HFF 15 – “What Be G*d Is Blessing” & “Legends of Bobby Darin” – Hollywood Fringe Festival 2015 – Los Angeles theater review

Cliff Todd in "The Legend of Bobby Darin."
Cliff Todd in “The Legend of Bobby Darin.”

Two different one-man shows at the Hollywood Fringe, covering two completely different topics, have something in common: excellence in performance and craftsmanship.

What Be G*d is Blessing

A shell-shocked war veteran, living in a tent on Skid Row, tells his sadly all-too-familiar tale of violence and loss in a bravado solo performance by Sean Topps.

Topps portrays Derrick Jessup, a regular guy who signed up to fight for what he thought was a just cause, only to return home a shell-shocked veteran whose paranoia and suspicion has driven him away from his wife and home, forcing him to literally set up camp in the dangerous streets of downtown Los Angeles — ironically the only place he feels safe.

Describing scenes of war’s mayhem, Topps uses the recurring theme of the sound of breaking bones as a way of conveying the shattering of other things — lives, psyches and indeed the fabric of society itself. He also conveys a powerful message regarding war’s futility, especially as it leaves entire generations of broken, dysfunctional souls in its wake.

Topps’ soliloquy is charged with righteous fury, and his descriptions are simultaneously appalling and mesmerizing. I can easily see this piece being expanded into a two-act, bringing in other actors, and comparing the terrors of nighttime Skid Row with the more immediate horrors of war, the similarity being the constant fear one would experience in both environments.

As it stands, it’s a sharply-written and performed condemnation of the military-industrial complex and its detrimental effects on humankind.

What Be G*d is Blessing plays a final show at the Hollywood Fringe on June 25 at the Complex Theatres, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd. Tickets can be obtained on the Fringe site.

The Legend of Bobby Darin (An Unauthorized Biography)

Right off the bat, Bobby Darin (Cliff Todd) assumes the audience doesn’t quite know who he is, and he’s right. While the name may certainly be familiar to many, his life and career may not. For example, he began as a teen idol, penning and performing the hit “Splish Splash,” before he developed the more familiar persona of the finger-snapping crooner whose name is synonymous with “Mack the Knife.”

A consummate showman himself, Todd displays a vast array of talents here. He sings (of course), does impressions (including Al Jolson and George Burns) and projects an easy charisma with his depiction of Darin.

With welcome humor but a refreshing lack of self-pity, Todd relates the high and low points in Darin’s life and reveals some surprising facts along the way. For example, I didn’t know that he went through a folk phase, growing his hair out and referring to himself as “Bob” Darin (which conveniently sounds similar to that other folkie Bob).

Using the ticking of a clock as a metaphor, Todd reminds us that time is running out — both on Darin’s overwhelming ambition and on his tragically short life. Smoothly directed by Miles Chapman, this is an hour of sparkling entertainment that would be as welcome in a Vegas showroom as it is at the Fringe. It’s a vivid reminder of the genteel kind of entertainment our parents (and grandparents) enjoyed.

The Legend of Bobby Darin plays a final show at the Hollywood Fringe on June 27 at the Theatre Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way. Tickets can be obtained on the Fringe Website.




Kurt Gardner


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