyons too coyly hints at her struggles as a boy-obsessed orthodox Catholic trying to make it to her wedding night with her hymen intact. While it's certainly medically possible for an aspiring Hollywood actress to be a 27-year-old virgin, Lyons still has miles to go in explaining the hows and the whys. Underground Theater, 1314 N. Wilton Place, Hlywd.; Fri., June 15, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 16, 11:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri, June 21 & 22, 7 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 11:30 p.m.; through June 23. Crushedplay.com, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/889. (Bill Raden)

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Willful self-destruction can take many forms. In playwright-director Richard Crawford's caustically comic portrait of the artist, the preferred method is unrelenting, substance-assisted social suicide. When the one-act opens, blocked writer Dominic (Crawford) has a best friend (Bertand Roy), a generous if whiny girlfriend (composer Zoe Rosario) and a doting sister (Ruthie Stephens). By the end of this unrelentingly Dostoyevskian descent into vice, self-abasement, caddishness and appalling personal betrayal, Dominic successfully sweeps such emotional encumbrances from his life with a fierce and frightening finality. A hilariously scathing serenade to the all-consuming self-absorption of the artistic ego. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 16, 8.30 p.m., Sun., June 17, 10 p.m., Mon., June 18, 7 p.m., Tues.-Fri., June 19-22, 10 p.m., Sat., June 23, 11.30 p.m., Sun., June 24, 5.30 p.m.; through June 24. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/669. (Bill Raden)

GO THE DIVINE MADNESS OF ISABELLA
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Wendy Gough's story of poetess, mother and Commedia dell arte Prima Donna Isabella Andreini is an engaging theatrical experience. In five rapid-fire acts, Gough sketches Andreini's life from a young girl who must choose between the life of a nun or courtesan, thorough her journey to fame as a composer and actress who wined and dined with European royalty, and gradually, to a painful dissolution from artistic insanity and death. Gough recounts this epic story with disarming ease, robust humor and efficiency, and skillfully mimics over twenty characters. She also employs a dazzlingly attractive assortment of masks and puppets throughout. Theatre Unleashed at the Complex Theatres, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.; Hlywd.; Sun., June 17, 4:15 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., June 21-23, 9 p.m.; Sun., June 24. 2:15 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/748  (Lovell Estell III)

FOUR CLOWNS: THAT BEAUTIFUL LAUGH
This one hour unfocused yawnfest has seven - not four - performers who, lacking any requisite skills, can't really be called clowns despite colorful clothes, funny hats and silly voices. Jeremy Aluma's new showcase for these darlings of the Fringe is a string of half-baked gags and pratfalls that are little more than wild screaming and repeated falling on the floor. The monosyllabically narrated shadow puppetry was the sole delight. Purportedly for kids, this show inexplicably has a melancholy finale - completely unnecessary had an absurdist surprise and upbeat ending been simply added. Strictly for people who think red noses are a laugh riot. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs., June 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 4 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/679 (Pauline Adamek) 

FOUR FOR ONE A quartet of young writer-performers present  solo pieces. Native-American Ernest Briggs tells about his beloved grandmother, who died while they were estranged. Ty Pickett charts a young gay man's learning to speak for himself. Hayley Ozalvo describes her lifelong ambition to be an entertainer, and her evolution as an actress. Domenican-American Roy Rodriguez grew up in Queens, N.Y., with a devoted and hard-working mother. His defining experience was a knife fight where he was stabbed five times -- and he has the scars to prove it. There's a degree of naivete in the writing, but that's no sin for a young writer. Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues., June 19, 11 p.m.; Sun., June 24, 12:30 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/925 (Neal Weaver)

GENTLE PASSAGE 
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In this promising but underdeveloped premiere, a prickly psychologist gains empathy for her research subject, a gay Alzheimer's patient whose boyhood traumas rival A Child Called It. Despite funny and affecting moments, the pace drags as the disease inches toward its inevitable conclusion. Gary Rubenstein makes an appealingly unsentimental patient, but Rachel Boller's shrink never deepens past a tired cliché whom the playwrights (Paul Elliott with husband Ed Joswick, in their first, autobiographical collaboration) enjoy chiding for her myopic self-absorption. We know she's thawing when she loosens her tight bun. The story mirrors a Hallmark movie, but with better acting and execution. Fierce Backbone at the Artworks Theatre, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat.-Fri., June 16-22, 6 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 24, 4 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/812 (Jenny Lower)

GHOST LIGHT Four college students meet up at a darkened theater

one Halloween, get drunk, pull out a Ouija board and get themselves into

a whole mess of trouble. A bit too expository, though largely

well-paced, the play speeds from the usual jokey introduction to

no-one-gets-out-of-here-alive in under an hour. Thankfully, it also

eschews camp altogether. When it comes to horror on stage, it's all in

the staging, and though it's a disappointment that Ghost Light concocted

a perfect vehicle for pushing that element further than it actually

did, the production deserves props for inhabiting the space effectively.

Don't expect surprises or psychological dimensions from this straight

up genre piece, but well-deployed low-fi effects and a well-executed

campfire-style set-up contribute to a couple genuinely jumpy moments.

The Visceral Company at the Underground Theater, 1314 N. Wilton Pl., Hlywd.; Fri., June 15, 10 p.m.;

Sun., June 17, 10 p.m.; Thurs., June 21, 10 p.m., ; Fri, June 22, 8:30

p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/834. (Mindy Farabee)

GO IF WATER WERE PRESENT, IT WOULD BE CALLED DROWNING

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Betsy Moore turns in an exquisite performance as a crusty, frustrated hausfrau in writer-director John Sinner's surreal latter-day re-take on Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. See Stage feature on Wednesday eve. Theatre Revelation at Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., June 22, 9:30 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 6 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/716 (Steven Leigh Morris)  See Stage Feature 

GO IS HE DEAD? The adventurous Coeurage Theatre Company lets down its hair in this lighthearted endeavor. Mark Twain's long-undiscovered 1898 farce premiered in 2007, adapted by David Ives. The rollicking mix-ups bring to mind Brandon Thomas'1892 drawing-room classic Charley's Aunt, though the cross-dress device has served comedies ranging from Plautus to Tootsie. In 1846 Paris, a fictionalized version of famous French painter Jean-François Millet (Deven Simonson) faces the wrath of a ruthless art dealer, André (Gedaly Guberek), who insists that the artist pays his overdue debt or allows this creditor to marry Millet's demure lady love, Marie (Sarah Perry). Some goofy cronies (played by Kurt Quinn, Collin Hurst, TJ Marchbank as sort of a cosmopolitan Three Stooges), cook up a scheme to fake Millet's death, to increase the value of his paintings. The initially reluctant painter dons petticoats and curls, impersonating the artist's nonexistent sister. Director Ryan Wagner demonstrates a deft flair for slapstick, as the clever script blends timeless satire about the art world with the conventions of madcap comedy. Simonson is a tad stiff in the early scenes, but his portrayal gains comic steam once the gender-bending antics begin. Others in the superb cast are Ruby Hanger, Jean Kauffman, Gregory Marcel, Lawrence Peters, and Tina Van Berckelaer.  Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hlywd; Sat., June 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 17, 7 p.m.; Fri., June 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 24, 7 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/931, coeurage.org/plays/2012-season/is-he-dead. (Les Spindle)

GO JENNIFER ANISTON STOLE MY LIFE At first it's annoying but eventually it seems fitting that Jon Courie's 90-minute play should so resemble a sitcom. Set in a dreary North Hollywood apartment, the play gouges away at the cult of celebrity by depicting the psychotic behavior of an aging house-cleaner, Ru (Barbara Keegan), a former Hollywood bit player who aches to return to the screen. At issue is her mentally unhinged adult daughter, Lo (Jesse Holcomb), a former kiddie star and current depressive. Enter a boarder (Diana Wright), a marginally talented standup whose TV career soars, bringing into stark counterpoint the searing hideousness of the mother's desperation. Think The House of Blue Leaves. "My daughter is mentally ill," she announces, when it's clear, largely from Holcomb's tender performance, that Lo is the sanest character in this cauldron of vanity. Nice turn also by Barry Gordon as the apartment manager/resident porn producer, under Deborah Geffner's direction. Purple Turtle Productions at the Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 16, 3 p.m.; Sun., June 17, 7 p.m.; Mon., June 18, 8 p.m.; Thurs., June 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 3 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/794. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage Feature


GO LEPRECHAUNS & LIES

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Despite occasional lapses in cohesiveness and a couple dead-end turns (why ask for audience participation when there is no point?), Chad Kukahiko's solo show tracing the events in his childhood that led to the shift in his worldview is a swift, mostly engaging journey. The collection of vignettes that explore our attempts to keep chaos at bay and from causing insanity is interesting: most powerful is "Math," in which he breaks down notes, chords and rhythm as an "orderly separation of time" before abandoning language altogether and using his body ala Stomp (he spent two years touring with the Off-Broadway show) to prove his point. Kukahiko is a likable performer, but his final revelation feels anticlimactic, and he fails to really sell it. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., 5:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.; through June 24. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/740. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

LOST & FOUND Writer-performer Nikki Brown opens her solo show with a soulful rendition of "Amazing Grace" via the character of a diabetic grandmother who, in the course of an hour, will channel sundry grandchildren and their friends, who comprise a portrait of broken homes that include a predatory stepfather, a kid with big dreams and a stripper who stumbles onto self-revelation in the VIP room. Brown's transcendent singing voice is matched by her transformational skills and perfect timing, under Phillip Edward van Lear's direction. Brown's story, however, is a de rigueur vehicle for showcasing her impressive stage talents, settling into one performer's homage to the craft of acting, wherein lies her purpose   - a point already evident by her being on the stage, and in the quality of her performance. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 17, 2 p.m.; Sun., June 18, 2 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/847 (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO LOST MOON RADIO EPISODE 12  After claiming L.A. Weekly's Fringe Award and the Festival's "Best of Comedy" prize last year, this very talented sketch troupe and five-piece band return with a fresh installment of their serialized radio show, loosely themed "Night." Disc jockey Jupiter Jack (Will Greenberg) spins records and catches zzz's while the cast treats us to absurdist skits and songs featuring -- what else? -- sleep, sex, and drugs. Highlights include the barfly ballad "I Like Your Friend," a high-stakes game of truth or dare, and film noir-ish interludes from the back-up band. Sam Roberts directs the hijinks. Not to be missed. Lost Moon Radio at the Open Fist Theatre (Fringe Central Mainstage), 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., June 20, 8 p.m.; Thurs., June 21, 10 p.m.; Fri., June 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 11 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/888 (Jenny Lower)

THE LOVE POTION

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Just because

you can balance on your forearms doesn't mean you should charge

an audience to watch. Same goes for juggling and cracking juvenile sexual

puns. Dr.Pineapple, Stella, Freaky, and a nameless character try to set

up a story about loving the one who loves you. Pineapple philosophizes,

telling the audience to "be free" and that insurance sells fear of death.

The performers rub their itchy butts on audience members because, you

know, contagious disease is so hilarious. For the finale, the two women

wrap themselves through a dangling metal-pipe cube and around each other.

That's good, because this show doesn't even bother to wrap up the love

potion storyline. Cirque de Pina at the Open Fist Theatre, 6209

Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs., June 14, 4 p.m., Fri., June 15, 5:30 p.m., Sat., June 22 6p.m., Sun., June 23, 1 p.m.. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/914. (Dany Margolies)

GO MISSION TO MATE  A trio of comedies written and directed by Colin Mitchell about courtship and virginity. See Stage feature. Sati Productions at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.: Sat., June 23, 5:30 p.m.; Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sun., June 24, 2 p.m.  hollywoodfringe.org/projects/860 (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO MIXED PERSONALITY DISORDERS

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Shaky home movie footage of a small town, as viewed from the passenger seat of a car, is projected before our narrator walks up to a music stand with his notes. Ominously hanging upstage is a straightjacket. At first David Michael Taylor's reminiscences of growing up (and desperately trying to escape) an abusive home life in dreary Moundsville, West Virginia reads like a speedily-delivered lecture dotted with stand-up comedy punchlines. Taylor's comedic timing and confessional style becomes seductively compelling, eventually drawing you in with his wry, ironic observations and sparks of mild sarcasm. He gets you laughing harder than you'd imagine at a guy who flirted with insanity. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sun., June 17, 3:30 p.m.; Wed., June 20, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 23,  7 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/781  (Pauline Adamek)

NATASHA MAIL ORDER BRIDE ESCAPE TO AMERICA: THE MUSICAL A cast of 16 features Canadian Brooke Forbes in this 30-minute lampoon of a mail order bride's escape from a chicken slaughterhouse in "Crapistan" (Eastern Europe) into the arms of the man (Jonathan Oldham), living in the basement of his mother's Bel Air mansion, who discovers her while masturbating to a mail order bride website. See Stage feature Wednesday eve. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; Thurs., June 21, 4:15; Sat., June 23, 4:30 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/907  (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage Feature

NOCTURNE Co-conceivers/directors Kate Brown and Scott Dare's hour of company-created vignettes attempts to chart the life and death of a relationship from love at first sight to final separation. If their oddly bland and unmemorable evening succeeds at all, however, it is in raising fundamental questions about what makes an action dramatic (or language poetic) rather than merely banal. Having the couple portrayed by four actors (Valerie Bentson, Jocelyn Jolley, Jared Crossman, Will Nichol) is a clever conceit but no substitute for carefully observed and shaded writing. For the same story but told with considerably more power and half the cast, see Welles' masterpiece of metonymy and economy, the breakfast sequence from Citizen Kane. Alive Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.; Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m., through June 23. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/927. (Bill Raden)

GO THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER
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Margot Avery portrays the intrepid poet and wit, in Annie Lux's work in progress. See Stage feature. Grove Godess Productions at ComedySportz, 733 N. Seward Ave., Hlywd. CLOSED. (Steven Leigh Morris)  

GO RED BASTARD
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Performer

and co-writer Eric Davis shows up onstage wrapped in a kind of red body

stocking, only his calves, feet and white-painted face exposed. Red

paint around his eyes enhances the demonic glint that will inform his

show, co-written with directors Deanna Fleysher and Sue Morrison. Davis'

body wrapping is puffed out with balloons, so that with his nimble

gestures and delicate strutting, he resembles a slightly psychotic

chicken. The show is an extended improvisation with the audience, during

which, in one performance, he devoted an entire segment of copiously

varied facial expressions to one guy who couldn't stop laughing out

loud. Morphing into a cross between Dr. Phil and a dark sorcerer, Davis

solicits the audience's life "dreams" before ridiculing them with the

philosophy that he only cares about "the power we all have to change but

are too fucking afraid."  He goaded one forlorn soul to quit his crappy

job, there and then, via cellphone. The ambivalent victim stormed out

of the theater. Unlike the enthusiastic audience of 20-somethings, I

couldn't participate in the hour of theater-therapy games because I

don't trust clowns, or relatives, who goad and mock. That said, like

Shakespeare's fools, the clown tells the truth with piercing wit, and

creates theater that's in the moment and on the ball. Art/Works Theatre,

6567 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Mon., June 18, 8 p.m, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/919 (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage Feature.

GO RICHARD PARKER

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Welsh playwright Owen Thomas crafts an intriguing tale about the workings of fate and coincidence, in which two men, both named Richard Parker -- let's call them Richard 1 (Alastair Sill) and Richard 2 (director Gareth John Bale) --  meet on shipboard. Richard 1 is going abroad for the funeral of an old friend. Richard 2, obsessed with coincidence, has discovered several historical Richard Parkers, all of whom were shipwrecked, and ultimately murdered and eaten by their starving fellow survivors. He hopes that by murdering Richard 1 he can escape the destiny of the past Richards. But fate intervenes. Fringe Management & Darkman Productions at Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., June 15, 4 p.m.; Mon., June 18, 5 & 10 p.m.; Wed., June 20, 4:30 p.m.; Thurs., June 21, 5 p.m.;  Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; June 19, 8:30; Fri., June 22, 9:30 p.m. (323) 455-4585, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/763. (Neal Weaver)

GO RISE 
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First time playwright Cal Barnes's fierce drama - an auspicious theatrical debut -- explores the sometimes vague difference between seeking redemption and living in denial.  A young, kindly intentioned preacher (Brett Colbeth) counsels a troubled young woman (Gowrie Hayden), and, while at first he can't understand her inexplicable venomous attitude towards him, she gradually reveals dark and dreadful past events that linked the pair.  Barnes's writing possesses a thoughtful maturity that meshes good, evocative dialogue with a nuanced sense of philosophical ambiguity.  Director Aaron Lyons's production is feverishly intense, with the stage almost not being big enough to contain Hayden and Colbeth's crackling chemistry.  The evolution of Colbeth's character - by the end, he resembles nothing of the figure he was in the play's opening scenes - is particularly masterful. Zenith Ensemble at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; Sat., June 16, 10 p.m.; Tues., June 19,  8:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., June 22-23, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 24, 4 p.m. (310) 902-3142. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/744 (Paul Birchall)

ROUND ROCK One in a number of Western-themed shows in this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival, Aaron Kozak's play is a series of dust devils that never quite powers up into a tornado. Exploring the legend of the Sam Bass Gang in late 1800s Texas, and featuring a cast of 17, this "stage Western," with its numerous short scenes, feels much more cinematic than theatrical. What's missing, however, are the wide shots of distant mountain ranges, cactus, and tumbleweed, as two figures on horseback ride toward the setting sun: namely, the sweeping vistas that makes a Western a Western. So when just the interior scenes of such a story are cobbled together for the theatre (and a cramped one at that, given the constraints of the Fringe), the effect is nowhere near as resonant. Kozak definitely knows his oeuvre (complete with amusing Texan colloquialisms), and he directs a solid cast given the limited space, but one can't help but wish for more "action sequences" as the story plays out: lawmen firing rifles at the bandits who gallop away on horseback and such. What did enhance the show, though, were its nicely detailed costumes courtesy of the aptly named Zainab Outlaw, and Corwin Evans' excellent selection of transitional music. Theatre Unleashed at The Complex - East Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., June 22-23,  7:30 p.m.,  June 23, 7:30 p.m. (818) 849-4039. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/749 (Mayank Keshaviah)

SECOND CITY THIS WEEK Director Ron West marshalls an able and attractive eight-person ensemble- - Janel Benisch, George Caleodis, Robert Chan, Kristen Herbert, Derek Manson, Kevin Ocampo, Jim Staahl, Amanda Weier -- through a crowd-pleasing evening of satiric sketch comedy. Among those skewered are George Zimmerman, former Vice President Cheney, James Bond, a homophobic Superman and gay Green Lantern, Donald Trump, Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker, brainless blockbuster movies, woolly-minded economists and a porn star who wants to play Lady Macbeth. Not all the sketches pay off, but they kept the enthusiastic audience amused. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues., 19, 9:30 p.m. (323) 455-4585, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/892. (Neal Weaver)

GO THE SECRET OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
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If you know and care for

Arthur Conan Doyle's characters and tales, you might appreciate the fun

here. Other attempts have gone deeper and more cogently into the

"secret," but playwright Jeremy Paul creates an entertaining hour by

stitching together bits of recognizable Sherlockiana to set up his

theory. The two actors seem to be cast in their obverse roles, though

this creates an intriguing dynamic: John Mawson makes a stately,

almost kind Holmes, whereas Mario Vernazza is an electrifying Watson. The

one mystery remaining to be solved is why director Amir Korangy included

so many exits and entrances in his blocking. Theater Asylum, 6320 Santa

Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., June 20-23, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 24, 2:30 p.m.,  hollywoodfringe.org/projects/756.
(Dany Margolies)

SEX TALK

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Gaelika Brown's original script tracks the sexual journeys

of three black women, each of whom has been made world-weary by various

carnal encounters. The three nameless women, played by Brown, LaFonda

Baker and Jade, recount in direct

address to the audience tales of poorly performing, under-endowed men,

fathers as sexual abusers, abortion, and shattered illusions about the

nature of love. While the actors all possess talent, the show gets

tiresome early on--mostly owing to the immature narrative

point-of-view--and devolves from there. It's a simple, clear-cut case of

nothing new and nothing enlightening. Brown Theory Productions at The Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; .Sun., June 17, 7:30 p.m.,  hollywoodfringe.com/projects/694 (Amy Lyons)


GO SO MUCH TO CELEBRATE

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Paying homage to herself on her 40th birthday,

Australian comedienne  Jackie Loeb fires off smart one-liners at a

breakneck pace, changing it up here and there with surprisingly

surefooted, albeit mocking arias; parodies of hair-swinging hip-hop

air-heads ; and physical antics that simultaneously celebrate and skewer

her age.  On electric guitar, she rocks a rendition of Hava Nagila set

at the Beverly Center, and her keyboard medley is a rapid-fire send up

of "Imagine," "Chopsticks," and countless other songs played with a

precision that's impressive given the show's locomotive-like pacing. 

Musical talents aside, Loeb's knack for self-scrutiny sans sappy

confessional narrative is the source of the show's success. Theatre Asylum, Sat., June 23,

10:00 p.m., Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 23, 10 p.m., hollywoodfringe.com/projects/771 (Amy Lyons)

SOUND & FURY'S DOC FAUSTUS
  A trio of amiable comedians, named here Patrick, Ryan and Richard play out of spoof of Marlowe's Faustus as a western, set in Abilene, Texas. Filled with fitfully amusing literary, ethnic and sexual puns, and silly costumes, the comedy fired sparingly on the perf I attended, working best when the actors were droll, less so when they were too clearly amused by their own antics or when cues went strategically wrong. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 16, 11 p.m.; Sat., June 23, 1 & 3:30 p.m.   hollywoodfringe.org/projects/775 (Steven Leigh Morris)

GO SPEED MERCHANT (OF VENICE)

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Playful but not glib,

this worthwhile production blends satiric riffs and a contemporary

sensibility into a meaningful rendering of Shakespeare's troubling

play.  A versatile ensemble lends support to co-adapter Jack Young, who

delivers a compelling performance as the spit-upon Shylock, driven to

bloodlust by his daughter's desertion and the sneering contempt of his

Christian tormentors.  The evening's fun includes the transmutation of

Portia's casket  scene into a hilarious reality game show. There's an

impish quality to director/sound designer Tiger Reel's scene-changing

music and waggish side effects, which throw into sharp relief the

heartrending despair of the beaten-down merchant. Action! Theatre

Company at Artworks Theatre, 6567-6585 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.,

June 22,  8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., June 23-24, 2 p.m.,

hollywoodfringe.org/projects/915 (Deborah Klugman)


TEXAS LOVES LYLA! "If you've got an issue, I've got a tissue" is the motto of Lyla's Listening, the web advice show broadcast from the South Texas backyard of its irrepressible host, the eponymous, copper-bouffanted cracker with a heart of gold lamé, Lyla. Writer-director-drag performer Jeffrey Wylie's gentle send-up of bigotry, bad taste and ignorance doesn't break new ground in the southern-fried cornpone category so much as it runs those clichés through the gender spin cycle. In the process, Wylie establishes himself as a master of milking laughs from shopworn shtick and one-liners as broad as the side of a barn from Hee Haw. Theater Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Hlywd.; Wed. & Fri., June 20 & 22, 7 p.m.; Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 23, 4 p.m., through June 23. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/798. (Bill Raden)     

UNCLE JERMY'S SMYLE HOUR

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Uncle Jermy has a bad attitude, boys and

girls. He's been stuck in traffic, his crew is incompetent, plus, he

kinda hates you. In his 45-minute Smyle Hour, Jeremy Guskin, also the

show's producer, director and co-writer (with Natalie Lynch, Chris

MacEwan and Jaymes Wheeler), tackles the role of surly children's TV

host a tad too frenetically. More problematically, too many jokes come

too easily, while the cast, though individually talented, haven't quite

gelled as an ensemble and, though the humor has deliciously dark

moments, ultimately, it doesn't go dark enough. Bits vary widely;

standouts include misadventures in cooking, reverse ventriloquism and a

wheelchair bound version of "These Boots are Made for Walking." Open

Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs., June 21,

11:30 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/859. (Mindy Farabee)

VIRGINIA CITY In the Nevada Territory in the 1860s, young journalist Samuel Clemens falls in love with a vaudeville performer and finds his literary voice, going on to become renowned author Mark Twain. Unfortunately, the new musical Virginia City needs a significant amount of workshopping before this interesting historical backstory can shine through. David Wisehart's book and lyrics have yet to identify the central characters of the musical, which currently focuses more on miner Will (Till Wolter), his gal Rose (Tyler Olshansky), and other news reporters and showgirls at this Virginia City bar, than on Sam Clemens (Jake Kropac) and his inspiration Adah (Jennifer Bronstein). The show's structure suffers from underdeveloped characters and plotlines, as well as woefully unmotivated musical numbers that drag several choruses beyond necessity. Daniel Wisehart's music aims for a Sondheim-esque complexity, but instead makes the actors palpably uncomfortable with the off-kilter meters and melodic leaps outside their vocal range; the MIDI accompaniment further weakens the musical score. Still, the actors perform this one act show with laudable conviction. The musical is strongest in its tight barbershop quartet harmonies and layered choruses, which showcase the talents and the potential of the creative team and cast. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood: Mon, June 18, 8 p.m.; Tues, June 19, 8 p.m.; Sun, June 24, 3 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/projects/809 (Sarah Taylor Ellis)

GO THE WOMEN OF TU-NA HOUSE

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Tu-na House is an Asian massage parlor-cum-brothel. The eight women include the religious madam, the jaded and understandably cynical prostitutes, and even one man: an elderly tea server and former actor for the Peking Opera who specialized in playing female roles. All are played with skill and panache by writer-performer Nancy Eng. Individual stories may be grim, but Eng finds ample comedy in the women's comments on the vanities, foibles and predictability of their customers. Mad Cat Productions at The Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlwyd.; Thurs., June 14, 5:30 p.m.; Sat., June 16, 3:30 p.m. (323) 455-4585, hollywoodfringe.org/projects/698 (Neal Weaver)  
















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