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