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A Look Into 4 Hollywood Fringe Shows: Western Melodrama, Phobias & More

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The annual Hollywood Fringe Festival is back in its fifth edition with over 275 shows running day and night in 40 or so theater spaces, all in one neighborhood, through the end of the month. The quality and content of the productions vary wildly, but tickets (available online, at the festival's Fringe Central community space 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. We saw six shows during the Festival's preview week. Then we went back and saw four more of 'em at the Complex Theatres on Thursday night.

RUNAWAY: THE STORY OF AN OUTLAW

Nick DeRuve's cowboy melodrama opens just as the wizened old outlaw Jonny Chryst (rhymes with "list") has been nicked by a bullet in the middle of a shootout. Recognizing that he might be down to his last minutes on earth, he looks back at an episode from decades earlier, when he discovered the one true love of his life, but had to face down a rival for her affections. Only 35 minutes long, Runaway contains plenty of the standard Old West archetypes, including the renegade bad boy with an inexorably solitary destiny, the feckless lawman whose daddy got him the job and, of course, the hooker with the heart of gold. All that's missing is the Elmer Bernstein theme music.

"Runaway" plays through June 27.

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FOBIK

Five unrelated scenes riff on phobias, both familiar (fear of airplane flying) and obscure (fear of "balls, spheres, orbs—whatever you want to call them") and the people who suffer from them. The ones most severely victimized by the common fear of clowns, we learn in the first scene, may be the clowns themselves. In a particularly powerful wordless vignette, an evident germophobe methodically disrobes and dons the kind of protective suit and mask you'd expect to see on someone venturing into a nuclear power plant, but the only materials he handles are common household cleaning products.

"Fobik" plays through June 22.

POETRY IN MOTION; POETRY IN DEVOTION

There's a lot of emotion in Poetry in Motion; Poetry in Devotion, an interpretive dance performance by eight black-clad members of the Splintered Spark Collective out of Cal State-Long Beach. Skillfully choreographed by group founder Lottie Frick, members of the group individually and collectively exude the feelings inherent in poems contributed by their school peers with an array of colorful props, lighting effects and spacey recorded music. The texts themselves, heavy on self-declarative affirmation, are mostly "spoken word" poetry slam genre-type pieces. And toward the end, the performers bring the audience up on stage with them to share the experience and meld with the art. This is one of those "trust your instincts" shows: if you know it's not your thing, then it's really not your thing (at one point they hand out balloons to the audience). But there's no denying that this is a tight, precisely executed production and a successful realization of the group's sentimental, ecstatic vision.

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"Poetry in Motion; Poetry in Devotion" plays through June 28.

THE PENS SHALL HAVE THEIR DAY

J. Alfred Prufrock and his muse battle it out in Lesley Gouger's one-act play inspired by T.S. Eliot's poem. Prufrock here is identified as a playwright who can't resist experimenting with unconventional characters and scenarios, even when he's on deadline to produce a commercial script for his Hollywood agent. His ever-present female muse, whom he seems not to hear talking at the beginning of the play but later gets into repeated arguments with, just wants him to write and write and write. But when it's not his agent distracting him, it's his Slavic immigrant neighbor stopping by to get him drunk or his undying obsession with the wife who left him which keeps him from getting his work done. The best moment in The Pens Shall Have Their Day is its final scene, which the muse reminds us, just as the cast completes its curtain call, is one that awaits us all.

"The Pens Shall Have Their Day" plays through June 21.