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Theater Reviews: Hollywood Fringe Festival

Burton

[EDITOR’S NOTE]: To maximize coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Back Stage and L.A. Weekly have joined forces this week, with a pact to avoid both papers covering the same shows. This week, the publications have combined efforts to review 44 performances. All of those reviews can be found at both laweekly.com/theater and backstage.com. Some of Back Stage’s reviews appear below, and some of L.A. Weekly’s reviews can be found in this week’s issue of Back Stage. Thanks to Back Stage Executive Editor Dany Margolies for her efforts on behalf of our city’s theater. For schedule information, contact hollywoodfringe.org. —S.L.M.

GO  BACK TO BABYLON In this self-crafted solo show, Gregg Tomé starts and ends as a man who refuses to attend his 10-year high school reunion but then spends his increasingly inebriated evening recalling many of his friends. The framing device might not involve us enough, nor does the actor’s continual disappearance backstage to briefly prepare each character (Tomé is self-directed). But his characters are spectacular and inspire awe each time a new one appears onstage. Tomé skillfully uses costuming and physicality, but his face, particularly his remarkably malleable mouth, memorably sells each new persona, in these cautionary but never preachy tales. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., June 23, 8:15 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 6 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 11:45 a.m. (866) 811-4111. (Dany Margolies/courtesy of Back Stage)

BACK TO YOU, A DEAR JOHN (MAYER) LETTER Writer, director and featured performer Brianne Hogan takes aim at the cult of celebrity in this callow comedy that reimagines the private life of musician and tabloid personality John Mayer. Fed up with messing around, the fictive Mayer (Martin Lindquist) seeks his first love, Rihanna (Hogan), hoping to start afresh. The lady’s not interested, but  two of her star-smitten friends (Carla Lopez and Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) try to exploit the connection to further their own careers. Comeuppance tales can be satisfying and fun, but this effort needs extensive revamping: restructuring the repetitious script, fleshing out the clichéd characters and importing strong, outside direction to punch the performances into shape. Comedy Sportz, 733 Seward St., Hlywd. Closed. (Deborah Klugman/L.A. Weekly)

GO  THE BAD ARM: CONFESSIONS OF A DODGY IRISH DANCER Trained as an Irish dancer, Máire Clerkin is also a gifted writer-actor, whose tales (directed by Dan O'Connor) of growing up the imperfect daughter of a perfectionist dance teacher touch the underappreciated in all of us. That wayward bent elbow kept young Máire from winning dance competitions, but as she grew up she put the arm to use swilling beer and sucking cigarettes. All's well at the show's end, as Clerkin shows off her dance chops during her fast-forward recap of those tales, while we realize the fleeting nature of all our pain and all our triumph. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri., June 25, 5:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 2:30 and 7 p.m. (866) 811-4111. maireclerkin.com. (Dany Margolies/courtesy of Back Stage)

BETTY  Having spent a summer in my teens touring with Betty Hutton in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I might be a harder critic to win over than most, yet writer Shelby Bond’s crafty concept did the trick, with Hutton (Kellydawn Malloy) discussing her life and mercurial career with the audience as a press corps. Equipped with subjects to broach, each answer concluding with a song by the troubled star Bob Hope dubbed a “vitamin pill with legs,” Malloy has perfected Hutton’s signature squinty smile, although the alternate wide-eyed look of feigned surprise needs practice — right after she loses the cheat sheet taped to the dressing-room tabletop — if the show continues to be explored. Lone Star Laurels at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Sat., June 19, 1 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 5:30 p.m.; Mon.-Tue., June 21-22, 7 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 4 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Travis Michael Holder/courtesy of Back Stage)

BONNIE IN BRIGHTON There isn't a program to explain if the series of parental-nightmare escapades experienced by a recent college graduate from Texas, hiding behind her alter ego "Bonnie" while living a crazed year's existence on the British seaside, are based on Erin Parks' real-life adventures — and the script credited to Guy Picot helps keep the authenticity of the piece a mystery. Either way, the staging here is continuously clever, and Parks is an infectious performer who successfully drags us along into her adopted world of drug-smuggling and fleeting romances, making us lose our inhibitions and innocence right along with her. Wasif Productions at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; CLOSED. (866) 811-4111. (Travis Michael Holder/courtesy of Back Stage)

GO  THE BRITISH INVASION features a series of stand-up comedians from Britain at IDA on Hollywood Boulevard. I caught the duo of Simon Feilder and Sy Thomas in their act, Life of Si, like a British reincarnation of the Smothers Brothers — amiable, eccentric, self-deprecating and squabbling like children over issues of profound import, such as what lines were actually said in James Bond flicks, and whether or not there's time to get the entire audience a cup of tea. It's an act of delightfully nutty repartee, and is gently mocking of stand-up comedy conventions. One plays a heckler with strategically witless insults. I particularly liked an opening video sequence in which the duo tried to pass off what was obviously London for L.A. — "city of angles." Standing in front of the Houses of Parliament, they thrilled at finally being at L.A.'s "city hall," and showing a MacDonald's logo upside down, they veritably gloated at relaxing at the "W" hotel, "here on Hollywood Boulevard!" IDA Hollywood, 6755 Hollywood Blvd.; through June 27. hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/200. (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly

 

GO  BROWNSVILLE BRED "Written, performed and lived" by Elaine Del Valle. With fashion-model beauty and a smile that can melt iron, Puerto Rican Del Valle tells a mostly affectionate tale of living in and breaking out of the Brooklyn housing projects where she grew up. She mocks her own smile when, in trouble, she grins maniacally. She tells a generic saga of triumph over impediments of family trauma, drug addiction, illness and would-be rapists, with her infectious charm that washes away the shortcomings of the script. She has a squeaky voice that can also become tinged with a growl, hinting at the ferocity mingled with the sweetness of her portrayal. We're made up of mostly water, she says, and the liquid looks so clean. Like us, however, it's not necessarily as it appears. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; June 23, 6 p.m.; June 26 2:15p.m.; June 27, noon. (323) 856-8611 (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly)

GO  BURTON In his 75-minute solo drama, Welsh actor Rhodri Miles delivers a brilliant and gripping full-length portrait of fellow Welshman, actor and movie star Richard Burton. Script-writer Gwynne Edwards, director Hugh Thomas and Miles meld their talents in a bitter and funny warts-and-all biography that traces Burton's life from cradle almost to grave, with pithy accounts of his love affairs with Claire Bloom and Susan Strasberg, his tempestuous marriages to Elizabeth Taylor, and his love-hate relationship with acting (he preferred playing rugby). Miles meticulously captures Burton's savage wit, his love of language and his guilt-ridden, self-destructive alcoholism. Various venues. hollywoodfringe.com/project/view/26. (Neal Weaver/L.A. Weekly)

GO  BYE-BYE, BOMBAY The allegory of a raindrop seeking a puddle to land in anchors what starts as a marionette show in Bye-Bye, Bombay, Cara Yeates’ solo show about defying her Indo-Canadian mother by visiting, and reliving, her mom’s Bollywood experiences in Bombay. Ably supported by Cameron Avery’s video design and Sylvan Sailly’s animation, the saga tells of a surreal descent into a world of incomprehensible poverty, cruelty and transcendent mysticism. A capable performance about forging an identity. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; through June 26. ­hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/191 (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly)

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? The DMV waiting room provides the comic fodder for playwright Phoebe Neidhardt's workmanlike series of character portraits of the denizens and customers at the government office where the author has gone to get a new license photo. The problem is that the real wackos waiting in line at the DMV are inevitably more interesting and engaging than these generic denizens of the government office. Neidhardt depicts the prissy gay DMV license photographer, a hard-boiled female casting agent (with a yeast infection), a child's nanny (who inexplicably talks like Holly Hunter) and a cheerful Latino desk clerk. While the actress is commendably versatile, the characterizations lack the context and dramatic heft to emerge as anything more than the briefest of routine snapshots. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; June 26, 8 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/161. (Paul Birchall/L.A. Weekly)

CHRISTMAS IN BAKERSFIELD Les Kurkendaal's solo performance tells of his visit to his boyfriend's family in "California's armpit," at their Bakersfield manse. They knew their son was gay but he'd neglected to tell them that his lover was black. And in a slightly mannered style that stresses clarity over mystery, Kurkendaal proffers a compendium of bigotry and homophobia, through which Kurkendaal is still able to win them over — even terrifying "Grandma," whose very name sparks alarming noises over the sound system. It's a sweet tale that aims to cut to the humanity of bigots and homophobes. Forgive them, Lord. They know not what they do. ComedySportz L.A. Studio Theater, 733 Seward Ave., Hollywood. hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/57 (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly)

THE DEADLY SIN BINGO SHOW Performing a show dependent on audience participation for an audience of fewer than 10 can be disheartening. But that’s nothing compared to performing that show on the night of the Lakers’ NBA Finals Championship win while L.A. morphs into a rowdy block party. To its credit, the cast — the holy trinity of Catholic humor — a priest and two nuns (Jon Marco, Jenni Lamb and Lisa Merkin) keep a snappy pace despite the honking horns and rebel yells rising from Hollywood Boulevard. Even with Marco’s funny riffs on calling letters — “B” becomes “bordello,” “O” becomes “overeat” — this is still just a bingo game, and without a few drinks and your most fun friends, it feels like a promised date with your grandmother. Various locations; visit hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/18, (312) 420-1352. (Rebecca Haithcoat/L.A. Weekly)

 

DEICIDE: A SORTA MUSICAL If you’ve ever yearned for a feel-good musical about Holy Wars and the end of civilization, this is it. Sorta. Writers Michael Ciriaco (book) and Brandon Baruch (book, music and lyrics) have a shamelessly good time bashing the big business of God and humanity’s desperate need for deities, in whatever shape or form, as does the appealing cast of their goofball, scrappily ambitious — albeit overlong — musical romp. Like any good religious tale, it’s filled with sex, violence and cool costumes (Laura Wong). Baruch directs with attention to cardboard-cutout detail (Gabriel Flores’ design), and standout performances keep us laughing, even as the premise is stretched thinner and sillier. Murky Productions at the Paul G. Gleason Theatre, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Tues.-Wed., June 22-23, 9 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 5 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Jennie Webb/courtesy of Back Stage)

GO  DELILAH DIX AND HER BAG OF TRICKS Part stand-up and part cabaret, this character-driven hour of outrageously maniacal chaos is the brainchild of performer Amy Albert. Delilah, supposedly the elder sister of the Olsen twins, is a foulmouthed, washed-up, celebrity name–dropping, D-level Hollywood wannabe for whom nothing is inappropriate. As her alter ego swigs Scope and rubbing alcohol, Albert demonstrates spot-on comic timing, an obviously well-trained singing instrument, and the ability to roll with whatever happens. Given the wasteland of TV-sketch comedy, here’s hoping her talents are discovered by someone soon. ETC Productions LLC at the Second City Studio Theatre, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Mon., June 21, 7 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Dink O’Neal/courtesy of Back Stage)

GO  ECDYSIS, A DANCE PERFORMANCE Ecdysis means to molt, or shed one's skin. Written by Homa Dashtaki and set to music by composer and musician Solitari, this beguiling dance piece celebrates womanhood as it relays one individual's transition from jejune youth to weathered maturity. The collaborative program consists of seven solo segments, executed by seven dancers, that shift in mood and intensity, from Aling Zhang's blithe opening to Tanya Beatty's final forceful denouement, which embraces everything that's gone before. Dancer Lennon Hobson's movement speaks to aspiration, and Kami Rockett's to defiant self-assertion. Most memorable is Dale Shieh, in a vivid portrayal of erotic yearning and meteoric passion. IDA Hollywood, 6755 Hollywood Blvd. 2nd Floor, Fri., 9:30 p.m.; Sat., 8:30 p.m. hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/222 (Deborah Klugman/L.A. Weekly)

GO  ECO-FRIENDLY JIHAD Irish comedian/social satirist Abie Philbin Bowman is supercasual, but his jokes come thick and fast. With his rapid-fire delivery, wit and taste for paradox, he calls to mind both Swift’s Modest Proposal and Robin Williams’ riffing genie in Aladdin. He observes that while the U.S. delivers its lethal power via huge, expensive transport planes, al-Qaeda operatives carry theirs on foot, so obviously the jihadists create a smaller carbon footprint. Bowman’s material is so rich that occasionally one suffers psychic overload: I sometimes missed joke no. 4 because I was still pondering nos. 1, 2 and 3. Various venues, hollywoodfringe.org/learn/content/247. (Neal Weaver/L.A. Weekly)

ELEVATOR One might expect seven strangers trapped in an elevator for nine hours to begin their ordeal with an attempt at reserved civility and end it tearing out each other’s throats. Not playwright-director Michael Leoni. In the muddled logic of his implausible claustrophobia comedy, the close confines become a de facto confessional, as his initially icy, urban archetypes quickly melt and begin spouting deeply personal truths that would take the average neurotic years to work up to in psychotherapy. Pedestrian dialogue, non sequitur psychology and a slack staging defeat a valiant ensemble in an interminable 90 minutes; the Marx Brothers did it much funnier in less than three. Hudson Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 27. (866) 811-4111. (Bill Raden/L.A. Weekly)

ESCALATOR HILL Though they’re from Echo Park, this five-piece outfit sounds like the band with a standing Thursday-night summertime gig on the back porch of a fraternity bar in a college town. Violinist Nancy Kuo plays a sweet sadness that curls pleasantly around Ryan Ross’ gospel-tinged piano, and lead singer Tony Benedetti is awfully earnest, if a little tone-deaf. Save for a few glimmering melodies, the show was like a summer fling.  You know it happened, but in such a bourbon-soaked, humidity-stoked blur, all you recall is a fine haze. Paul Gleason Theater. CLOSED (Rebecca Haithcoat/L.A. Weekly)

 

GO  EURIPIDES' MEDEA Coups de théâtre abound in this haunting adaptation from wunderkind director Michael Burke and his Indianapolis-based paperStrangers Performance Group. Burke, who also choreographs and designs the show's brilliantly inventive feathered costumes, set pieces, video projections and lighting, pares Euripides' text to its brutal, psychic core. Melissa Fenton's sympathetic Medea is a tour de force of blistering anguish and unbridled rage spilling into infanticidal madness. Kellen York's aloof Jason is the emotionally detached bastard who done her wrong. An eerie, wraithlike chorus externalizes inner demons in ritualistic dance. And Burke's breathtakingly theatrical denouement is not to be missed. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through June 27. (866) 811-4111. (Bill Raden/L.A. Weekly)

GO  THE EVENT Starting as an objective narration of the relationship between the actor and the audience, this solo show slips quietly from theater and the specific to life and the universal, doing so with dignity but without pretension. Written by John Clancy, directed by Ian Forester and starring the mesmerizing Paul Dillon, this production is destined for the status of a classic — if you tolerate Beckett and the like. Though the character refers to himself as The Man and the audience as The Strangers, he binds us to him as we reverently watch without breathing, fascinated and ultimately awash in emotion. Needtheater at the Paul G. Gleason Theatre, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., June 24-27, 7:30 p.m. (323) 795-2215). (Dany Margolies/courtesy of Back Stage)

FEELING SORRY FOR ROMAN POLANSKI Chicago import Sideway Theater and Taco Dog Productions' production of Sue Cargill's amusing comedy about victims and the people who love them. Amid kitchen banter between a gossipy wife, Myrna (Danielle Finnk), and her forlorn husband, Bink (Michael Whitney), Bink reveals how his energetic performance of singing a telegram in a gorilla suit induced a fatal seizure in the almost-90-year-old recipient of his entertainment. As Bink faces the loss of his job and some guilt, even his own wife starts to subtly blame him. She's incapable of not siding with victims; this includes an impassioned and slightly goofy defense of her favorite director, Roman Polanski, attributing his alleged molestation of a 13-year-old girl to his harrowing upbringing during the Holocaust, and the trauma of the Sharon Tate murders. The droll humor spins in circles for a bit too long under Michael A. Stock's direction, until Bink chooses to visit the deceased woman's nephew (Joel Grady), her only living relative, at her funeral. "I've decided not to sue you or your company," is supposed to be good news from the nephew, leading instead to Bink's questioning the nephew as to why, exactly, he chose to hire a guy in a gorilla suit to deliver a greeting to a woman so obviously frail — a totally reasonable question that shifts responsibility back to where it would belong in a rational world. But Cargill's world, in her intriguing play with competent performances, is far from rational. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; through June 27. hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/108 (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly)

GO  55 MINUTES OF SEX, DRUGS, AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION  Howard Lieberman and Loren Niemi’s storytelling tour de force plants its tent pole deep in the territory of 1970s mythos, with the two men improvising earthy tales that are hilarious yet strangely melancholy. Some of the anecdotes undeniably hint at a nostalgia for a freer, hippie past — of the four stories the two men unspooled, three described incidents involving sex-and-LSD drenched communes. Of the pair, Niemi, a craggy-faced, ponytail caparisoned character actor, tells more deeply introspective stories about drug use and an innocent romance, while Lieberman assays the persona of a neurotic Jewish intellectual as he describes his first (near) homosexual experience and his loss of virginity to a beautiful she-hippie. These two are fascinating performers who manage to whip up a theatrical experience from little more than their mouths and imaginations.  ComedySportzLA, Ballroom Studio Theatre, 733 Seward St., Hlywd.; June 22-27, hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/54 (Paul Birchall/L.A. Weekly)

GO  4 CLOWNS Here be four clowns — Sad Clown (Alexis Jones), Angry Clown (Kevin Klein), Nervous Clown (Amir Levi) and Mischievous Clown (Quincy Newton) — and as an announcer intones, they've lived, died and resurrected, never changing, since "Before the earth trespassed across the sky." Odd, then, that creator Jeremy Aluma shows us the terrestrial agonies that shaped them: bad moms, torturing older brothers, horny school teachers. It's clown catharsis as each directs the rest to reenact their childhood, adolescence, adulthood and death in scenes that are skilled and true. Aluma may be saying that human pain is at once particular and universal; what's certain is his cast is gifted, including musical director Ellen Warkentine as the one-woman orchestra in the wings. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd. An Alive Theatre production. hollywoodfringe.org/learn/content/257 (Amy Nicholson/L.A. Weekly)

 

THE FUNERAL CRASHER From a grandma taking pictures at funerals and saving the photos in the family Bible to a military funeral at sea, which finds the coffin bobbing back up as the mourners look on, writer-performer Stacy Mayer’s concept of collecting funeral stories from friends as she mines the field of dark comedy is clever. Vivacious and bubbly, Mayer’s delivery is well-suited to stand-up comedy, but her material is slight and oddly cobbled together. Director Kimmy Gatewood’s penchant for moving chairs and stools around further fragments the narrative. The stories need TLC. Presented by MC2 Productions and Green Room at ComedySportz LA, 733 Seward St., Hlywd.; Sun., June 20, 7 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 3 p.m.; Tue., June 22, 7 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 3 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 5 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Melinda Schupmann/courtesy of Back Stage)

GO  I LAUGHED SO HARD I CRIED  As you might expect from a comic who dubs himself “the Goth Comedian,” Mark White tells jokes that edge toward the darker and more disturbed side of the spectrum. Yet, you need not be afraid that the Goth Jokester will come onstage, bite the head off a bat, and then tell that tired gag about the two peanuts walking down the street. Fortunately, it turns out that White is a first-rate comedian who just happens to have a goth persona. Some of White’s material is amusing  — most particularly jokes about his unique childhood masturbation technique (“Assume the paratrooper position!”) and his parents’ sagging tattoos (“I have seen the future of tattoos, and they’re not pretty!”). Even given White’s costume trappings of ghoulish lipstick, mascara and a seersucker suit, the Goth Comedian’s routine is fresh and unexpectedly touching. In spite of his attempts to portray himself as a freak, he ultimately comes across as a sweet, oddly vulnerable fellow whose makeup belies an unexpected romantic streak. Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd. CLOSED. (Paul Birchall/L.A. Weekly)

INVISIBLE The art of self-deprecation is beating the critic to the criticism in order to sidestep public embarrassment. Twenty-four-year-old writer-actor Anya Warburg takes that art to an audacious new level by trying to wring humor from the dilemma of being too young, too white, too “normal” and having lived too sheltered a life to be a compelling stage artist. Unfortunately her show supports that thesis with less than stellar results. Despite a sweet onstage presence and several mildly amusing anecdotes, there just isn’t enough insight, incident or energy here to power a 70-minute performance. Director Debra de Liso deals Warburg a disservice by even allowing this out of the workshop. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd. CLOSED. (Bill Raden/L.A. Weekly)

GO  KILL YOUR TELEVISION Writer-performer Jeff Gardner's dialogue-free solo comedy packs a wealth of trenchant pop-culture satire and technical wizardry into a lightning-paced 40 minutes. A send-up of couch-potato addicts and the pitfalls of leading lives enslaved by the tube, the piece demonstrates what happens when the power of the airwaves takes over the life of an obsessive watcher. Gardner's ingenious physical shtick and rubber face bespeak volumes about his socially isolated character. There are terrific lighting effects, and the smashing sound track is punctuated with iconic sounds of commercials and shows, contemporary and historical. Vicky Silva's slam-bang direction seals the deal in Gardner's brilliant tour de force. Quantum Theatre at Elephant Stages, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood. Sat., June 19, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 3:30 and 7 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 2 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Les Spindle/courtesy of Back Stage)

L.A. LIGHTS FIRE With elements of humor and crude carnality, Joe Calarco portrays 12 men, as a fire rages in the Hollywood Hills. Inspired by recent L.A. conflagrations, Eric Czuleger has written a tightly structured series of monologues, giving Calarco the opportunity to become such characters as a firefighter, an aging skater-dude, an agent, an actor and an evangelistic preacher, to name a few. Directed by Czuleger, Calarco delivers emotional heft to the characterizations and makes the philosophical underpinnings of the story plausible. Though the production could use editing, aided by Calarco's inventive sound effects, it is memorable. Coeurage Theatre Company at ComedySportz L.A., 733 N. Seward St., Hollywood; CLOSED (Melinda Schupmann/courtesy of Back Stage)

LOST MOON RADIO, EPISODE 6 A too-rare theater occurrence, this latest episode of a serialized variety show that's been appearing every few months at Los Angeles clubs is funny and intelligent. A somewhat hipper "A Prairie Home Companion," this hourlong faux radio show, hosted by Jupiter Jack (Matt McKenna), features ridiculous commercials, sketches, and callers, all performed by a cast of five and a live band. This episode, an early Fourth of July celebration, features hilarious takes on Americana, most memorably scenes from a forever-bickering Lewis and Clark during the pair's famed expedition, and a doo-wop song sung by a racist in the 1950s. Lost Moon Radio at Fringe Central Theatre of Arts, 1625 N. Las Palmas, L.A. Fri., June 18, 9:30 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., June 23-24, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 25, 11 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 4:30 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Jeff Favre/courtesy of Back Stage)

 

LOVE & SEX IN THE EARTH'S SPIN CYCLE One of the keys to successful dating, explains writer-performer Lambeth Sterling, is to look for "the less fucked." Directed by David Ford, Sterling's rather random musings on her misdirected life course after growing up in the South — "the buckle of the Bible Belt" — begin with a clever, spreadsheet-ready breakdown of proper mate selection. The advice is heavily influenced by 12-step programs, therapists, and spiritual gurus. But the smart, surprising writing that occasionally pops out in the meandering story that follows never quite hits its mark. And as a performer, the quirky Sterling often seems more lost in her own material than we are. Various venues; through June 27, (866) 811-4111. (Jennie Webb/courtesy of Back Stage)

LOVE HAS NO GENDER Pacoima-based The Unusual Suspects presents Love Has No Gender, written and performed by local youth, with guidance from adult artists, in a program supported by El Nido Family Centers and the office of City Councilman Richard Alarcón. The place is packed with parents and friends, if the venue's 40-some seats warrants the adverb packed. They've performed this show before in a 500-seat high school gymnasium, they said in a post-perf discussion. But here in intimate confines, they can be heard. In the story, two Latino families grapple with issues of immigration, drug abuse and daughters who are a little too close for their families' comfort, but things work out in the end. The acting is remedial and it doesn't matter a jot. What matters is the post-play confession of sweet Sandra Gonzalez, who played one of the leads, that — midsentence she teared up — "everyone here is so friendly." Theatre of NOTE. CLOSED (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly)

HIS MINUTE HAND In writer/director Stephen Kaliski’s play, officers Rip (Lloyd Mulvey) and Charles (Christopher Salazar) are bound to uphold a law that demands women remain confined indoors because of “the war” outside. However, their pregnant wives, Hilda (Rebecca Newman) and Penelope (Nancy Noto), have cabin fever, so Charles decides to bend the rules. The ensuing nonlinear collection of scenes, unfortunately, is like a shower with an erratic water heater. Sometimes the volcanic plumes of anger scald you, while at other times the disconnected dialogue leaves you cold. Mostly, the action is lukewarm and confusing, or as Charles says, “like pouring vinegar on waffles.” The Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through June 27. (866) 811-4111. A Green Room Presents Production. (Mayank Keshaviah/L.A. Weekly)

MISSION OF FLOWERS Australian actor Leof Kingsford-Smith's solo performance of Gerry Greenland's biographical drama is based on the life and diary of English-Australian aviator Bill Lancaster. Alan Walpole's set creates a kind of cart carved from the imagined wreckage of Lancaster's plane that's crashed in the Sahara in 1933. And there's that image of water once more as the essence of what we are. Lancaster sits preserving energy, and crossing off chalk lines on a water canteen as day after day ticks by, with flickering and then fading hope that his flares will be noticed by nearby pilots. The play is a fever-dream as Lancaster awaits rescue. For a fever, however, it sure is a straightforward and rational account of the guy's memories, including his affair with a flame — female aviator Chubby Miller — for whom Lancaster divorced his wife. A mutual American friend then struck up a romance with Chubby and issues of betrayal, murder and/or suicide percolate. Kingsford-Smith gives a tenderly rendered portrayal of haughty adventurer who runs out of adventures, under Damien Lay's direction. When he smacks his lips, you can feel that blistering Sahara heat. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; through June 27. hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/106 (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly)

GO  THE MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN IN AMERICA: (MACHINE GUNS, COAL DUST, AND THE MAKING OF THE AMERICAN DREAM) Eighty years after her death, Mother Jones’ howl for safe mines and responsible corporations still echoes. Therese Diekhans’ hell-raising one-woman show captures the lioness shaming a field of miners about needing an 83-year-old woman to fight their fight (in fairness, she lied about her age). Playwright David Christie isn’t interested in biography; this is a snapshot of a firebrand and the climate that forged her, and under Carol Roscoe’s direction, the actress shifts wonderfully between 15 characters, including a grandstanding John D. Rockefeller Jr., who pontificates to workers that if they can’t afford to feed their families, “Your children should not have been born.” Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; hollywoodfringe.org/project/view/97. (Amy Nicholson/L.A. Weekly)

 

THE PACKER Take away the geographical and cultural specifics and remove the heavy Australasian accents, and Dianna Fuemana’s gritty solo show starring Jay Ryan and directed by Jeremy Lindsay Taylor could easily take place in any American setting. That’s because what drives Fuemana’s dozen or so characters are universal human desires that run smack into harsh realities. Expertly played by Ryan, who seamlessly transitions from the protagonist, Shane, to his alcoholic mother and to a variety of West Auckland inhabitants, this production in one hour offers a complex slice of life without moralizing or judging. Taylor sets a lightning pace from the opening lines and drives the story full speed until its satisfying conclusion. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Tue., June 22, 8 p.m.; Thur., June 24, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 2 p.m. (323) 956-8611. (Jeff Favre/courtesy of Back Stage)

PINK CHAMPAGNE Writer-performer Dylan Jones heads an offbeat musical entertainment, supported by four able dancer-singers (Jay Willick, Addison Witt, Tara Norris, Kaiti Tronnes), under Aryiel Hartman’s direction. Jones is superior to her acid-trip material, which suggests a cross between On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Lady in the Dark. When diva entertainer Mathilde (Jones) admits to a crisis of confidence, she undergoes past life–regression therapy to find herself, experiencing a series of bizarre misadventures. The songs are primarily lifted from classic Broadway shows. The rewritten lyrics are awkwardly imposed, and the songs seldom fit their contexts or work as parodies. Presented by Freakstar Entertainment at the Elephant Stages, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Sat., June 19, 2 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 9:30 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 3:30 p.m. (866) 811-4111. (Les Spindle/courtesy of Back Stage)

THE STORIES OF CÉSAR CHÁVEZ Writer/director Fred Blanco’s heartfelt if hagiographic, one-man show about the late civil rights leader, labor organizer and United Farm Workers founder seeks to put a human face on the enigmatic and provocative Hispanic messiah. Through multiple characters and perspectives, Blanco charts Chávez’s rise from his childhood as a California migrant worker, through his zoot-suited teens as a barrio tough, to the discovery of books and learning, which culminated with his conversion to the cause of economic justice. While Blanco is an affecting performer, this life in brief revels in the triumphs but avoids the controversies that might have lent complexity to his blemish-free portrait. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 10 a.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; through June 26. (866) 811-4111. (Bill Raden/L.A. Weekly)

GO  THAT’S FUNNY. YOU DIDN’T SOUND BLACK ON THE PHONE African-American actress Jacquetta Szathmari explains that for many years she had “given up on being black,” not out of any internalized racism but because she had always disapproved of the narrow definition of behavior imposed on her by the outside community. In her cracklingly smart, funny, philosophical and often politically incorrect monologue, Szathmari describes growing up in an isolated, hardscrabble rural Maryland community, where she always dreamed of finding class and culture — it’s not that she didn’t want to be black, she wanted to be upper class and live the life exemplified by a copy of The Official Preppy Handbook she purchased at a library bookstore. Thoughtful, introspective and sweetly intimate, Szathmari’s solo show offers a great deal to ponder, as it presents a genuine, unapologetic nonconformist on her own journey of self-discovery. Various locations, hollywoodfringe.org/learn/content/268. (Paul Birchall/L.A. Weekly)

GO  THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID This lesbian-themed, cabaret-style piece, featuring the abundant talents of vocalist Amy Turner and keyboardist-singer Kathryn Lounsbery, is first-rate fun. Their original numbers ("Lesbian Cliché Song," "Fanny Pack Lover," "U-Haul Rap," etc.) and comedic rapport are charmingly witty. Though occasionally a bit "inside" with the countless sexual/genitalia references, the duo's output is remarkably diverse in style. Highlights include a send-up called "H.M. Lez Pinafore," "You Can't Spell Pussy Without US," a country & western piece whose title adorns the pair's T-shirts, and "Why Is My Right Wrong?" a requisite yet touching anti–Proposition 8 ballad. All in all, these ladies offer something for everyone. Los Angeles Women's Theatre Project at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; through July 16. (818) 471-9100. (Dink O'Neal/courtesy of Back Stage)

GO  T-O-T-A-L-L-Y! In Kimleigh Smith's one-person show, she portrays herself as a 17-year-old virgin, an ingratiating cheerleader who speaks in Valley-girl cadences where every sentence is peppered with "totally." She endures a gang rape and the eventual recovery of her sexuality that got shut down after the attack. This is the formula for what could have been the worst one-woman show ever seen; it's actually among the best, thanks entirely to Smith's superhuman vivacity, her blistering sense of humor, in which, with considerable physical heft, she performs those ridiculous high school cheers in a teensy, revealing skirt with a mania that crosses deep into mockery. She is without shame, and she's earned that right. There's not a trace of self-pity; rather, superhero determination. And when she details her technique for seducing a lover, the result is one of the most erotic and funny scenes you're going to find on any stage, anywhere. Paula Killen directs, and obviously knows exactly what she's doing. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri., June 25, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 4:15 p.m.; Sun., June 27, 4:15 p.m. (323) 856-8611. (Steven Leigh Morris/L.A. Weekly

 

TRUE WEST GIRL "There were good times too. It wasn't all incest and booze." While this is true, Barbara Lee Bragg's solo show is akin to being accosted by a passionate PETA activist and spending an hour with her: You believe in the cause, there's genuine emotion behind her claims, but the unchecked gusher of words and imagery spewing at you is a little hard to take. Bragg's source material is gold, especially her stint as a youth coordinator for Dick Cheney in the 1970s, but she and director Deborah De Liso could stand to tame the Wild West a bit in order to make the experience less overwhelming. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Sat., 5 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through June 26. (866) 811-4111. A White Hawk Productions Production. (Mayank Keshaviah/L.A. Weekly)

GO  UNBUTTONED At the end of Andreas Beckett’s musical solo show, from backstage he reemerges sporting a Bavarian alpine hat, and then dons a baseball cap as he sings “God Bless America.” It’s a fitting finale to this whirlwind tour of a life that started in a farming community at the foot of the Bavarian Alps and wound up in America steeped in show business. Beckett spends a lot of time discussing numerous romantic escapades, which aren’t always interesting, but he makes up for that with crackling spontaneity and humor. He can sing — really well — and receives splendid piano accompaniment by Mikael Oganesian. Mitzie Welch directs. Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Mon, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through. June 27. (Lovell Estell III/L.A. Weekly)  

GO  THE WASTELAND Nothing is simple about T.S. Eliot’s seminal modernist poem, and co-directors Hilario Saavedra, Jason Bonduris, Celeste Den, Tane Kawasaki and Carla Nassy use it as inspiration for a provocative performance piece. The troupe employs dance, spoken word and simple objects (lights, glasses) and the beating of a drum to create stark images while reciting sections of the poem. Themes of death, infirmity and impotence are common throughout, which Saavedra and his darkly clad actors capture with subtle force. The section titled “Death By Water,” is especially powerful, where a flurry of balloons, representing water drops, is unleashed onstage. Theatre Asylum Lab, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues. 2:30, Wed., 7 p.m.; Sat., 1 & 10:30 p.m.; through June 26. (Lovell Estell III/ L.A. Weekly)


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