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Arts and Entertainment

Hollywood Fringe Festival 2011: Five Shows Seen So Far

"Cowboy Mouth" (Photo: Jim Carmody)
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Now that the Hollywood Fringe is formally underway, after a week of preview performances, there are, of course, way too many productions up and running to catch more than a small fraction. So how to pick which ones to go see? Well, there's the random crapshoot method. Or you can find out which shows other people have already seen and what they think of them.

So far, we've seen five shows selected by random crapshoot. And here's what we think of them, in a roughly descending order of preference.

"The Normal Child," Philip William Brock's searing one-act Southern Gothic family drama at the Open Fist, blew us away from the moment we walked into the theater and saw Amanda Weier perched several feet above stage level on a precarious-looking chair with a noose around her neck. Rob Nagle is exceptionally good as the Louisiana exile who returns to the unhappy homestead of his youth to save his sister from her family and herself. In a good and just world, this production would continue to live on somewhere even after its three remaining weekend matinee performances in the current Fringe.

Fringe festivals are always heavy on "my life so far" solo shows. And for its first half hour or so, playwright William Nedved's "Fact and Fiction," at the Elephant, looks like it's going to be another one of these, a portrait of the artist as a Rotary Club high school exchange student in Brazil. But then Nedved finishes his story and leaves the stage, replaced by a second performer, Adam Silver, who has his own personal tale to tell, completely unrelated to Nedved's. Or is it? Directed by Furious Theatre Company leader Damaso Rodriguez, "Fact and Fiction" cleverly turns the standard staged confessional on its head. And Silver is just a blast to watch. The show plays again tonight and twice next week.

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"The Normal Child"
Michelle Lema's "Bean," also at Open Fist, is a more straightforward, and quite entertaining, specimen of the autobiographical one-woman show genre. Lema got nicknamed Bean by a classmate back in kindergarten, and the moniker's stuck with her ever since. In a little less than an hour, she takes us year by year through grade school, high school, college, and beyond, chronicling all her triumphs and pitfalls along the way and explaining why she really hates melted cheese and adores her grandparents. These kinds of shows depend almost entirely on the performer's personality and wit, and Lema has plenty enough to get her through. "Bean" gets three more performances at Open Fist as well as three additional showings at the Fringe Cabaret.Back in 1971, the premiere performance of Sam Shepard's "Cowboy Mouth" in New York starred Shepard himself and Patti Smith (and wouldn't you like to say you were there for that). Now a team of recent UCSD grads has brought their thoughtful revival of the play up to our own Hollywood Fringe. Spencer Howard is the Shepard stand-in Slim, a rock star manqué kidnapped in a hotel room by his critically worshipful girlfriend Cavale, played with great conviction by Claire Kaplan. There's also a Lobster Man (Justin O'Neill), which, really, shouldn't there be in every Fringe show? And, yeah, the play now seems a bit more like a period piece than a vital contemporary drama, but what better venue than the Fringe to give it a belated look? "Cowboy Mouth" goes up again tonight at Theatre Asylum and then eight(!) more times over the next ten days.

"The Yogamerican Dream" is another one-woman show, in which Casey Gates breezily takes on several different characters she's met while becoming a yoga teacher, including her own higher self. It plays in Studio A at the ArtWorks Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights, this weekend and next.

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