Five More Shows We've Caught at the Hollywood Fringe Festival
The annual Hollywood Fringe Festival is back for its eighth consecutive year, now with a whopping 375 shows running day and night in about 40 different theater spaces, all in one neighborhood, through June 25. The quality and content of the productions vary wildly, but tickets (available online, at the festival's Fringe Central hub or at the door for each show) are cheap, most of the shows are short, and it's fun to take your chances, throw caution to the wind and just go see whatever's playing at any given moment. That's how we do it, anyway. A $5 Fringe Button gets you $1 off all tickets and other Fringe-related discounts. We reviewed five Fringe shows yesterday; here's what we thought of five more:
Nairoby Otero plays three characters in her extraordinarily moving and perfectly realized one-woman play 'Til Sunday, directed by Michael D'Angora, which takes place in the Cuban immigrant community of New Orleans and skips around between the years 1972 and 1985.
One of these is Claridad, a girl straddling two cultures: early in the play, she leaves Cuba for the US at age 2; by the end, she celebrates her quinceanera. Another is the girl's mother, who has had to leave the island with her daughter, though not her husband. He remains behind, but hopes to join them soon. The play's title refers to their biweekly Sunday phone calls back to him. The third character is Pepe, a gregarious cigar-smoking, dominoes-playing neighbor who readily shares his strong political views
Switching frequently among these three roles, Otero memorably evokes the hardship of family separation and the difficult hope of better life in a new world. The mother's calls back to her husband over the 13-year span of the play are rife with eager expectations of reunion that keep getting dashed. Claridad's life as an immigrant kid isn't too bad, but is full of difficult moments, like when she brings a meagerly populated family tree, padded with a picture of Pepe, for her school project. Or when her mother discovers she has lied about her family status to her friends in order to fit in better. Our own favorite moments in the show may have been Pepe's charismatically cynical pontifications about the Bay of Pigs, Castro's shrewdness and America's geopolitical fecklessness.
No description of this or that incident or event in 'Til Sunday can do justice to the sheer holistic power of Otero's play and her performance. There are no cheap laughs or gratuitous moments of pity, but plenty of acutely understated moments, like when Claridad suddenly catches herself pronouncing "Cuba" with an American accent. Or her mother's regular updates to her absent husband about how Claridad is doing. It's all heart-warming, but occasionally heart-searing. And certainly not to be missed by any Fringe-goer.
A VEGAS KIND OF LOVE
Set in some San Bernardino County suburban nowheresville (rather than in the titular sin city), Brendan Beseth's long one-act A Vegas Kind of Love gives us a steamy love quadrangle with richly drawn characters and a pervasive noir atmosphere.
Nadiya Geldenhuys is the unnamed bad girl with a shady past and three different men crazy for her. Nebbishy yet upstanding Leo (Matt Doherty) brings her back from Vegas to live with him and offers a secure home and respectability, plus maybe a car if she plays her cards right, even though she demurs from sleeping with him. Their more aggressively virile neighbor Frank (Nicolas Read), provides her a sexual go-to during the days when Leo's at work and entreats her to run off with him because she "needs a real man around her, somebody like me." Leroy a.k.a. Slim (Kofi Boakye) is the hardened criminal boyfriend she's left Vegas to get away from. As the play progresses, some of these dynamics shift.
There's also a detective (Henry LeBlanc) sitting at the bar off to the side in the Three Clubs nightclub space (our favorite Hollywood Fringe venue, by the way), where A Vegas Kind of Love is being produced. Older and more cynical than our main characters, his occasional observations and his own story to tell serve as a framing device for the central narrative, which he eventually gets mixed up in himself.
This really is a good, compelling play, and all five actors turn in excellent performances. Director Eddie Kehler shrouds the femme fatale and her suitors in a mysterious tension that never dissipates. Do any of these broken characters end up happy or fulfilled? How Vegas would that be?
BUFFY KILLS EDWARD: A MUSICAL ROMP
In the great Hollywood Fringe tradition of original musicals lampooning pop culture classics (we're remembering 2013's Pokémusical and King of Kong: A Musical Parody in 2015), this year's Buffy Kills Edward: A Musical Romp offers a hilarious send-up of teen vampire series. As its title implies, writer/composer Laura Wiley's show takes on both the Buffy the Vampire hit TV show and the Twilight movie franchise. And indeed in the very first scene Buffy crosses over from one world into another and...slays Edward. As you might imagine, Bella then gets really pissed.
From there we're catapulted into a tightly intricate and often brilliantly funny mashup of the two universes. Characters appearing from the Buffysphere include Xander Harris, Angel (of course), Spike, Dawn (where did she come from?), and Willow (and introducing her evil counterpart: Dark Willow). Twilight figures include Jacob (duh!), Emmett and Rosalie, Aro, Alice, Jane and I'm sure I've left some of them out. There's even a brief, uninvited incursion from yet another show, but everyone tells that guy to scram.
A familiarity with the history, plot lines and characters of either or both series is definitely an advantage for appreciating the barrage of jokes and references this show delivers. And frankly if you're reading this and you do know both the Buffy and the Twilight stories, we'll come right out and say you have to see this. It's hysterical. If you're totally uninitiated, a lot of it will go over your head. But thanks to a highly dynamic young cast, a real live three-piece band, and consistently smart writing in both the songs and the dialogue, you may enjoy it anyway.
DREAMS IN OVERDRIVE
It's an oversimplification, of course, and maybe even a little unfair, but while we were watching Jon Jacobs's entertainingly confessional Dreams in Overdrive, we just kept thinking: It's that Emma Stone solo show in La La Land, but written and performed by George Costanza.
Jacobs doesn't actually look like Jason Alexander's Seinfeld character, to be sure, but he's got that Long Island accent, self-deprecating bravado, and appealing shamelessness that's so fun to watch. Unsparingly telling us what seems to be his whole life story, with all its missteps and embarrassments, Jacobs acknowledges that part of the purpose of this show is to reignite his own sense of purpose, to heed Eleanor Roosevelt's injunction to believe in the beauty of his own dreams.
So he lets it all out in front of us. We relive in great detail the loss of his virginity in Paris the summer after his freshman year in college. We sit in on his sessions with his life coach. We re-experience with him the loss of his beloved grandmother, listening to the preserved voicemails she'd left him and watching him deliver the eulogy he gave her. Most hysterically, he projects his Facebook feed onto an overhead screen and shares with us his incredulous reactions to all the fun that everyone else but him seems to be having. Oh, and he's also compiled a worst-of-Trump footage reel, just in case we're not sure he's cultivating that anxiety along with the rest of us as well.
It all goes on a little too long, and occasionally goes a little too far over the top (we didn't need to see him in a diaper). But there are a lot of real, sustained laughs in this show. Directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, Jacobs opens himself up and exposes his id, ego and superego for all of us to see plain. He tells us at the end that it's good for him to have us there. And for us it wasn't just a pleasure to help—it was a blast.
In Noah Haidle's 2005 play Mr. Marmalade the psyches of two four-year-olds have already been corrupted by the bad behavior of the teenagers and adults in their lives and all the crass popular culture they've gotten exposed to. Lucy has an imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade, who starts out nice to her in the normal manner of kids' imaginary friends, but later succumbs to some nasty vices. Her new boy pal has already tried to commit suicide.
There are several good performances here and surprisingly excellent costumes, but the play is an errant satire, its sour premise unrelieved by a surfeit of hijinx that should ostensibly make the whole thing fun or at least palatable. But by our lights this is a perfectly fine production wasted on the wrong material.