A dramaturg can play a key role in shaping a play, bringing an expert eye and guidance to a playwright whose work is not quite there. Some plays are beyond hope, of course, giving a dramaturg too little with which to sculpt even a mediocre statue. Others just need some minor tweaking to reveal the David they were all along.
Many Hollywood Fringe Festival shows are, by nature, amateurish, not just not ready for primetime but not even ready for a dramaturg. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find some that are a dramaturg’s dream.
Two shows with performances this weekend fit that bill: Bushwick, based in a Brooklyn apartment shared by three millennials, and Dear Mom, Sorry for Being a B!tch, about a daughter’s evolving attitude toward her mother. Both run about 60 minutes, and both would be almost perfect theater experiences with a 10-minute trim.
Bushwick opens with a completely unnecessary monologue by a neighbor, a Vietnam vet who enters the millennials’ apartment, natters on about the previous night’s loud party and then climbs the stairs to the roof, where he sits for most of the remainder of the show. Even after we find out he’s jumped and the police are outside with the body, he remains sitting there before finally wandering off. A dramaturg would kill off that guy completely.
The main story of Bushwick is the search for a subletter who can replace one of the three roommates for a few months while he’s traveling. The roommates are Skip (Jared Isaac), Lexi (Summer Simone Bills), and Byron (B.J. Minor, a standout). They are, respectively, a devout Christian, a spacy drug dealer and a drag queen with an unprintable drag name. What could be more Brooklyn?
The three interact with a building super, an aspiring subletter, Lexi’s bad-news boyfriend and a policeman, all played by Arsenio Castellanos, whose shifting accents and demeanors give the show its turning points and much of its heart. A lot of story and character is crammed into 50 minutes, as well as a higher level set than any Fringe show I’ve seen, making this a Fringe standout. Kudos to playwright Schuyler Mastain and production designer Stephanie Lehrer.
With Dear Mom, Sorry for Being a B!tch the trims are a little more complicated, but easily identified. The show, essentially a one-woman tour de force by Christine Covode, opens and closes with a video projection that adds nothing. It’s all about the IRL action. Covode ages from 10 to 20-something, interacting with a sometimes onstage, sometimes offstage mother (Rachel Tils) and a series of boys, all played by David Colton.
Covode, who is charming and funny as hell, channels Gilda Radner’s Judy Miller as she bounces around and records a vlog in her messy room. She perfectly expresses the awkwardness of coming of age, with a riff on Uggs, a mention of eye boogers and plenty more cringeworthy and insightful moments. From laughter to tears, this show runs the emotional gamut, especially when Covode is reliving her experiences rather than talking directly to the audience. A dramaturg would know exactly how to surgically remove the exposition while keeping the heart and pathos of those relationships. Especially the relationship with Mom.
Covode’s mom was actually in the audience for the performance I saw. Her review? “I loved it.”
I did too.
Bushwick is at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. on Saturday at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $15.
Dear Mom, Sorry for Being a B!tch is at the Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave. (with parking!) on Friday, June 21 at 7:00pm and Saturday at 5:00 and 11:00 pm. Tickets are $10, but use Discount code “SORRYMOM” and they drop to $3. Both are worth not just the price but the time.