Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019: Week One Reviews

If you’re driving down Santa Monica Boulevard near Vine this month, you might you see a woman carrying an armload of clothes, or a man rooting through a box with pool noodles sticking out of it. You might notice small gatherings on the sidewalk near check-in tables.

You have entered The Fringe Zone.

In the Fringe Zone, a dimwit runs for president. Karaoke defines a life. A white lady and a Latino man cross paths in the woods of Connecticut and chaos ensues. A pack of pit bulls gets separated and adopted. Two sisters (one dead) reconnect through Dungeons & Dragons. A daughter enumerates all the times she was a bitch to her mother.

It may leave you off kilter, but it will be worth your time.  Mostly.

In the Fringe Zone, you can see three plays a night and more on weekends. You can settle into Hollywood and buy food between performances of shows that run the gamut from good to terrible to WTF!? Now, I’m not recommending such an all-in approach. But it’s sort of cool that it’s possible.

There are more than 350 shows at #HFF2019. Peruse the Hollywood Fringe Festival website and themes emerge.  If you wanted to, you could fill your days with solo performances. Go deep on disease and/or death, or promiscuity (not as fun as it sounds), or magic, or Trump-referencing parodies, or twisted parent-child relationships, or – strangely – clowns, which are everywhere. I set out to see as many different types of shows as possible, and still ended up finding identical references in two plays I saw back-to-back: Subway (the sandwich chain) and Doors (the band).

Ready to try your luck in the Fringe Zone? First step: Check out the tips in last week’s story.

Step 2: Take a chance. On the Fringe website, randomly select a show, or search for a keyword that’s meaningful to you.

Alternate Step 2 for those who can’t choose: Get a taste of Fringe in Combined Artform’s Pick of the Fringe, a tasting menu of sorts.

Here are some chances I took.

Color Collective

 

DJ (and co-producer – Fringers wear many hats) Richee Aaron sets the rhythm and host/executive producer Royce Shockley sets the tone: It’s upbeat sketch comedy with a message. Color Collective calls itself the love child of In Living Color and Saturday Night Live, and that’s a mashup not to be missed.

The troupe of a diverse dozen start off strong with two rival gangs parsing the saying “Mexican standoff.” It’s a funny and biting take on political correctness and gun culture. In the game show “What Are You?” white people ask their neighbors about their nationality, apparently not hearing the host’s spoiler-alert hint, “The answer is always American.”

You’ll see issues and scenarios covered in and by Color Collective that you won’t see elsewhere – even in the anything-goes Fringe Zone. I mean, an emotional support person, seriously? (I have to get one of those.) Ladies night. Carmen San Bernardino. A soul food cooking show. And the show’s most uncomfortable sketch, involving a pickle, cast member Bonnie He and an unsuspecting audience member. Ouch.

A lot happens in this hour-long variety extravaganza, and it’s mostly pretty great. Except for the pickle thing.

 

Mormon Playgirl

CC Sheffield’s one-woman show is about a Mormon girl who was born to be just a little bit wild. She plays both her parents, a couple of agents, an intern, a prostitute, Harvey Weinstein, and in the end herself, changing outfits from a clothes tree the whole time. It’s a little disjointed, and features a few too many reprieves of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” but Sheffield is likable and her story has some great moments.

Plus she’s a knockout, has a program that looks like a church missal, collaborated on one of the soundtrack’s songs, offers a discount (code “Playgirl”), and packs her big life into only 45 minutes. Who’s eager to please?

 

This Way Yonder

 

Marjorie Knight as Ruth McMillan and Kelly Crossley as her daughter Maybelline in This Way Yonder.

 

Marjorie Knight is a knockout as hurricane-hit Ruth McMillan, trying to keep her family’s South Florida stone crabbing business alive in the (literal) wake of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. Her husband’s long gone, her daughter Maybelline’s caught between childhood and adulthood, her brother’s betraying her, and the real estate sharks are circling. Ruth uses her wits and her wiles, but the odds are stacked against her.

Director Monica Martin noticeably raises the level to professional amongst a sea of amateur Fringe wannabes. The show evokes the time and place beautifully and the stage seems much larger than it is due to clever choices. The script, by Montana Cypress, is the bedrock that lets the characters become actual people you know as your own family members. This show has a future.

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About Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.

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