Reviews Of 3 Disarming, Experimental And Hilariously Cornball Shows At Hollywood Fringe Fest
The annual Hollywood Fringe Festival is back in its fourth edition with around 200 shows running day and night in over 20 theater venues, all in one neighborhood, through the end of the month. The quality and content of the productions vary wildly, but tickets are cheap 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 Festival button, by the way, gets you a $1 discount on all show tickets plus some cheaper drinks and other benefits.) On Thursday we posted our thoughts on six offerings we saw earlier in the week. Here's how we liked three more randomly selected shows we've seen since then (and we'll keep reporting back as we see more), listed in roughly descending order of recommendation.
CEREMONY at Theatre Asylum
The L.A. theater calendar, both in and out of Fringe season, hardly suffers from a lack of one-person confessional shows. You know, the kind in which the performer recounts the story of their life leading up to this very moment when they're talking to you as kind of a spiritual journey, full of humor and poignancy, tough life lessons learned and hard-earned hope for a brighter future. We thought we'd be OK if we never saw another one of these again.
Michael Kass's Ceremony is a textbook specimen of just this genre of performance piece we've seen too many of in recent years. The difference is, though, that this one is absolutely wonderful.
Engaging, disarming really, from the moment he walks on stage and starts gently teasing the audience, Kass elevates the boilerplate refreshing honesty and self-deprecating humor that always characterizes these pieces with a sly charisma and sure-timed storytelling panache. Even as he's describing his younger self early in the show as an insecure loveless loser, the effect isn't to generate pity or sympathy, but rather to engage us in a fascination with his own personal universe. So that later when he ventures off to Peru to partake of the legendary drug-like tea Ayahusca under the guidance of a prominent local guru and his assistants (he'd heard the stuff does the work of twenty years of therapy in just three sessions over five days), we're really excited to be going there with him.
Director Diana Wyenn, an active young veteran of the L.A. theater scene, does a masterful job pacing and visually structuring Kass's tale with only a stack of multi-colored buckets as props and a few perfectly-timed sound and light cues. A worthy lineal descendant of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia, this Ceremony is an occasion to savor and certainly not to miss.
Ceremony plays tomorrow night at 8:30 and then again on June 23 and 26. Tickets $11.75 online, $10 at the door.
LEMON BOOTS at Fringe Mainstage
They don't hand out programs when you walk in to see this dance extravaganza performed by a group 15 or 16 Cal State-Long Beach students, under the direction of faculty member Ezra LeBank. You just walk in, they briefly welcome you and off you go. Unless you read the production's press release, therefore, you'd really never know that the series of about a dozen high-energy near-wordless ensemble dance pieces is meant to tell a complete narrative story. So brush up in advance if you want to know what's going on.
But even if you don't know what's going on story-wise, it's impossible not to get swept up in the overwhelming whoosh of sound, light and movement this production delivers. The dancers come at you from all sides—literally they're sitting right next to you in the audience without you even knowing it. They bring you up on stage (we could have done without that bit, actually). And the human tableaux they create are often spectacular. Think Pilobolus or a low-tech Cirque du Soleil.
Apparently, too, the show is set in a post-apocalyptic world where all the water has dried up and "lives are made and broken on the promise of a drink." We really had no idea about this.
Lemon Boots plays tomorrow afternoon at 5 and then again on June 22 and 28. Tickets $13.75 online, $12 at the door.
UNTITLED: WE'RE DOING A PLAY at the Hudson Guild
40 minutes of schticky business about a group of would-be theater professionals who have signed up to do a show at the "Binge Festival" in two weeks, but still don't have a play written. Should it be a comedy or a tragedy? Which of them should write it? Who should play what character? All ginned up with plenty of backstage intrigue.
The humor is a throwback to the classic cornball style of the old weekly TV variety shows, replete with pratfalls, cross-dressing and one endearingly dumb joke ("He won't even give me the time of day!" / "Oh, it's ten minutes after 7:00") after another after another after another. The five members of the cast are all good sports, and the whole thing's over before you know it.
Untitled: We're Doing a Play plays at 10:30 and then again this Tuesday and Thursday. Tickets $11.75 online, $10 at the door. The discount code "binge2013" gets you a buy-one-get-one-free deal, and "twotimer" gets you two additional free tickets with a purchase of two or more.