Hollywood Fringe Festival 2014: A Preview

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Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 4:17 AM
  • Photo courtesy of Fierce Backbone
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The Hollywood Fringe Festival officially begins today, and L.A. Weekly has teamed with the theater website Stage Raw to review as many shows as possible.

Here are our reviews of some of the shows performed during the Fringe's preview period last week. The reviews marked "GO" are shows we particularly recommend.

Through June 28

America's corrosive love affair with deadly firearms is the theme of playwright Jeremy Kehoe's uneven collection of four one acts. Much like a game of Russian Roulette, though, only one of the four theatrical bullets possesses the firepower necessary to blow our minds. 

In "Florida," Andrew Preston offers a genuinely harrowing turn as a vicious thug, serving a life sentence for murdering a woman, who spitefully tricks a handicapped young man into serving a life sentence of his own.  Preston's matter of fact coldness as he portrays a sociopathic creep whom Nietzche would have taken out for coffee is wonderfully powerful. Elsewhere, "Michigan" centers on a Priest (Holger Moncada, Jr., nicely brooding) desperately trying to negotiate the surrender of unhinged gunman Lewis (Drew McAuliffe), with tragic results. 

Although this piece boasts some passionate acting, the situation is never entirely believable and the debate the characters engage in is forced and circular. Director Jeffrey Wylie's stiff and workmanlike direction does little to connect the other, slighter stories to any underlying emotion, and the pieces all too often descend into pedantic dogma. - Paul Birchall 

Fierce Backbone at the Lounge Theatre,6201 Santa Monica Blvd.,hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1834?tab=tickets

Angels and Whiskey

Through June 27

In this dense and interesting one act by Joshua Thomas, someone named John (Bruce Cervi) finds himself in a bar, with the maddening sensation of downing the very same drink over and over again. In walks a well-spoken stranger (Thomas) - the Devil, as it turns out - who has come to enlighten John on his peculiar status as a spirit lodged in his own personal corner of heaven. Trouble is, John feels he's in hell.

With Lucifer doing most of the talking, they engage in a discourse about faith and the lack of it, actions and their consequences, the world as we know it and the hereafter. After a few drinks, even Lucifer himself expresses doubts and resentments. 

Thomas, who also directs, is a charismatic presence as the erudite Dark Angel, a companionable dude who'd be fun to hang with were it not for his ulterior motives. Cervi and Daniel J. Parker as a cryptic bartender do fine, but they are upstaged. It's evident their performances and the production as a whole would benefit from a third eye.   - Deborah Klugman

The Actors Company, 950 N. Formosa Ave., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1632

Anita Bryan's Playboy Interview
Through June 28

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since former Miss Oklahoma and evangelical anti-gay gadfly Anita Bryant waged her successful 1977 campaign to repeal Dade County, Florida's pioneering ordinance that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. But as the ongoing national battles over marriage equality and this week's embrace of gay conversion therapy by Texas Republicans attest, the struggle for LGBT rights in this country is hardly over.

Which is perhaps the best endorsement for the continued relevance of John Copeland and Robert Whirry's canny political caricature of Bryant's outrageous bigotry in a script mostly culled from the June 1978 Playboy interview conducted by Ken Kelley (played here by Stephen Simon).

The leading edge of the satire is contained in Copeland's restrained drag impersonation of Bryant - replete with Okie accent and red bouffant wig - in which the actor allows the former Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson to damn herself with her own words.

What follows is a camp compendium of Bryant's more ludicrous pronouncements, such as her extended and befuddled exegesis on how "homosexuals eat the male sperm" that is the biblical "life essence" and "forbidden fruit" and is therefore banned by the Bible.

Despite the pinpoint hilarity of Copeland's delivery and Paul Stein's able and brisk direction, the 80-minute show could easily lose a good 20 minutes. By a not-so-strange coincidence, that is just about the running time added by the show's inclusion of the probably unnecessary historical context and arch tone of righteous moral indignation provided by Brett Paesel as the show's superfluous narrator and as the June 1978 issue's centerfold Gail Stanton.  - Bill Raden

Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1695

GO Bike Odyssey L.A.
Through June 14

"This is your city. Welcome home."

Sometimes traversing the large urban sprawl that is Los Angeles can feel like an odyssey in and of itself - that is why Bike Odyssey L.A., which takes Homer's Odyssey and fuses it with Los Angeles, works so well.

(Note that the Fringe version of the show is a walking tour, but its upcoming performance on June 21 and its eventual incarnations, including one planned for CicLAvia, will involve bikes.)

We are greeted by a collection of characters who take us on our journey, including Odysseus (Jesse Sirkus-Brown), triumphant in the Trojan War and ready to return home. After a sacrifice of kale to the gods, we are given our sailor names and begin our long trip through Hollywood. We literally stop traffic to cross the raging seas (aka Santa Monica Boulevard), get caught in a storm, write poetry and drink wine, battle the Cyclops (Vanessa Conlon) built out of a car and road cone, meet Circe (Bree Cardenas), a Hollywood starlet who turns some of the sailors into pigs, and tie Odysseus to a bike so he can sail past the Sirens. After entering the gates of hell by sharing a personal obstacle, we traverse into the land of the dead (where a random woman walking down the street joined us for a bit), and share stories of L.A. with the Venice Beach lotus-eaters before finally returning home (to the theater) where Odysseus is reunited with his wife Penelope (Linda Ravenswood).

The entire journey is an epic poem to and about Los Angeles. From the show's sense of history, it's clear that director Brian Sonia-Wallace (who also conceived the show) and his ensemble love this city. They blend gang wars, gentrification, hipsters, USC, Hollywood, the 1992 riots, immigration and more into the Greek tale, making it a truly unique story of L.A. in all of its complicated facets.

The bold ambition of this project is commendable; however, there is still a lot of developing, refining and fine-tuning that needs to be done. At times the audience participation feels clunky and forced, which takes you out of the experience. It would be nice to have the participation come more organically from the story - which also needs more fleshing out. Since it is such a condensed adaptation, we never really get the expansive and exhaustive arch of Odysseus's journey home.

Overall, the ensemble is engaging, energetic and enchanting. As we move from place to place on our journey, they create a tribal soundscape, interweaving voices - something that could be developed with more specificity to the story.

There's also some inventive and playful staging. The ensemble want to make sure that we all feel safe and comfortable on this journey together, thus the use of humor in the beginning (and throughout) works well in getting the audience primed to partake of the wine (both metaphorically and literally). 

Since this piece was developed with cycling as part of the experience, I will definitely try the troupe's cycling shows in the future and look forward to seeing how the project continues to develop. - Ashley Steed

Schkapf, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., Sat., June 14, 1 p.m., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1870. Also performed via bike ride on Sat., June 21, 6 p.m., for free, meeting at Metro Orange Line Sepulveda Station (15430-15432 W. Erwin St., Van Nuys). Call (323) 509-4905 for info. 

click to enlarge Robert Homer Mollohan as Orlandoin The Conduct of Life - PHOTO: KATE HAGERTY
  • Photo: Kate Hagerty
  • Robert Homer Mollohan as Orlandoin The Conduct of Life

GO The Conduct of Life
Through June 28

In an unidentified country, ambitious military officer Orlando (Robert Homer Mollohan) wants to "achieve maximum power." His sensitive wife Leticia (Karina Wolfe) wants to "be a woman who speaks in a group and have everybody listen." But she won't stand up to him, even once she becomes aware of Nena (Emily Yetter), the young girl that Orlando keeps and rapes in the basement.

Orlando's colleague Alejo (Jeremy Mascia) impotently wonders if "anybody can change anything." He, too, fails to speak up against the torture he and Orlando perpetrate against the government's enemies. It is finally Orlando and Leticia's maid Olimpia (Belinda Gosbee) who even attempts to stand up to Orlando and protect Nena. Yet even she only has limited success in doing either.

Maria Irene Fornes' Obie award-winning 1985 play about cruelty and power remains as resonant today as when it was written. Despite the tiny space and less-than-ideal use of work lights, director Sabina Ptasznik stages the piece with a ferocity and nuance that communicates both the horror of violence and our tacit acceptance of it. Mollohan radiates Orlando's rage (even if not his pain), Wolfe skillfully balances Leticia's cool exterior and her petrifying insecurity, and Yetter's portrayal of Nena's innocence is heartbreaking.  - Mayank Keshaviah

The Vagrancy at Theater Asylum (Asylum Lab), 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1593

GO Death by Powerpoint
Through June 29

There are no actual deaths in this sly and clever satire by playwright-director James F. Robinson, but one character experiences near-death.

Four motivational speakers are finalists in the National Global Influencers contest. Lucy (Scarlet Bermingham) begins by telling us they're here to destroy all our most cherished beliefs. She tells us the secret of success is to ignore depressing facts and to practice self-delusion: Just tell yourself, "You are freakin' Awesome." Mark (Eric Pierce) assures us that the way to achieve the Inevitability of Cosmic Bliss is to concentrate on the pushed-in face of an endearing pug-dog. Joan (Emilly Thomas) is so distracted by her chocolate addiction that she loses track of her message, crying out, "My free will was roofied and raped by a Reeces Peanut Butter Cup."

Matthew insists that we are less concerned with the crimes of Stalin and Hitler than with getting laid, and direct action is futile, since all real change occurs sideways. He then goes on to perform a bit of grand-standing, to impress the contest judges, that nearly does him in.

The script is scatter-shot but funny, and the actors are sharp and stylish. - Neal Weaver

ZapPictures at Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa
 Ave., hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1624

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