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4 Interesting Shows We Checked Out At The 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival

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A warmly anticipated L.A. theater event since its inception in 2010, the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival is back up and in full swing with almost 275 shows running day and night in over 30 venues, most within walking distance of one another. Everything from big-cast musicals to solo performances, full-length plays with intermissions to half-hour quickies, risqué raunch to family fare, high-tech productions to a "two planks and a passion" DIY approach finds its way into the mix. Some of the offerings are great, some instantly forgettable. But tickets are cheap and it's fun to just take a chance on whatever sounds like it might be good. Here's a rundown of four shows we caught during the festival's preview week:

SIMON CORONEL: GLITCHES IN REALITY

About halfway through this highly intriguing almost hourlong performance, Australian illusionist Simon Coronel suggests there are two basic kinds of people in the audience at any magic show: those who'd like to figure out how the tricks are done and those who really want nothing more than to be amazed. Coronel clearly sympathizes with us in that first group, and we get the impression he wouldn't even mind letting us in on all his secrets if it wasn't against the rules.

A lot of what's fun about Coronel's act are his occasional deconstructions of the magician's art, with recurring insights about the mechanisms of his sleight of hand—and then how thoroughly his maneuvers surprise us despite these shared observations. Downplaying the mystique inherent in his mission to make things that look impossible happen right in front of us, Coronel enhances the power of his performance with a conversational charm that repeatedly gains our confidence before making our heads spin.

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SIMON CORONEL: GLITCHES IN REALITY at Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., through June 21

HELMET HEART

Kathy Fischer's one-act comedy gets off to an ingenious start with a projected video of events unfolding through the eyes of lead character Addie (Kim Chase). Her husband tells her he's leaving her for his personal assistant Monica, and she reacts by trying to force her engagement ring down her throat before blacking out.

Watching this conflict play out onscreen is the live onstage shackled figure of Cupid (Robbie Rittman), who's soon joined by the choking Addie as she enters the playing area, which we soon recognize is the domain of her own psyche. Pissed at how her marriage has come to an end, Addie's first order of business is to kill Cupid. Before she can do that, however, various people from her life—including her mother (Jeanette O'Connor), her psychologist (Todd Aaron Brotze), her unhelpful best friend (Maria Russell) and her "darkside" (Corina Boettger)—all show up with advice for her about love and relationships. Hearing all these other voices in her head, Addie realizes that Cupid may not actually be the source of her problems, after all.

It's a funny premise, and the lively ensemble cast, directed by Fischer's husband, Rees Pugh, pulls it off in barely more running time than a sitcom episode.

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HELMET HEART at the Ruby Theatre in the Complex Hollywood, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., through June 27

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO: THE MUSICAL

With lavish period costumes, a cast of 16 actors, and a two-hour running time, Kelly D'Angelo and Matt Dahan's musical theater adaptation of "The Count of Monte Cristo" bears the hallmarks of an ambition that extends beyond this Fringe Festival run. And given the author's note in a program insert informing us that the current production is about an hour shorter than the full, unabridged version they've written, it's clear that what we're seeing here is a work in progress. And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the work in its presented state is complete enough to provide a fully realized audience experience, which it is here.

The most compelling part of this Monte Cristo musical right now may be the early first act story of Edmond Dantès (David Meinke)'s moral training with Abbé Faria (Henry Kaiser) in prison before he escapes to become the Count. This relationship between mentor and student culminates in the show's best song, "Treasure," a moving expression of love and respect in the face of Faria's impending death. After that it takes a bit too long for us to get introduced to a lot of other characters before the Count finally says "Well, then, let's begin this, shall we?" about an hour in and we can finally start looking forward to all the vengeance-wreaking.

Our suggestion for future incarnations of this show? Ramp up the vengeance-wreaking! That's what "The Count of Monte Cristo" is all about.

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THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO: THE MUSICAL at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., through June 27

SPLIT/SCREEN

An accident while traveling in the Himalayas has just left Kit (Alex Montaldo), a young man with an extremely wealthy father, paralyzed at the beginning of Monique Witt's drama "Split/Screen." Now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Kit is desperate to reorient his identity away from what he sees as his family legacy, but it's not easy: "The problem with structural lies...is that they're part of us.You can't leave them behind without leaving yourself behind."

Kit wants to spend all his money to help his fellow hospital patient Rufus (Adam Rashad Glenn) recover from the debilitating asthma that is likely to end his life, but their doctor (Fran Montano), whose own family is also in the throes of tragedy, tells Kit the system doesn't work that way. A psychotherapist (Chris Karmiol), furthermore, discourages, even mocks, Kit's inclination to see his accident as an opportunity to transform into something greater, insisting, "There is no meaning in...your current situation and what's happened to you. You need to see it for what it is, a random event, like a fire. We're coming to the end of our hour."

Weighed down by the burdens of their own evident shortcomings as professional saviors, both of the health professionals that Kit consults act to quash his own transcendent moral ambitions. Where that leaves Kit remains an open question in Witt's serious consideration of how—and if—any of us can choose to take on the responsibilities that higher spiritual powers seem to have abandoned.

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SPLIT/SCREEN at The Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave., through June 21