Week One of the 2011 Hollywood Fringe Festival has provided a banquet of edgy, independent theatre, embryonic musicals and an abundance of easy-to-stage solo shows. Here are some short reviews of the shows I”™ve seen so far.
Reviews by Pauline Adamek
Five Uneasy Pieces.
Todd Waring”™s remarkable self-written solo show features some jazzy live accompaniment on double bass from Lyman Medeiros. Five Uneasy Pieces is actually six monolgues and they unfold much like an actor”™s show reel, in that they show off this talented, middle-aged actor”™s mastery of a diverse range of accents and unexpected characters. The unpredictable subject matter of his short pieces impresses as each turns sinister or emotional, keeping you intrigued throughout. The characters Waring portrays range from a crotchety old black woman, perfectly capturing her quaint Southern intonations, to a jovial Australian art instructor (here his broad Aussie accent is passable though not flawless) whose simmering rage inadvertently surfaces in an art class. Another character is a heavy-drinking, upper class British caretaker who can”™t help imparting inappropriate bedtime stories to his tiny charge. Then there”™s the hostile, murderous and foul-mouthed street gangster who is wrestling with his macho image and his sexual orientation, followed by a tough talking special ops Sergeant who goes rogue while under radio instructions to plan a raid in Afghanistan. Disappointingly, the last piece that presents a smarmy folk singer (shades of Jacques Brel) that amusingly gibbers nonsensical French doesn”™t quite fit in with the others, but the audience seemed to enjoy a comedy offering after five dark-themed monologues. Waring”™s writing is strong and captivating.
The Normal Child.
A homegrown product of the fine LA-based theatre company, Open Fist, Philip Brocks”™ play The Normal Child is an intriguing one. As you enter the space, you are confronted by a startling sight – a woman sitting on a chair, each leg of the chair balanced upon the top of a whiskey flagon, each flagon precariously balanced upon a stack of books. Meanwhile, some ambient music by Brian Eno ethereally wafts through the dimly lit theatre, enhancing the surrealist spectacle. Brocks”™ two-hander play is set in rural Louisiana, with voices occasionally representing menacing Southern characters offstage. Brocks presents a dialogue between a habitually suicidal young woman, Claire (Amanda Weier), and her concerned older brother Terrance (Rob Nagle). Claire has just been discharged from the hospital to her abusive father”™s home following yet another attempt to take her own life. Her brother wants to take her away with him, but Claire cannot be coaxed down from her eyrie – or can she? Meanwhile, Claire tries to explain her unique gift that she considers the single factor that gives her joy: the gift of flight. This is an unusual and elusive play, which at 45 minutes long, feels tender, satisfying and dreamlike.
Super Sidekick: The Musical.
Featuring superhero action and mischievous ninja koalas (!) Gregory Crafts”™ kids musical play Super Sidekick: The Musical (with original music by Michael Gordon Shapiro) is a lot of gentle fun. The heart-warming show follows a heroic duo BlackJack (an uncharismatic and under-rehearsed Noah Butler) and his teen sidekick and wanna-be hero Inky (Scott Sharma) as they hunt down the dastardly Sorcerer Slurm (Shawn Cahill, delivering a cartoony evil performance with great relish) to the Cave of Doom in order to rescue the teenaged Princess. The much put-upon Inky finds he has to take charge after the bumbling, irritable and conceited BlackJack also gets trapped in Slurm”™s lair. Shapiro”™s songs are fairly ordinary (in fact, the transition music between the scenes was of a noticeably higher quality) and the acting and direction strictly amateur, but Sharma as Inky truly won the hearts of the small children in the audience with his sweet and plaintive songs and pure voice, especially “If I were a hero too.”
Rollerblading in Gaza.
This solo show, conceived and performed by Maude Klochendler, is an outpouring of a young woman”™s struggle with her cultural identity. Upstage is a prominent display of French, American and Israeli flags that indicate her multicultural background. Maude goes from a mandatory stint in the Israeli Army to working at Club Med to living New York, where she struggles to gain work as an actor. She occasionally sings a cabaret tune with her gutsy, powerful voice, but mostly yells above the audience”™s heads instead of directing her monologue to the audience right in front of her. She tells us they even signed an Israeli law into existence following her reckless rollerblading jaunt through the Gaza strip, and then she dons a set of pink rollerblades to careen around the tiny stage. Despite Maude”™s infectious spirit, Rollerblading in Gaza is a fairly ordinary personal tale that lacks emotional depth and insight. Her show was written by Brian Borkowski and directed by Kyle Wood.
Feeling Feeling is a slightly futuristic story about two couples, written and directed by Sarah Doyle. First seen bopping away enthusiastically to dance music, vivacious Darla (Kendall Carroll) is generally cheerful until the slightest misfortune reduces her to floods of tears. Her slightly Neanderthal boyfriend Dave (Jonny Loquasto) doesn”™t really get what sets her off, and doesn”™t seem to care. His various sports injuries also inhibit their sex life, which bothers him less than it does Darla. Although they seem into each other, Darla insists Dave go to therapy to learn how to feel and, in turn, gets a chip implanted in the back of her head to control her heightened emotions. Meanwhile, Darla”™s best friend Tully (a fine performance from Camellia Rahbary) has problems of her own, raising a child on her own while her boyfriend serves time for drug conviction. While Tully struggles, Darla becomes detached and obsessed with career goals and her new, younger “˜boy-toy”™ boyfriend. Writer/director Sarah Doyle uses the Olympic Games broadcasts to chart her story in four-year increments to good effect, but the two stories don”™t gel as well as they could and the play ends abruptly.
For more information of all Hollywood Fringe Festival plays, visit their official site.