The Hollywood Fringe Festival’s preview week is drawing to a close. Almost all 380 shows have held a performance and found their footing. Having run a Fringe marathon over the past week, I share the following insights.
1. Shows start and end on time. You may end up waiting outside the theater for the previous show to clear out and yours to set up, but you’ll have great conversations on the line.
2. The brief turnaround times mean sets are minimal – often cardboard – but Fringe isn’t about the sets. It’s about aching sincerity and off-the-charts passion (more on this below).
3. There’s little if any barrier between performer and audience. Many casts invite the audience to join them afterwards to discuss what they’ve seen. One even made a point of shaking hands with everyone in the audience. And audiences inevitably contain friends and family of the show’s creators, so be positive – at least until the car ride home.
4. Oh, those cringe-inducing titles! They either give away the whole story or mislead you completely. For example, Daddy Issues: A One Way Ticket From Daughter to Darkness tells you more than you want to know (or maybe just the right amount). The Other Side of the Razor Ribbon purports to be a play about the writer-performer’s work in the prison system. It mostly isn’t.
5. Which brings me to the one thing almost every Fringe show has in common: that afore-mentioned sincerity. Fringe shows are honest and earnest in a way our ironic society seems to have abandoned. In many cases, they’re put on by people who worked for years to find a way to share their personal stories. Some have dreams of showbiz success. Others are grappling with the impact of a (on-the-nose titled) trauma or mental illness. And some just have an uncontrollable urge to sing the music of Elton John. Regardless of the motivations, their hearts are on their sleeves and on the stage.
Take a chance on #HFF18! Here’s a highly curated list of suggestions.
Pick of the Week
Stages: Girl Meets Boy, Boy Meets Boy, Girl Meets Drink, written and performed by Emily Goglia. Playing at Three Clubs, 1123 N. Vine. 75 minutes.
Yes, the title reveals the underlying story. But Emily Goglia brings a fresh perspective to the not-unfamiliar tale of losing a boyfriend to a guy. She also brings a pure and powerful singing voice, which she displays in more than a dozen songs and medleys ranging from Sondheim to Morissette. (“You Oughta Know” absolutely kills.) She updates Kander and Ebb’s “Sara Lee” with references to cronuts, Coldstone Creamery, the Sprinkles ATM and the Museum of Ice Cream. She melds “Beautiful” songs by Carole King and Christina Aguilera. Oh, and the underlying story is well-told, too.
Goglia’s offbeat and personal musical choices and her flawless performance out her as a pro – a rarity in the world of the Fringe. Instead of seeming calculated, though, she remains endearing and, yes, earnest. She’s hip and smart, talented and gorgeous, but plays it for laughs. The band, led by Emily Rosenfield, provides stellar support.
Bonus: It’s a drinking game and you can play along!
Standout: Still…The Play Inspired by 4:44 written and directed by Lucky Mor. Playing at the Dorie Theatre in the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. 1 hour.
Lucky Mor intricately weaves together the stories of four brothers reuniting after their mother’s funeral into one solid tale of familial ties threatening to rupture. Ostensibly they’re together to divide up the spoils. But, of course, it’s never really about the money, is it? The brothers squabble and fight, soothe and rescue, revisiting old slights and ultimately revealing their vulnerabilities and secrets to each other.
The play covers the themes of Jay-Z’s album 4:44 – infidelity, family, institutional racism and community – and slyly inserts the number 44 a couple of times. But the title doesn’t do the show justice. Mor, who in addition to writing and directing plays one of the brothers, has created a show that works as a family drama, a comedy and an of-the-moment social statement covering race, class and family dynamics.
All the actors are strong, but Thai Edwards, playing Ford factory worker Von, is exceptional, bursting with anger and melting in despair. He, Mor, Maceo Fisher and Kevyn Richmond have the onstage chemistry of true brothers and you’ll want to know all of them better.
Worth a ticket: Haiku, written by Katherine Snodgrass and directed by Mary Smith. Playing at the Stephanie Feury Theatre, 5636 Melrose (at Larchmont). 40 minutes. Not wheelchair accessible.
Louise (River Moon) stares into the distance, hands moving constantly, responding to her mother Nell (Christina McGrath) by repeating her words. She occasionally stutters out a haiku, which Nell writes down on a yellow pad. Louise’s sister Billie (Brianna Saranchock) arrives to try and convince Nell to move in with her and put “Lulu” in a home. She questions whether the haiku are Louise’s and, unlike Nell, refuses to believe there’s a brilliant artist trapped in the unreachable mind of her damaged sister.
Cabaret & Variety
Standout: Coke & Mirrors performed by the New Bad Boys of Magic. Playing at Three Clubs. 1 hour.
A great comedy act masquerading as a magic show (or is it the other way around?), Coke & Mirrors contains a brief mention of cocaine and no mirrors at all. It is LOL funny throughout, and also scores high on the Earnest Scale: brief home movies of both stars as young, gawky magicians underscore their dedication to the craft.
There’s a slim story line that’s an excuse for stars Daniel Donohue (the goody goody Catholic school boy) and Eric Siegel (the not-quite-convincing bad boy) to show off their talents. It seems they’ve been kicked out of Vegas and are trying to break in at the Magic Castle so they don’t have to make their living as children’s entertainers. The fact that these two are already members of the Academy of Magical Arts lends much-deserved confidence. See them in Coke and Mirrors on June 10th or 17th and at Three Clubs post-Fringe, where every month they perform Dirty Tricks that probably aren’t all that dirty.
Worth a ticket: The Bitch Is Back: An Elton John Cabaret performed by the Skypilot Theatre Company. Playing at Three Clubs. 80 minutes.
There are oversized eyeglasses, feather boas and plenty of sequins. It’s karaoke where the audience backs up the five women onstage. If Elton’s your thing, they’ve got 16 songs worth of pure joy. The singers, led by Chloejane Busick and Erisa Evelyn Byrd, throw themselves into it, and their energy never wanes. It’s cheesy and it’s in a bar, so drinking is part of the fun. The title song, which comes last in the program, brings it all home.
Standout: Public Comment book and lyrics by Adam Sartain, music by Utsav Bhargava and Adam Sartain. Playing at the Actors Company, 916 N. Formosa Ave. 1 hour.
Adam Sartain surely hasn’t been secretly taking notes at meetings of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, but his clever musical perfectly captures the monotony and flakiness of what goes on when elected officials are forced to face their constituents.
While the dialogue sometimes goes on too long, and there’s a completely unnecessary scene set outside City Council chambers, the songs, especially “Please Sit Down,” “You’re Not Really Listening” and “Political Consequences” and a talented cast make it all worthwhile. Recommended for anyone who’s ever served on the GWNC or waited their turn to make a public comment.
Worth a ticket: The Other Side of the Razor Ribbon written and performed by Stacy Dymalski. Playing at Studio C, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd. 45 minutes.
Stacy Dymalski spends the first two-thirds of Razor Ribbon describing the painful end to a 26-year marriage as her son, composer Derrik Dymalski – a product of that marriage – sits off to the side. His expressive face adds depth to the story, even more so his talented accompaniment on flute, sax, keyboards and laptop.
In a theater the size of a Hancock Park living room, Stacy uses humor and naked honesty to describe her divorce and how she created the show. She chokes up a couple of times about her family and finally gets to the razor wire. That part of the story raises more questions than it answers, and feels anticlimactic after the passionate take on surviving a breakup emotionally, financially and creatively.
Overall the piece is moving, especially because of the obvious love between mother and son.