Hollywood Fringe Festival 2012: 'First Love/Worst Love,' 'D is for Dog,' & 'Uncle Jermy's Smyle Hour'

Some shows at the Hollywood Fringe Festival are meant only for adorable itty-bitty kid theatregoers, but D is for Dog, First Love/Worst Love, and Uncle Jermy's Smyle Hour sure as hell (and quite thankfully) are not that kind of kid-friendly fare. These plays would most certainly crush their hopeful little spirits and send them immediately into the open arms of years of counseling. In fact, many of these shows explicitly make a point to warn people of their highly-mature content. But for adults, these Fringe productions are a mixture of deliciously thought-provoking horror-fun, artful conveyance of the dark side of love, and the sort of jokes that you know you are not supposed to laugh at, but secretly do anyway.

D is for Dog
Rogue Artist Ensemble's production of D is for Dog is good. Really good. It will probably win lots of Fringe Awards and sell out every night. Or at least it should. This highly-symbolic work depicts an all-American 1950s sitcom-style nuclear family living in a post apocalyptic, environmentally decimated corporatocracy. What appears happy and idyllic on the surface slowly devolves into a grim and scary horror show mantra of broken illusions. A brutally cruel surprise ending truly takes the audience by surprise. D is for Dog is the sort of play that makes you question the meaning of life...that is, of course, after you get over your initial OMG-that-ending-is-so-fucked-up shock. Under the direction of Sean T. Cawelti, the work is a perfectly executed, brilliantly orchestrated, fun to watch staging with an excellent ensemble cast and high-quality stage effects. The ensemble, Guy Birtwhistle (Mr. Rogers), Nina Silver (Mrs. Rogers), Michael Scott Allen (Dick), and Taylor Coffman (Jane), brings perfected comedic timing, subtlety, and passionate energy to the stage. Dark puppetry by Heidi Hilliker and Benjamin Messmer bolsters the ethereal, other-wordly feeling of the play. At its heart, D is for Dog questions what it means to be truly human, compassionate, and alive; and how hard we are willing to work to preserve those essential qualities. D is for Dog is playing through June 23 at Hudson Theatres. Tickets are $20 and available online.

First Love/Worst Love
Rebecca Cox's First Love/Worst Love is a gracefully staged, poetic experimental work that showcases a whirlwind of love-gone-sour narratives. Through the minds-eye of a writer thoughtfully pounding away at an old-fashioned typewriter, an ensemble cast (Hayley J. Williams, Len Davies, Maggie Lehman, Seth Burnham, and Anna Moon) fondly pines retrospectively over love paradigms that have left their characters hauntingly contemplative. Enchantingly muted black-and-white aesthetics play a large, metaphorical role that blurs the lines between subject and object, active memory, and paginated typeset. The cast is variously talented, but Len Davies stands out as an attentive, fine-tuned, and nuanced performer that knows how to command an audience. Under the direction of Julie Civiello, the work flows beautifully and has a mesmerizing quality that draws viewers into the intersecting story-lines. We love the engaging on-stage live music provided by Kyle Fredrickson. The combined effect of a rhythmically pounded typewriter, highly cadenced dialogue, picked banjo, and circuit-bent tonalities is its own kind of Fringey wonderful. First Love/Worst Love is playing through June 23 at Open Fist Theatre. Tickets are $12 and available online.

Uncle Jermy's Smyle Hour
You know that weird somebody-unsavory-is-watching-you-feeling that you get driving through the stillness of the valley late at night? The people hiding in the bushes are probably the cast of Uncle Jermy's Smyle Hour looking for bizarro-world sort of show material. Satirizing educational children's programming, like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and Blue's Clues, Uncle Jermy's Smyle Hour knowingly imbues the pseudo-wholesome with crude bad taste, insults, and kinky wolf sex fetishes. As Uncle Jermy, Jeremy Guskin leads a cast of demented human and puppet characters through a simulated live audience taping of his Smyle Hour where he attempts to teach kids about stranger danger, cooking, and story time. His educational intentions are thwarted through a rag-tag team of twisted and dysfunctional visitors that offer up the sort of jokes that make you laugh, wish that you had not laughed at something so bad, and groan all at the same time. Many moments of the show are brilliantly conceived and born out of clever takes on pop culture, but at the same time, one gets the sense that some of the cast members are uncomfortable delivering very politically incorrect fodder. They need to embrace all-out vulgarity to take things just a bit further down the path of unrighteousness without resorting to passe humor-triggers of which L.A. audiences have grown. Uncle Jermy's Smyle Hour is playing through June 21 at Open Fist Theatre. Tickets are $10 and available online.

Tickets, packages, schedules, and show information for all Hollywood Fringe Festival 2012 productions are available online.