By the time the 9th annual edition of the Fringe Festival ends on June 24th, you will have missed more than 95% of it. Even the most efficient scheduler and parking ninja couldn’t see all 380 shows. And that’s a good thing.
The free-for-all nature of Fringe means more misses than hits. Sometimes a miss can still be fun, but not always. This lesson was reaffirmed this week. Take a look at some of the subjects that attract a lot of Fringe shows, and the problem becomes apparent.
Shows about autism, Aspergers and more (all are solo shows except as noted):
Love After Death (anxiety, OCD and depression)
With My Eyes Shut (dance and physical theater, Asperger’s)
Anxiety Written (OCD)
Wild at Hart: A Tale of Trauma & Triumph (sexual trauma survival)
Shows about death:
The Dead Guy (a comedy)
Return Trip: What I Did After I Died. Twice (a musical)
Shining City (“a guilt-ridden man reaches out to a therapist after the recent death of his wife in a car crash.”)
The Story of My Life (a friend struggles to write a eulogy – a musical)
Death subset: Solo shows about death
My Mom Died When I Was 14 (A Comedy) (“stories, songs, jokes, and other attempts to turn all of the unending pain he’s endured into a fun performance with maybe just a pinch of male nudity.”
Sink or Swim (“What do you do after your dad drops dead at Thanksgiving dinner?”)
Final Preparations (life in a mortuary)
Not all solo shows are about death, though. Here are some of the other 100+ options:
The Book That I’m Going to Write, by Judy Garland (a one-man Show)
Marilyn Monroe: The Last Interview (a one-woman show)
Joan (a one-woman show about Joan Crawford)
Rayn: An Electronic Burlesque Experience (“a one-woman psychedelic electro opera about everyone’s favorite muse: the sex worker.” – contains nudity, as it should)
El Ultimo Coconut (“a Latino cyber-nerd gets caught between his family and his video game addiction”)
A Brooklyn Boy (32 characters from a Brooklyn neighborhood wrapped up in one performance)
Nobody’s Really Helped Me (“songs and stories about art and education, angst, identity, encapsulating the melodramatic nature of being 22”)
Witchy: Wisdom Beyond Illusion (“teller of tales, singer of songs, hippie Witch, mystic, priestess, fairy cousin, revolutionary, and flawed saint…weaves a web of magical entertainment and inspiration”)
A Complete Waste of Time (“ayahuasca, hookers, and gay conversion camp”)
Too overwhelming? Do what I did: Take in a show that satirizes bad solo shows: the immersive Easy Targets: Artists and Heroes, by the Burglars of Hamm, playing at the Broadwater (6322 Santa Monica Blvd.); 1 hour.
The fun and engaging Easy Targets features four overacters, emoting through purposely cringe-worthy short pieces. They’re rewarded for their clichés, self-indulgence and just plain badness by being pummeled with rolled-up socks. Audience members receive 20 pairs with their admission; replacements can be purchased between pieces, after cast and crew sweep them off the stage. All four actors plow on, not acknowledging the physical manifestation of boos that sometimes strike right between the eyes.
Selina Merrill talks about an actress’ path in “All About Me.” Eric Curtis Johnson plays an unbearably twee Abraham Lincoln, complete with top hat that’s just begging to be knocked off his head. Slam poet Tracy Leigh enunciates all over the stage, making good bad rhymes about politics, waxing, breasts and more, to bongo and horn accompaniment. Spaceman Hugo Armstrong gets contemplative: It’s pretty heavy “to become one with the, you know, whatever.”
Immersive theater requires audience involvement. In the immersive category, Fringe also offers:
The Guest and the Host: Make Music (help out in a recording session)
When Skies Are Gray (play nurse to a dying mother – yes, another death play!)
The Study (exploring “fight or flight” in a college lecture hall)
Unreal City (based on T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland)
The Stars (a one-person show with a one-person audience; will it be you?)
If you don’t want to throw socks, improv in front of strangers or sing along, try one of the hundreds of passive events. Here are some of the better ones I saw this week:
Here’s to You by the Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company, playing at the New Collective, 6449 Santa Monica Blvd.; 50 minutes.
When you enter the theater, nine actors sit onstage, engaged with their glowing cell phones. Over the course of the show, they speak in the second person, telling “you” what you mean to them. Each piece is written by the actor speaking its words, to someone in his or her life. Many of the “you’s” are deceased: parents, lovers and others. One was in the audience the night I attended. They receive heartfelt apologies (“I was mean to you”) and accolades (“thank you for your validation and encouragement”).
What would you say to someone who was always there for you, or someone whose death leaves you haunted by words unsaid? Here’s what one cast member said: “Thank you for loving me when I didn’t think I deserved it.” Moving and thought-provoking.
A Light Romp Through the Minefield of Sexual Harassment by the Rhombus Ensemble, playing at the Broadwater, 70 minutes.
A timely take on workplace harassment and cluelessness, this “light romp” includes a female therapist who may be a witch doctor and a female colleague looking to move up. The play bounces between two locations, with the same actress (Beth Gudenrath) portraying both women and the same actor (Kyle Walters) playing one unwoke man whose wife has (understandably) left him.
There’s a lot going on here, and a lot that playwright Amy Chaffee wants to say about exclusion, infidelity and deeply ingrained discrimination. Her infuriating male character throws out dozens of trigger words, from “moody” and “hysterical” to “whiny little bitch” and “It wouldn’t hurt to see you smile.” Perhaps his most revealing line is “She treats me like I’m made of magic and that feels normal.”
The play could use some trimming and focus. The therapist’s potions and incantations are never explained, and the attraction of the co-worker for this putz is incomprehensible.
The Dangerous Cures of Dr. B by the Puckwit Gang, playing at the LGBT Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place; 1 hour.
Dr. John R. Brinkley (1885-1042) was a real-life charlatan – in fact, Charlatan is the title of his biography. Inspired by a podcast, director Ben Landmesser conceived this strange and somewhat creepy play about the fake doctor’s real activities in the early 20th century. Brinkley’s wife brings in the suckers and he treats them with (euphemistically speaking) goat glands. The show addresses the trauma and financial ruin inflicted by Brinkley and his ilk. Brinkley’s true believers (and talented musicians) perform period music on the “radio show.” The modern language in a period piece is jarring, but not the most jarring part.
Perhaps you’d like to aim higher, with one of these shows based on Shakespeare and classics:
Riffs on Classics
Trojan Women (Euripedes)
Sentences (Of Mice And Men)
Keeping Up with the Prozorovs (The Kardashians as Chekhov’s Three Sisters)
The Importance of Being Oscar (Wilde)
Unreel (a riff on Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape: “a manifesto, wrapped in a polemic, wrapped in a crisis.”)
Dorothy & Alice (The Wizard of Oz meets Alice in Wonderland in a showcase of aerial dance and circus arts)
Whatever you decide, embrace your Fringe experience. Good luck!