🎭 The Bitches are Back | “Amanda” and Elton John @ HFF18

userpic=fringeJust like our first two Sunday shows themed, so did our last two. For them, the theme was “bitches”. In the first, Amanda the Barbarian, we meet a real bitch as she blurs the line between the theatre and the real world. In the second, we had more of a referential bitch, with a cabaret of Elton John songs, The Bitch is Back. But first, my obligatory explanation of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB):

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

And now, on to our last two Sunday shows….


Amanda The Barbarian (HFF18)When I first did the scheduling of our Fringe shows, I made a mistake: I scheduled two shows at the same time as our tickets for Billy Porter at the Soraya. Luckily, I was able to reschedule both Fringe shows: one was They’ll Be Some Changes Made, which went to Thursday, June 7; the other was The Bitch is Back which went to Sunday 6/17 at 7:00 PM. But that left a large 3 hour hole in our schedule: we were in Hollywood, so could we find something in the general Lounge/3 Clubs/Broadmore/Complex area that was of interest. Reading through the Fringe catalog, we settled on Amanda the Barbarian, which had the following description:

Amanda, the star of a new play and superstar in her own head improvs, breaks the 4th wall, and drinks on stage in this play within a play. She is an animal – eating, loving, smoking, drinking, and stealing all the brightest lights and most beautiful moments that are all there to service her deep cavern of loneliness. A tornado on a high-speed train forcing her first time co-star Jack to play along, an over matched Director to give up, and her current girlfriend and co-star to be fed-up. Amanda The Barbarian is a love-letter to the theatre and to all the people we know who hijack every production.

From this, I expected some sort of odd train wreck: an actor who keeps getting progressively drunker on stage, going further off the rails. That wasn’t quite what I got. That’s not to say it was bad — far from it — just it wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

Amanda the Barbarian, by Scott Langer (FB), turned out to be the story of the production of a play starring the aforementioned Amanda, her live in boyfriend Jack, and her ex-girlfriend Marina, all under the direction of a director that Amanda hated. I’m not sure what the point of that play was, as we see it non-linearly, but the point of the play we were seeing on the Fringe stage was that Amanda was increasingly chafing at the written word. She didn’t like how the character was written, and kept changing the characterization and improvising, making life hell for her fellow actors. Further, this seemed to be bleeding into the real life relationships between the actors, who oddly had the same names as the characters in the on-stage play (this made it difficult to separate the play from “reality”, which might have been the authors point).

Given this, the play was fascinating to watch because you had no idea where it was going. By the end, I’m not sure where it ended up. Was there character growth? Did I feel more sympathetic for Amanda? Did she change? Or was she just a drunken bitch who just kept using people? Even now, almost 24 hours after the show, I’m still not sure.

My reception of the show wasn’t helped by some environmental factors, such as it being too cold in the theatre, or the fact that the scene changes took forever (and thus we were drowsing out). This play needs some serious tightening, both in execution between the scenes, and in the dialogue within the scenes.

As a boardgamer, I also winced everytime they mistreated that poor Monopoly set, but then again — hey, it’s Monopoly, not a real game.

I did think the performances were great. As Amanda, Kristin Walker (★FB, FB) captured the train wreck personality well. She was someone that drew your focus; she was  so fascinating as a character you just watched her to see what see would do next. Wonderful characterization. Also strong was Scott Langer (FB), the author, as her boyfriend. His portrayal of the exasperation of dealing with her was great (and to get drenched with what appeared to be beer, but could be Vernor’s, was a nightmare not only for him but whatever show had that stage next).

In smaller roles were Richard Reich (FB) as the exhausted director from dealing with the bitch that was Amanda, and for a few short  scenes, Frankie Jarvis as Marina. Both captured their characters well.

The production was directed not by “The Director”, but by the author, Scott Langer (FB). Costumes were by Frankie Jarvis. It was produced by Sean Frasier (FB), Kristin Walker (★FB, FB), and Mark Langer.

Alas, the performance we were at was the last performance.


The Bitch is Back (HFF18)After Amanda, it was time to grab a quick dinner at the Taco Truck, and head over to The Three Clubs (FB) for our last show, The Bitch is Back: An Elton John Cabaret. At HFF17, we had a bad experience with Three Clubs: we hadn’t known that bar restrictions were in place, and we had someone under 18 with us. This time that wasn’t the case: we were both (well) over 18, and so I think this was the first time I have been in an actual bar (you don’t want me to drink — I talk more!). Now that we’ve been there, I know the drill for the future and we’ll probably try more shows there. One suggestion for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), however: For shows such as this one, which are family friendly, you should endeavor to have them in family friendly facilities.

The Bitch is Back is a cabaret produced by Skypilot Theatre (FB), and is evidently a departure from their usual fare. No story. No premise. No characters. This is simply a celebration of Elton John (FB) music performed by members of the company: Chloejane Busick (★FB, FB), Erisa Evelyn Byrd (FB), Kelly Goodman (★FB, FB), Marie Pettit (FB), and TIna Walsch (FB). There are 15 songs performed. Alas, I didn’t have the presence of mind to note the playlist, but there was a good mix of well known hits, and a few obscure ones thrown in.

The cast of the show was clearly having the time of their lives with the music. Their fun was infectious, and most of the audience (especially those a bit more lubricated) were singing along. I’m not a singer, but during at least one number I brought up the Zippo lighter app on my phone. C’mon, you have to, for “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”.

I also appreciated that the cast was not your typical Hollywood model type, but reflected talent of all shapes and sizes. This is always welcome to see.

This, being Fringe, wasn’t a perfect show. A few notes here and there were off, but the audience was having so much fun I don’t think anyone really noted. As someone who grew up in the Elton John era (I still love the entire album of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”), it was just a hoot.

The production was directed by James Carey (FB), with vocal direction by Darci Monet (FB). Lighting and sound design was by The Three Clubs (FB). Kelsey Risher (FB) produced the show, and TIna Walsch (FB) did the program.

Alas, we caught the last performance of this show.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will be a tad less busy. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🎭 Exploring and Pushing the Boundaries | “Earhart” and “Retro SciFi Futurist” @ HFF18

userpic=fringeAs you’ve probably noted with my news chum posts, I try to find themes. Our first two shows on Sunday had a common theme on exploration: the first looked at Amelia Earhart, a pioneering women aviator; the second looked at how Science Fiction at the time looked forward to the future. But first, my obligatory explanation of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB):

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

And now, on to our Sunday shows….


Amelia Earhart has always fascinated me, both because of her odd disappearance, and because of her pioneering work. As someone who now is part of a group actively promoting women in cybersecurity, her pioneering work is even more fascinating. So when I had a slot available and noticed Earhart – More than a F-ing Mystery (A Musical Flight) in the Fringe catalog, I consulted with my wife (a long time member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)), and we decided to go. I mean, given our background and the following description, wouldn’t you go? Here’s what was in the catalog:

The story of Amelia Earhart as she breaks the odds, defies stereotypes, and paves the road for anyone to be whatever they dream despite what the rest of the world believes. Like Amelia herself, Earhart is full of strong themes surrounding feminism, equality, and the success of failure, highlighted by an all female cast. For 50 years, Amelia Earhart has been known as only an unexplained mystery, but she was, and is, much more than that – especially today. Earhart delivers the story of a proud, kickass girl, who set out to change the world and to prove once and for all that she is more than a fucking mystery.

Earhart – More than a F-ing Mystery (A Musical Flight) is an interesting show that has quite a bit of promise. In many ways, it reminds me of Gutenberg: The Musical (which we saw in San Diego a few years ago), due to its tongue in cheek attitude and the way that it recognizes that is it a stage show. Right now, the show itself is extremely Fringe-y and at times a bit cheesy, but I think there are some really strong bones that could support taking this forward and making it into something much much more. The basic story combines with a strong set of performances to make this all so wonderful.

The show opens with Dana and Mandy, the “author” and “composer” (who are not the real author and composer), talking about this show they had written about Amelia Earhart, but how it just ends with an unresolved mystery because, well, Amelia’s life ended with an unresolved mystery. At this point, two audience members protest. Claiming to be Earhart’s granddaughters, they point out that her story is much more than just an unresolved mystery: it is an inspiration. At this point, the story transitions to the early days of flight, where the existing guard of men are insisting that women simply cannot fly or be aviators. Earhart is meeting with her promoter and admirer, George Putnam, about her being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. She’s proud of the achievement, until it is pointed out that she was only a passenger. It is at this point she gets the idea to do it the right way — as the pilot. She works with Putnam (who is also interested in marrying her, while she continually rebuffs him), who helps her find sponsors for the trip. Once the money is raised, she does the flight… and agrees to marry George. However, her flight has one glitch: she lands in Ireland, not Paris. Still, it’s Europe.  But she has also realized that she has fallen in love with the sky — that it, flight itself. She begins to draw away from George, and plan to circumnavigate the globe. She meets her navigator — a noted drunk, Fred Noonan — and takes off on the fateful flight. At this point, the story ends, but the grandchildren come back out. They point out that the flight wasn’t a failure, for look at all the women that were inspired. More importantly, success is built on the bones of failure.

As I said, great message, right?

Throughout the story, there is a gaggle (that’s a technical term) of beautiful young women who are inspired by Earhart in various ways. We also get to meet the 99s, a pioneering women flying group.

Note: I discovered while writing this you can get a sample of the show, as many of the folks were on a podcast about it.

The performances were top-notch — and for some parts of the show, a bit gender-switching. In the lead position was Heather Woodward (Resume) as Amelia Earhart. She had a large number of the songs, and handled them with a lovely strong voice. She also brought quite a bit of humor to the role, and was fun to watch. I particularly liked her “I Wanna Do The Impossible”.

Playing off her for much of the show was Muriel Montgomery (FB) as George Putnam [also Grumpy Old Man #1]. Montgomery also had a nice singing voice and had a good chemistry with Woodward’s Earhart.

The remaining women formed an ensemble that provided the narrator/author, as well as numerous other characters. Dahlya Glick (FB) [Dana, 99s, others]Alexandria McCale (★FB, FB[Mandy, 99s, others]Richelle Meiss (FB) [99s, Grumpy Old Man #2, others];  and Kristen Rozanski (FB) [99s, Grumpy Old Man #3, George Reflection, others]. Alas, we didn’t get a program that told us who was who, but I believe that Glick was the narrator. All were great, fun to watch, and had lovely voices, especially together in songs like “The Ninety-Nines”. I particularly enjoyed listening to Glick and Rozanski; I hope I’ll be able to pick them out on the CD that was available.

The remaining “women” in the cast were the two granddaughters, played by two excellent drag performers, Pocket Turlington (FB, RL)  and Damiana Garcia (FB, RL/FB). My only comment for these two was a costuming one: Garcia needs to do a little better job on keeping her shirt tucked in to that the illusion isn’t broken.

The show featured music and lyrics by Manny Hagopian (FB). The songs were relatively simple but good; I particularly liked the last song about failure being important to success. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but if the show is to move forward, there may need to be some reexamination of the songs to ensure they do not stand apart, but move to work the plot forward as well as being entertaining.

The show was directed by Greg Smith (FB), who presumably did the movement as well. I always have trouble separating what the director brings from what the actors bring, especially in shows that have good performers and are not over or under directed. This was one of those: the director handled the movement and realism. There were no credits provided for scenery (which wasn’t much), costumes, or hair — but hey, this is Fringe, right? There was also no credit for the fellow at the keyboard in the back.

We found this an enjoyable show. There are two performances during the last weekend of Fringe, and I think it is worth seeing.


Attack of the Retro Sci-Fi Futurist (HFF18)As for our second show of the day, Attack of the Retro Sci-Fi Futurist, it was the description that sold these two long-time science fiction aficionados:

He’s the singer of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV theme song. And now James Mandell has turned the story of sci-fi futurism into an eye-candy multimedia event. Performing live with original music videos, infernal electronics and comic flare, he chronicles the development of this amazing genre in a show spanning 200 years of incredible imagery.

  • SEE! Rare footage from the sci-fi’s first filmmakers.
  • HEAR! Gripping historic radio recordings from the 1930’s.
  • THRILL! To space operas, secret decoder rings and sputtering rocket ships.

It’s a ramp-up to the brilliant future coming for us all – and you’re gonna wanna be there for that!

Yes, this was another one-man show. As I’ve noted before, one man shows can scrape the bottom, they can work well at a pedestrian level, and they can soar to fantastic heights. This show, performed by James Mandell (FB), the man behind the iconic voice of the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” theme song, was an exploration of all things Science Fiction. Using a mixture of videos, props, and his own music, Mandell told the story of the evolution of science fiction. He started with the earliest artists such as Mary Shelly, and moved on to folks like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and much more. All the while, he was illustrating the evolution of the genre — and its predictions — with films and media of the era. His focus was on the origins through the late 1970s.

Mandell had a wonderfully entertaining show. His focus was rarely telling his story (unlike two of our early one-performer shows); his story was that of the evolution of the genre. More importantly, he talked about how the genre was predicting wonderful technology that didn’t always make it out to the public. After all, we’re all still waiting for our flying cars.

The show was filled with cute and inventive music, which isn’t a surprise given that Mandell has four solo albums, and has worked studio sessions as a keyboardist and singer. The songs in the show were drawn from music he had written dealing with a distant retro future.

Attack of the Retro Sci-Fi Futurist was written, directed, and performed by James Mandell (FB). Technical assistance by Joe Tagnipes (FB). Eric Bridges (FB) was the stage manager. Isis Nocturne (★FB) served as social wranger, with Collin Pelton (FB) handling press relations.

We just found this to be a delightful and fun show, with extra fun for those who are actually into science fiction as well are. It is well worth seeing. There is one more performance during the last weekend of Fringe.

Lastly, I’ll note it was between this show and the next that I was ambushed by Princess “Wow”, which I’ve written about earlier.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will be a tad less busy. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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🎭 Well, That’s Rank(ed) | HFF18

userpic=fringeMy doctor likes to point out that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class. I mention that because in any competition or comparison (unless those where partial orderings are involved), something is always going to be ranked at the bottom. Even with partial orderings, there is some value that is the lowest value (unless everything is incomparable). That is certainly true for a Fringe Festival: some shows work, some don’t. Some audiences love some shows, some don’t. Even the best show will have audience members for whom it lands with a thud, despite your best efforts. If you care about their opinion at all, you learn what you can from it and improve your show.

I bring this up because of an incident that happened yesterday, in the 45 minute interval between our two shows at The Complex. The performer and author of the second show we had seen the previous Sunday (here’s the link; you figure it out) recognized me and came up to me. A typical New Yorker, she positioned herself about 10 inches from my face and proceeded to lay into me on how my writeup hurt her and her director. She said she almost thought about quitting, she said the contemplated suicide, she said it left her in tears. But, she said, she got over it because she’s got a sold out show at a future Fringe (or Off-Broadway; I can’t recall) in New York and she would work to improve. She said I should think about the hurt I cause when I write something up, and how I go on and on and on with the details. I seem to recall she also said she was having a bad day that day, and why didn’t I get the good message from her show. I just said I was sorry if impacted her so, and eventually she walked away.

Talking with the staff at the Complex Box Office who watched this, they seemed to note she was a bit crazy.

This is the first time I’ve ever had that happen from a writeup. I’ve had folks email back with corrections, and I’ll often edit the review to note those corrections, or note that they indicated they were having difficulties that day, and that my experience might have been atypical. Be polite with me, and I’ll be polite back. But this?

When I wrote up the review, I noted that there were a few comments that expressed a similar view to mine: that this performer was not prepared and rambled through the show. There were a number of positive reviews, but those seemed to be more from friends and cohorts. Additionally, while in line for our first show on Sunday (writeup tonight), I happened to be standing next to an audience member who was at the same show last Saturday with us. Talking with her (and this was before this incident), she expressed the same opinion. This performer was not prepared, and the performance was painful and didn’t impart the message she wanted to impart.

In real life, I’m in the technical world*. I regularly have to teach courses in my area of expertise. I know my material well; I dry run (rehearse) as necessary. I make sure my material clearly imparts the point I want it to make. The reason I didn’t comment on the point she was trying to make was that she didn’t design her show to clearly and succinctly make clear what she was trying to say.

At every Fringe festival, there will be shows at the bottom and shows at the top; shows that need a lot of work and shows that don’t. I think that performers expect that, and use reviews and writeups to learn where they can improve. It is just like getting back comments on conference technical submission: the reviewers aren’t doing this to be personal, they are making comments so that you can be better in the next iteration.

So, Ms. Wow, if you are going to be getting up on a stage — be it the theatre stage, the teaching stage, or submitting technical material to conferences — you need to be prepared to have your work rejected and to get (hopefully) constructive criticism. Do with that criticism what you may, but remember that your reviewers aren’t giving it to you to be hurtful or spiteful, but to help you improve for your next time.

P.S.: * If you didn’t see it earlier in the week, I’m thinking about putting myself out the for criticism: in other words, I’m thinking about a Fringe show. I’d need a writer, so if you’re interested, look here.

P.P.S.: With respect to technical papers, here’s a good article on how to constructively review a research paper. Similar to that, I think there are different aspects to consider when reviewing a show: there’s the writing of the show: how well it establishes its message and conveys that to the audience. There’s the performance: how well does the performer do, independent of whether the story is good or bad. Lastly, there’s the technical aspect of execution: did the lighting, sound, scenery, and costumes contribute to or distract from the performance and message.

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🎭 Oh, the Pain! | Trojan Women and Asperger’s @HFF18

userpic=fringeBoth of our Saturday Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) dealt with pain, coming at it from two different angles. But that doesn’t mean the shows were pains: once was excellent, the other was pretty good. But first, however, my stock description of what the Fringe Festival is:

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

And now, on to our Saturday shows…. and note that, after the shows, there’s a little bit more. Suffice it to say it is a tribute to 140, or perhaps a bit more, characters.


Trojan Women (HFF18)Our first show, Trojan Women, was billed as follows in the Hollywood Fringe online catalog:

In perhaps one of the first recorded pieces of theater in the Western canon that passes the Bechdel test, Euripides’ Trojan Women tells a story of women who are stronger than gods. Trojan Women offers an unapologetic and powerful look at the act of community-building during times of grief, the gendered violence of war, and the messy aftermath of both real and mythic Greek conquests. Written circa 415 BCE and set immediately after the Trojan War, Trojan Women follows in real time the lives of nine remaining Trojan women (and two Greek men) as their city is captured.

For those unfamiliar, the “Bechdel Test” refers to a test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule.  It is used to evaluate how women are protrayed in fiction. It consists of three simple requirements: (1) It has to have at least two [named] women in it; (2) Who talk to each other; (3) About something besides a man. I’d say this is mostly true, although there are a fair references to men — both as part of the conquering force, the Greeks, and references to children lost. But first, I should perhaps describe the story to you. That, in turn, requires some background for those unfamiliar with ancient Greek myths. Here’s how the program described it, edited a little:

Well before the story in the play started, the Gods had a party on Mt. Olympus. They chose to not invite Eris, the Goddess of Discord, perhaps because they felt she would ruin the vibe. Angered by this slight, Eris devised a way to ensure that she ruined their night. She threw a golden apple (known always after as The Apple of Discord) on which she had inscribed “to the fairest” into the party. Naturally, Hera (Goddess of Women), Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) and Athena (Goddess of Wisdom and War) each assumed the apple was for them. A fight ensued, and the three goddesses demanded that Zeus determine which of them was the fairest and deserved the apple. Knowing better than to get in the middle of this argument, Zeus suggested that Paris of Troy, a mortal he knew to have good judgement, should make the call. Each Goddess promised something different to Paris if he chose her: Hera promised immense power, Athena promised incredible strength, and Aphrodite promised the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite, and thus, the love of Helen was promised to him.

The events that followed, and why they occurred, are still up to interpretation. We know Paris visited Greece while Greece and Troy were on good terms, and we know that Helen left her husband, Menelaus, and got on Paris’ boat headed back to Troy. Upon hearing that Helen was gone, Menelaus approached his brother Agamemnon, and they decided to wage war on Troy. This war lasted for ten years, and ended with Odysseus’ Trojan Horse. Greek soldiers hid inside a giant steel steed, which they had presented as a “Congrats on winning the war” present. In the middle of the night, while the Trojans celebrated what they thought was a victory, the Greek soldiers crept out of the horse, unlocked the gates of Troy for the rest of the soldiers who were waiting, and sacked the city. During that night, Paris died. Priam, King of Troy, died. Hector, Troy’s most steady and masterful warrior, had died days earlier. Almost all of the city is killed or enslaved. Left behind are only the Trojan Women. And Helen.

This play, which was the third part of a trilogy about the Trojan War by the Greek playwright Euripides, opens on a war camp in Troy after the Trojans have already lost to the Greeks. What follows is detailed well in the Wikipedia synopsis; you may find the story harder to follow on stage (I did) due to unfamiliarity with the backstory and the style of language used.  Here’s the essence: The play follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as they and their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. The focus is on how much the Trojan women have suffered as their grief is compounded when the Greeks dole out additional deaths and divide their shares of women. Through out play, a Greek herald, Talthybius, arrives to tell the women their fates. This includes the fact that the dethroned queen Hecuba will be taken away with the Greek general Odysseus, and Cassandra is destined to become the conquering general Agamemnon’s concubine. Cassandra, who can see the future, is morbidly delighted by this news: she sees that when they arrive in Argos, her new master’s embittered wife Clytemnestra will kill both her and her new master. However, Cassandra is also cursed so that her visions of the future are never believed, and she is carried off. From the widowed princess Andromache, wife of Hecuba’s late son Hector, Hecuba learns from her that her youngest daughter, Polyxena, has been killed as a sacrifice at the tomb of the Greek warrior Achilles.  Andromache’s lot is to be the concubine of Achilles’ son Neoptolemus, and Andromache’s her baby son, Astyanax, has been condemned to die. Helen, who started this mess although not one of the Trojan women, is supposed to suffer greatly as well: Menelaus arrives to take her back to Greece with him where a death sentence awaits her. Helen begs and tries to seduce her husband into sparing her life. Menelaus remains resolved to kill her. Near the end of the play, Talthybius returns, carrying with him the body of little Astyanax on Hector’s shield. Andromache’s wish had been to bury her child herself, performing the proper rituals according to Trojan ways, but her ship had already departed. Talthybius gives the corpse to Hecuba, who prepares the body of her grandson for burial before they are finally taken off with Odysseus. Much of the play is the women bemoaning what they have lost.

This is an ambitious play for a Fringe company to mount; I know the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Company is doing it for one weekend in July at the site formerly known as REP East. Luckily, Project Nongenue succeeded: the production was excellent. Even if you can’t follow the specifics of the story well, you can get the gist of the performances. And those performances? Just “wow”. Moving and beautiful, clearly demonstrating the anguish that these women were going through. Director Olivia Buntaine (FB), assisted by Elizabeth Jane Birmingham (FB), with movement direction by Christine Breihan (FB), have worked with the performance ensemble to create nothing less than a work of art.

Leading the performance team, at least in my book were Kay Capasso (FB) as Eris, who narrated the events, and Taylor Jackson Ross (FB) as the former queen, Hecuba. Ross draws your eyes; I found myself unable to keep my focus off of her when she was involved in the main action. Capasso, on the other hand, is always swooping around, narrating the action and providing sardonic commentary. Both were great.

The main cohort of women in the camp with Hecuba were Liz Eldridge (FB) as Leader; Elizabeth Jane Birmingham (FB) as Iris, and Avrielle Corti (FB) as Zosime.  All gave strong performance, although the version of the story didn’t allow the audience to learn that much about them individually and as characters.

Popping in and out of the proceedings, either as Talthybius the messenger, or as Menelaus, Helen’s husband, was Cameron Rose (FB). He had the unenviable job of (a) being the only man in the company, and (b) being the bearer of bad news. He handled both well.

The remaining characters generally came in for a scene or two, advanced their storylines, and departed: Kyra Morling as Cassandra, Celia Mandela (FB) as Andromarche, and Daphne Gabriel (FB) as Helen. All had strong performances; I particularly likes Gabriel’s Helen, and Morling’s Cassandra.

The production design of the show was simple: essentially clotheslines with cloth screens and some ladders, with a few props and use of fabric to represent the baby Astyanax. This design was by Cameron Rose (FB). It was supported by Leslie Rose (FB)’s lighting design, and Rich Rose (FB)’s scenic consultation. Costumes were by Elizabeth Jane Birmingham (FB). Robert Arthur Angell (FB) provided Dramaturgy. Al Washburn (FB) did the graphic/web design. Backstage drums by Robert Arthur Angell (FB) and Al Washburn (FB). The production was produced by Robert Arthur Angell (FB). No credit was provided with respect to the translation of the Greek playwright Euripides, or who adapted it for the Fringe stage and time limits.

As I write this, there is one more performance of Trojan Women: June 22 at 8pm.


Pain in My Asperger's (HFF18)A staple at any Fringe Festival is the one person show. Sometimes they are painful and self indulgent; sometimes they soar to wonderful places — but you can be guaranteed that if you go to a Fringe Festival, you’ll have a fair number from which to choose. HFF18 was no exception. We chose  Pain in my Asperger’s based on the subject matter; here’s the description from the Fringe guide:

Actor/musician, Jeremy Ebenstein, through story and song, takes audiences through his humorous, inspiring, yet often heartbreaking story of living a life with Asperger’s Syndrome. With eight original songs and compositions, Ebenstein chronicles his journey from childhood to adulthood, addressing universal issues like childhood bullying, hopeful romance, and overcoming depression, to his unique take on the struggles of everyday life, from relationships, to being able to hold down the simplest of jobs, yet always striving towards his dreams of being accepted and living a successful life. It’s a story of hope and love, not only for those suffering with Asperger’s Syndrome, who need to overcome the additional challenges that Asperger’s presents, but for all who have ever hoped and dreamed about making something of themselves.

Given that we work with engineers every day, are engineers ourselves, and know numerous folks on the spectrum, this show seemed to hit home. So we decided to see it.

In general, Jeremy Ebenstein (FB) does a good job. His story is moving, and it takes a lot of courage — especially for an Aspie — to get up on stage and tell it. It could use with a bit of editing — at times, it seemed to drag and one had to fight the urge to look at the cell phone for the time. But I view that as a side effect of the Aspie desire to tell too much information; I urge the directing and advising team to see if perhaps ten minutes might be cut — some repetitive examples, perhaps some of the approaches.

However, overall, the ultimate story told by Ebenstein was good. It captured well the difficulties for someone on the spectrum to achieve in the dramatic field. The stories of him in school, and his attempts at forming relationships, were quite good. Luckily, Ebenstein found his music — music is a wonderful too to help people get through so much. His rendition of “Over The Rainbow” during the show was astounding; his other songs were good, although a bit less memorable.

The script for the show was developed by Ebenstein with Jack Fry (FB) in the Jack Fry Solo Workshops. Direction was by Jack Fry (FB) . I’ll note that we’ve seen Fry on stage before, at HFF16, as EInstein. Debra Ehrhardt (FB) served as producer and creative consultant.

There is one more performance of Pain in my Asperger’s : 6/20 at 7:45PM.


The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter LibraryAfter the show, we had one more stop to make: we had to see the Donald Trump Presidential Library. To be more specific, it was the pop-up installation of The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library in West Hollywood (it was there last weekend and this weekend; today is the last day). This museum is dedicated to preserving Donald Trump’s favorite medium of communication: the tweet. The website has a virtual tour, but there are areas devoted to all aspects of his tweets: the people he mentions and disparages, his history of tweeting, the story of how he has used his tweets for good or bad; how he has tweeted about foreign countries, and so forth.

In some ways, this is serious. All Presidential Communications are part of the national archives, and his tweets are being saved in the National Archives. So this is probably the first … perhaps scholarly is too strong … study of these Presidential records. They paint a picture of a man with too much time on his handsa man who spends too much time on a gold-plated thronea man who watches far too much “Fox and Friends” … a man who prefers to take his constantly changing and contradictory messages directly to the medium in pre-packaged mouth-sized soundbites.

That give you indigestion.

Seriously, the exhibit was a hoot. It really shows who the man is, which is the point of these archives. Expect future archives of the ripped-up but later reassembled papers received in the Oval Office. Probably with the President’s scribbles annotations on them.

In crayon.

Plus, when you go the library, you get your own “Donald Trump Twitter Name”. I was “Oily Dan”.

The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library continues in West Hollywood, at 631 N Robertson, until 10pm today.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will be a tad less busy. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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Lazy and Ageless – A Perfect Description | Sunday 6/10 Shows @ HFF18

userpic=fringeAs I wrote about our Saturday shows, the reaction of audiences to theatre can range the gamut from “Wow! What was that!” to “Ugh. What was that?”. Saturday had the “Wows”. Sunday was different: there was a “Hmmm” and an “Ugh”. But first, however, my stock description of what the Fringe Festival is:

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

And now, on to our Sunday shows:


How To Be Lazy and Not Feel Guilty (HFF18)As we were reading through the Fringe schedule back in May to decide what shows we should see, we came across the following description for How to Be Lazy and Not Feel Guilty:

A hilarious social satire about a woman who overworks herself until she goes mad! …yay?

Follow Jenine and a psychotic ensemble of characters – including her boss, family, Sponsors™, Satan and coworkers – as they collectively run her into the ground! Watch her sacrifice everything for her ambition: her time, her health… maybe even… her relationship?! To find out if she makes it out alive or is completely consumed by the pressures of productivity, you’ll have to watch for yourself. An absurdist, style-bending, ensemble-based satire guaranteed to make you take a long hard look at your own life – what more could you want?

Being the types that want to be lazy, and being Jewish so we understand guilt, this sounded like the perfect show.

As the summary indicated, the story presented centered around Janine, an employee at some generic company where, presumably, she did critical but generic things. The company was pressuring her to get these generic things — and creating loads of guilt around her getting these things done. There was so much pressure, in fact, that she was giving up other things in her life: sleep, her boyfriend, sleep, sex, sleep, friendships. Did I mention that she was working so hard she was constantly fighting not to fall asleep, and feeling even more guilty when she did.

The execution of the show was humorous and frenetic, silly and overdone at times, earnest at others. What impressed me most about the show was the point that it was making: that far too often we place far too much importance in the things that we have to do, as opposed to the people we care about around us. That’s a message that resonates with someone who is going crazy doing updates to the Highway pages, attempting to attend 20 HFF18 shows and write up every one, doing stuff for my synagogue’s Men’s Club, all without ignoring my wife who has criticized me before for spending too much time on the computer.

Translation: Yes, this show hit home. Yes, this show incited some deep thought and internal conversations. Yes, this show did exactly what theatre should do.

The execution of the show wasn’t perfect. It was Fringe, after all. It was a bit overdone, the freneticism distracted at times from the story. If it is to move and expand into a longer piece with a longer life for traditional venues, it needs expansion, deeper fleshing out of the characters and relationships, and better understanding of the drives and changes. It also needs to show stronger motivation, and perhaps some false starts at moving in the right direction. But I think the notion and underlying message would make that effort worth it: this show says something that needs to be said.

As Janine, Sarah Richards (FB) captured the overworked and overwhelmed nature of her character well. She was fun to watch. Duncan Kinzie (FB) was her boyfriend Thomas, and he embodied an interesting character contrast. The remaining actors (Emerson Harris (FB), Drew Petriello (FB), and Addison Turner (FB)) formed an ensemble of various characters: bosses, parents, co-workers, the Devil, and such.  I do have to complement Addison Turner (FB), just because she was just so much fun to watch, with a great energy and humor that radiated to the audience.

The show was written by Drew Petriello (FB), and directed by Natasha Gualy (★FB, FB) [who was also the producer, and “designer of all things”]. Sound design by Emerson Harris (FB). It was a Leaky Faucet & Sons (FB) production.

In summary, I think How To Be Lazy and Not Feel Guilty was worth seeing.


Ageless Wonders: A Grown Up Kids Guide to Growing Newer (HFF18)Alas, I can’t say the same thing for Ageless Wonders: A Grown Up Kids Guide to Growing Newer. It fell into the “Ugh. What was that?” category, and did not meet our expectations.

The show was described on the Fringe website as:

Mindy is fascinating. All she has to do is get up and talk. She muses on entering this new “senior club” and enlightens on the benefits ( and discounts!). Fradkin aka Princess Wow gives a fresh perspective on aging and that we truly are “ageless wonders”. She speaks directly to the audience, takes you into her world, and you gladly go. This one hour performance promises to evoke some tears, guarantee smiles and even laughter. The play has a catchy original score written by Grammy Award winner Roland Mousaa & Mindy Fradkin, both of whom had the privilege of working and befriending the late great Pete Seeger, folk icon/activist.

We went in expecting to have a one-person exploration of the aspects of aging, and how one can age without gaining the “Get Off My Lawn” attitude. We expected a performer that had the material down pat, that was able to engage and tell the story and keep the audience entranced. That view would be reinforced by all the rave reviews on the performers website. One would expect a highly entertaining, well-organized, one-person show.

I don’t know what show those people were seeing (or what they were smoking). Perhaps she was having a bad day, but what we got was something different. What we got was the author, Mindy Fradkin (FB), also known as “Princess Wow“, rambling and telling the story of her life, constantly putting on her glasses and reading from her notes, and then taking them off again. Incidents were told multiple times. There was disorganization on the slides shown, and they often didn’t seem to convey anything useful.  It came across as a self-indulgent rental of a theatre space.

Here’s another way of looking at it: I’m not an actor. I’m a cybersecurity expert, and I often get up and give talks and tutorials using Powerpoint. I know my material down pat — not as a script, but I intimately know the subject. I use my Powerpoint slides as a reference, just as an actor would use a prompt. I can do an engaging talk and finish on time. But I’ve been in many a presentation where the presenter just reads off their slides, and it is a painful process. This show struck me as the latter.

The nature of the show was reflected in the program that was handed out. Not only does it have bios of the actors, authors, and production team, but there are detailed photo credits and graphic credits, details on the video editing, links of referrals from the Powerpoint slides, links of additional resources, book references, and links to other references. Perhaps we should have received a copy of the slides.

I could have done better just giving my tutorial on the Cybersecurity Acquisition Process. Perhaps at the next Fringe. 🙂 But that’s the subject of tomorrow’s post.*
(*: The link will work, well, tomorrow)

I think the show oversold itself, and needed significantly better preparation. I expect a Fringe show, unless advertised otherwise, to be “off book”. If you must have a trigger, put it on the Powerpoint slide, have your laptop screen facing you, and keep your eyes on the audience (except for the occasional quick glance). Don’t keep looking in your book of notes.  Most important: know your material, know what you want to say, and clearly make the points you want to make. Don’t ramble.

The production was directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson (FB), who seemed to be directing a large number of other Fringe shows as well. Jessica: Please get your performer to listen to you and learn her material; I’m sure you tried. It featured a few songs — with questionable singing — with lyrics by Roland Mousaa (FB) and Mindy Fradkin (FB) (Roland & Mindy FB), and music by Roland Mousaa (FB).

Luckily, the listed performances have all taken place, although I seem to recall mention of a performance being added. Avoid it. This has evidently been submitted to other Fringe festivals; I’d wait for word of mouth to see if she was better prepared and had improved the show before trying it again. We weren’t that impressed.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). For the next weekend, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦., we’ve replaced it with Tabletop, a reading of a new musical about tabletop RPGs at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB). The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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Strength Comes From Within | “The Color Purple” @ Pantages

The Color Purple (Hollywood Pantages)Saturday was a musical day, and a day for deconstruction. We started down the street from the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the The Hobgoblin Playhouse, where we saw the final production of the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״לThe Story of My Life. This was the second time we had seen the show; we saw it first in 2010. We then toddled down the street to the Pantages to see the touring company (FB) of the 2016 Revival of The Color Purple; this was another revisit, as we saw the original tour of the show back in 2008. Both of Saturday’s shows were also, essentially, deconstructed versions. Story was deconstructed out of necessity: it was part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).  Purple’s deconstruction was more of a directoral choice: this production came from the Menier Chocolate Factory (FB) in London, where director John Doyle applies a minimalist aesthetic to the production. In this case, that means no set pieces other than chairs; minimal different costumes, and suggestions for place from fabric.

I would have thought, given that this was emphasized as a deconstructed notion, that it would have been markedly different than the original. But looking back at my comments from 2008, I noted:

The sets for the show were very simple: painted scrims and simple building pieces. What was spectacular was the lighting, which provided the ability to transform the basic wood-ish floor of the Ahmanson stage into a field of crops, and African jungle, a garden. The lighting designer (Brian MacDevitt) really deserves special mention. It is rare I notice how much lighting contributes to the mood and feel of a show. This time I did.

The costumes for the show were also spectacular. Most of it was period dress of the 1910s and 1920s. Celie’s costumes, however, did a wonderful job of changing the look and sense of the actress, and conveying the sense of “ugly” that was required. I was also taken by the costumes in the African Homeland scene, which conveyed a sense of rawness without being too out in the open.

Truthfully, what I remember most about the 2008 production was the lighting: use of gobos to create wood floor effects, and the realistic and colorful costumes from the African scenes. This production was markedly different in that regard. Most of the lighting was stark; I’d say that white light was used through 75% of the show. Costumes, except for a few characters, were drab until the second act, reflecting the drab life of the characters. From what I’ve been told, the interstitial dialogue may have been cut down (although I noted back in 2008 it was mostly sung). The focus of this show was the music, and the ability of the music to tell the story. Superficialities cut away, as it were.

If you’re not familiar with the story of The Color Purple, it begins with the 1983 book of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. This was made into a motion picture in 1985. It was adapted for the theatre in 2005, with a book by Marsha Norman, and  music and lyrics by Brenda RussellAllee Willis, and Stephen Bray, all of whom were new to the musical theatre. Back in 2008, I described the story thusly:

“The Color Purple” basically tells the storie of Celie, a young black girl in the south, knocked up by her step-pseudofather twice by the age of 14, and then married off soon after to a man who beats her to get her to obey. It is the story of the love between Celie and her sister Nettie, the story of the relationships in Celie’s life. In particular, it is about how Celie’s relationships with some strong black women make her realize that she is loved, that she does have value, that she can stand up for herself and accomplish something, and the power that love plays in it all.

Viewed through slightly different eyes a decade later, The Color Purple is really a story of female empowerment and taking charge of one’s life. It resonates especially well in the last couple of years: Purple was #MeToo and #TimesUp well before those entered the hashicon. It is the story of how one strong woman — Sofia — can serve as an example to others that they can say “Hell No!” when faced with abuse and mistreatment, and how seeing confident and powerful women can inspire those who have lived in fear for most of their lives to, in Hamilton-speak, grab the narrative by the balls and rewrite the story of the rest of their lives. This message clearly hit with the audience.

But Color Purple is much more. Shall we say it shades the story in a very special way. This isn’t just the story of women taking charge of their lives: it is the story of African-American women taking charge of their lives. This is a black cast telling a black story, but one with larger resonance. It also celebrates the black form, which is often a very different aesthetic than the white form: with curves and a respect for size and shape and using — and celebrating — what nature gave you. That, too, appeared to hit a nerve with the audience, judging by the applause.

In addition to the power of the story, there was the power of the music. I’ve read some reviewers that view the music of this show as pedestrian — but what do they know. I enjoyed it, and the performances were great (tempered only by the problematic sound system of the Pantages).

In the lead position was Adrianna Hicks (FB) as Celie. Hicks was at the center of the action; onstage for most of the show. She carried most of the story; she was also the character that had the greatest transformation from beginning to end. Hicks captured well the change from frightened young girl to self-confident woman who know what she wanted and how to get it. Hicks had a strong voice and sang spectacularly; she ovation she got at the end was well deserved.

In the second tier of strong women were Carrie Compere (FB) as Sofia and Carla R. Stewart (FB) as Shug Avery. Both were the catalysts for Celie’s transformation. Both were exemplars for size, beauty and strength on stage — and the audience ate all of those attributes up. Strong performers, strong singers, strong movement, strong style.

In the third tier of women who found their strength were Erica Durham (FB) as Nettie and Gabrielle Reid (FB) as Squeak (we had understudies at our performance; the roles are normally played by N’Jameh Camara (FB) and Erica Durham (FB), respectfully). Both captured their characters well and sang strongly.

Turning to the main named male roles, who have in many ways a secondary, although key, role in the story. Gavin Gregory (FB)’s Mister was a strong performance: violent and mean at the beginning, transformed at the end. J. Daughtry (FB) was an ebullent Harbo who worked well with Compere’s Sofia.

The remaining characters were portrayed by members of the ensemble, strongly and with feeling. Ensemble members were (named characters noted, grey indicates a normal role but not at our performance): Darnell Abraham (FB) [Adam], Amar Atkins (FB) [Guard], Kyle E. Baird (FB) [Bobby / Buster], Angela Birchett (FB) [Church Lady], Bianca Horn (FB) [Church Lady], Mekhai Lee (FB) [Grady], C. E. Smith (FB) [Preacher / Ol’ Mister], Clyde Voce (FB) [Adam / Swing], Nyla Watson (FB) [Olivia / Swing], J. D. Webster (FB) [Pa], Brit West (FB) [Church Lady]. Swings were Nikisha Williams (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager] and Michael Wordly.

Music was provided by a nine-piece orchestra conducted by Darryl Archibald (FB) [Keys 1], with Wayne Green [Keys 2] as Associate Conductor. The remaining members of the orchestra ( indicates local) were: Michael Karcher (FB) [Guitar (Electric, Acoustic, Dobro, Harmonica, 12 String)]; Chris Thigpen (FB) [Bass (Electric, Acoustic)]; Trevor Holder [Drums], Frank Fontaine (FB) [Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute]; Richard Mitchell [Bari Sax, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Aaron Smith (FB) [Trumpet, Flugelhorn]; William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other music credits: Randy Cohen (FB) [Keyboard Programming]; Talitha Fehr (FB) [Music Coordinator]; Eric Heinly [Orchestra Contractor]. Production music credits: Catherine Jayes (FB) [Music Supervisor], Joseph Joubert (FB) [Orchestrations].

Turning to the production and creative credits: In addition to serving as director, John Doyle did the set design and musical staging. This design was augmented by Ann Hould-Ward‘s costume design and Charles G. LaPointe (FB)’s wig and hair design. Although minimal, they worked well to establish place and time. Jane Cox (FB)’s lighting design was also minimal, but it established mood well. The biggest weakness was Dan Moses Schreier (FB)’s sound design: although it worked well for a touring company, it was swallowed by the Pantages. Amplification was obvious and a bit tinny, and the actual words often got lost for the muddiness of the sound. The Pantages facility is a hard one to amplify in a clean manner — it is perhaps its biggest drawback with so many hard surfaces bouncing the sound in many ways. The Pantages really needs a local sound designer to tweak tour sound, but that never happens. Rounding out the production credits: Matt DiCarlo (FB) [Associate Director];  Telsey + Company (FB) [Casting]; Thomas Schall [Fight Coordinator]; Brian Schrader [General Manager]; Jose Solivan (FB) [Company Manager]; Melissa Chacón (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Richard A. Leigh (FB) [Stage Manager]. There were loads of producers, touring producers, executive producers, and such that I’m not going to list.

The Color Purple continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through June 17, 2018. Tickets are available through the Pantages Website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or TodayTix. I found the show worth seeing and quite enjoyable.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FBז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend appears to be open, as Jane Eyre The Musical from Chromolume Theatre (FB) looks to be a dead parrot ⚰🐦. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

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Telling the Stories | “The Story of My Life” @ HFF18/Chromolume

userpic=fringeTheatre is visceral. It creates, in the audience, reactions that can range the gamut from “Wow! What was that!” to “Ugh. What was that?”. This weekend, we saw four shows — three  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB)* shows, and one commercial theatre show — that were a clear demonstration of the range (and in that order). But first, however, my stock description of what the Fringe Festival is (as our first show was technically a Fringe show):

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

 And now, on to that first show, which was both a Fringe show, as well as being the last show from one of our theatre subscriptions:


The Story of My Life (HFF18/Chromolume)Theatre often sheds a light upon, and echoes, reality — sometimes in very painful and poignant ways. Back in 2010, a very dear dear friend of ours died.  Less than a week after she died, we were at the Havok Theatre production of Neil Bartram and  Brian Hill (FB)’s musical, The Story of My Life (at the Lillian Theatre, now The Broadwater — host to many Fringe productions). As I wrote then, the combination of the story and the circumstances moved me to tears. To understand why, you need to understand the story — or perhaps stories — being told in this intimate, two-person musical. Here’s how I described it back then:

“The Story of My Life” tells the story of the friendship of Thomas and Alvin, who met in first grade. It starts out right after Alvin had died by jumping off a bridge, and his friend Thomas, now a famous writer, has the obligation to write Alvin’s eulogy. Thomas is blocked and can’t come up with anything, and so Alvin appears in his head, urging him to write what he knows, and that a eulogy is simply a series of stories, with a tearjerker at the end. But Thomas is still blocked, trying to figure out where this childhood friendship went wrong. So Alvin starts pulling books off the bookshelves of Thomas’ mind, sharing the stories. We start with their meeting, where their teacher Mrs. Remington introduced them: Thomas dressed as Clarence the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and Alvin dressed as the ghost of his dead mother. We see them grow up: picking the magical book from Alvin’s father’s bookstore that turns Tom into a writer; the Christmas’ where they make snow angels and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”; Tom’s application to college; Tom’s distancing himself from Alvin (and his subsequently becoming blocked). In the end, we see how this distancing affects Tom’s ability as a writer (for his stories turn out to be expressions of his adventures with Alvin), and the reconciliation of the friendship in Tom’s mind.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a recurrent theme in this musical, and perhaps is a bit heavy-handed. It shows up repeatedly: from Clarence the angel, to everyone saying “Everytime a bell rings…” whenever the door bells ring, to Alvin being compared to George Bailey (who sets aside his own life to attend to another’s responsibility, and thus never leaves town), and ultimately, to the parallel in Alvin’s death… and perhaps the reason behind the death. It didn’t bother me, but I can see where others might find it heavy… but then again, I’ve seen people who model their lives around movies. It simply shows the power of the media and metaphor in our life.

A little over 8 years ago, the musical was resonating with the death of our dear friend — a friend whose life touched ours in ways that are still felt to this day. This weekend we saw The Story of My Life again as part of the Fringe Festival, and the musical was resonating with additional recent deaths. First were the suicides over the past week of Kate Spade (Katherine Noel Brosnahan) and Anthony Bourdain (in an unexplained manner, similar to Alvin); second, the confirmation of the death of the producing company, Chromolume Theatre (FB) — their Fringe production of The Story of My Life will be their final production, as far as I know. As with my dear friend, all of them touched and changed the lives of people. We’ve been seeing testaments and stories about the impact of Spade and Bourdain all week. As for Chromolume: it has touched the lives of actors and audiences; it has given people exposure; it has brought forgotten gems to the intimate stage (such as their recent spectacular production of Dessa Rose, as well as lots of forgotten Sondheim). As with another producing company/theatre that died a few years ago, REP in Santa Clarita, we keep running into people who we first met in those productions.

The key point in the show is that our lives our represented by the stories that we tell, and the stories we file away in our cranial filing cabinets. The incidents behind the stories influence our lives, and that — as in the ways the flapping of a butterfly’s wings affects the currents in the wind, so the interactions and influences of the people and incidents in our lives create subtle changes that move us forward. The notion of “The Butterfly” is a central metaphor for this show. Here is an excerpt from the song of that name that many feel is one of the most beautiful songs in the show:

“You’re a butterfly my friend,
Powerful and strong
And I’m grateful for the way
You’ve always hurried me along.
When you flap your wings to stretch yourself
It might seem small to you
But you change the world
With everything you do.”

The book behind “The Story of My Life” is by Brian Hill, who received a 2009 Drama Desk Award nomination for the book. The music and lyrics were by Neil Bartram, who also received 2009 Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics. The show opened on Broadway in 2009 but closed in a week: this is not a show for a large Broadway house, but is perfect in the smaller and more intimate venues.

As I noted earlier, this production was also a revisiting of something we’d seen before (that was a theme for Saturday’s shows — this show was followed by the touring production of the recent revival of The Color Purple, which we had also seen a decade earlier). Back in 2010 when we first saw this show, it was a spectacularly executed set filled with books. As I wrote about the 2010 production: “The set (designed by Tom Buderwitz) consisted of rows upon rows of bookshelves and books, covered with books and papers in shades of grey and black (collected through the hard work of one of our favorite stage managers), with a bridge across the back. It was gently lit (in a lovely lighting design by Steve Young) through mood expressing colors via overhead leikos and lighting behind the bookshelves.” This production, on the other hand, was a Fringe production. This meant that it had 15 minutes to load in, and the same to load out. It was much simpler: a table, some boxes of books, more books on the floor, a podium, and some wooden screens. It was, in a sense, a deconstructed set design. But this show is so simple in that aspect of the staging that it worked equally well.

One of the things that made this particular production spectacular was the cast: Andrew Schufman (FB) as Thomas, and Daniel Koh (FB) as Alvin. Koh we had seen recently in another Bartram/Hill musical, The Theory of Relativity, and it was a delight to see him again. He has a wonderful voice, and he brought so many small touches and quirks to Alvin that just brought him to life.  Schufman, on the other hand, was new to us. He gave a lovely warm performance with a great singing voice that was quite touching. In short: they made these characters people.

Conor Sheehan (FB) and Johnathan Brett (FB) are the understudies for Schufman and Koh, respectively. They will get their chance to shine at the June 16th performance.

The production was directed by Michael Marchak (FB), who also designed the movement and presumably the “set and props” (as much as you have those in Fringe). Richard Berent (FB) provided the musical direction, which means he was at the piano. Veronica Vasquez (FB) was the stage manager.

This show is one of the best shows we’ve seen at Fringe this year (and it ranks right up there with the best musicals we’ve seen at Fringe over our many years of attending Fringe). Especially given the turmoil behind the scenes with the producing company, that this show shines so bright is a testament to the talent that was Chromolume, and the people that made it special. Go see it, and you’ll walk away moved by the experience. Theatre, at its essence, is the telling of stories to impact lives. That is what this show is — that is what this show does — and that is why you must see it.

As I write this, there are three more presentations of The Story Of My Life at The Hobgoblin Playhouse on Hollywood Blvd: June 12, 16, and 23. Tickets are available through the Fringe website.

A final note: Although there was a hope of resurrection, it appears that hope has been extinguished and this production is Chromolume’s last. We’ve only been subscribing for two years, and were impressed with what the theatre did with what little it had. We will miss the friends we were starting to make there, and hope they turn up at future companies. It does mean we’re looking for a replacement subscription: I’m open to suggestions for a similar theatre with similar programming — meaning affordable revisitings of rarely-done musicals, with high quality.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) ז״ל, a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB) at the Hudson [yeah! Chromolume found a new location]. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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A Skewed View of Herstory | “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” @ HFF18

userpic=fringe

When I initially set up our Fringe* schedule, I thought last Saturday’s show at the Soraya was on Friday. This meant I had to shift some shows around; in particular,  a show that I had originally planned for Saturday at 8pm I had to move to a Thursday night — and so, last night saw us walking Hollywood Blvd for an evening show about women and their place in history. But first, I should explain the asterisk:

* For those unfamiliar with  Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), there are over 390 different shows occurring in the heart of Hollywood, with most along the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Western to W of LaBrea, and between Hollywood Blvd and Melrose. The shows run from 5 minutes to 2 hours, from one person shows to gigantic casts, from mimes to musicals. They have one — and only one — thing in common: they have to be able to load into a theatre in 15 minutes or less, and get out afterwards in the same time. You never know what you will see: it could be complete crap, it could be the start of a major new show. The shows and scheduling thereof are a nightmare to coordinate, but you could easily end up seeing four to five shows in a day. However, you can be guaranteed of a good time.

Now, on to last night’s show:


They'll Be Some Changes Made (HFF18)Every year, many of the Fringe shows seem to coalesce around a particular theme or event. In 2017, unsurprisingly, it was the election of Donald Trump. In 2018, I’d opine that the theme is women, and the impact of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Certainly, the show we saw last night, There’ll Be Some Changes Made Today (FB) was a result of that theme. It was described in the Fringe catalog thusly:

Women’s Past, Present and Future. Take a tour through humanity…Now Showing: History’s Better Half. Some things never change: worries about infidelity, fertility, baking the perfect cake, and how to be a good wife. But there’s a new twist…when She’s writing the story! #CHANGES Women are grappling with new issues these days: Men’s Issues! Then there’s living past 100, cake, and being a good wife in the 23rd century. A comical, musical, heartful and hopeful journey.

The show was a valiant attempt at achieving that goal. However, it was a Fringe show, and thus at an early stage of development. There were some problems with the writing and the direction, at least from my point of view, that clearly needed some work. But the spirit was clearly there, and it was, for the most part, enjoyable.

The basic structure of the show was an intermix of songs popularized by Peggy Lee and vignettes of interactions with women “throughout history”. However, given that the first vignette was clearly from the 1960s, the span of history wasn’t all that far into the past. The action and story was moved along by a narrator who attempted to draw out interaction from the audience. The vignettes included a 1960s woman dealing with a cheating spouse, a couple dealing with fertility issues, aging and the changes in the family dynamic, and women and men in the far future. The show was written by Katherine King (FB), who also performed all of the songs.

The notion of the show — exploring the changing view of women, especially in a post #MeToo era — was a good one. The execution, however, was decidedly skewed, and this impacted the perception of the end product. Perhaps my wife and I come from a different audience: we’re both engineers, both have worked with all sexes in a professional environment that is not based on looks but skills, we’re both older (in our late 50s), and my wife claims I’m one of the more supportive men out there. The show’s perception of men and women, however, was decidedly different. It began with the presumption that women aren’t direct, and are more passive-aggressive. As for the men, they were more of the aggressive slimeball variety — cheating, and interested only in themselves and sex. When the narrator tried to get participation from the men in the audience, the question was: “Do you think women should be able to go to a topless beach?” The correct answer is: It doesn’t matter what I think; it is what she wants. But of course, what they wanted was the tongue-drooping sex crazed answer. This could simply be a reaction to the industry the author grew up in — I’d opine that the behavior of men in the entertainment industry is very different than modern engineers.

This was the starting point of the problem with the writing, but that starting point led the vignettes to be painfully pejorative and slanted. There was also overuse of modern expression — perhaps I’m old fashioned, but one should not use “hashtag” in any discussions. Those belong on Twitter, not spoken.

I think the writing problems are correctable, and future iterations should get better with some more seasoning and input.

The other problem with the show was the direction, or should I say over-direction. The director, Stephen Juhl (FB), simply over-did it. One would want the vignettes to be somewhat realistic, recognizing this is Fringe and thus precious little in the way of sets or props to support the realism. But the performances seemed a bit forced and over the top, and thus the characters went beyond the believable. Again, this some that could be corrected, and in a different show an over-the-top performance might have fit well. But not with this show, not with what it purported to be.

So let’s get to the performances. As I noted before, Katherine King (FB) was the author and performed all the songs. Songs I remember in the show included the title song (“There’ll Be Some Changes Made” as well as “Is That All There Is“, and “I’m A Woman” and others I cannot remember). She had a pleasant voice and handled the songs well, although her movement was perhaps a bit stylized (but that can be a common problem). She did well, filtering out the overdirection, in her vignettes.  Christina Marie Leonard (FB) served as Narrator for the journey, and had the unenviable job of getting a weeknight small audience to participate. She did her best and it was fun to watch her, but some audiences make it difficult. She, again, was reasonable in her vignettes once overdirection was filtered out. Rounding out the women in the cast was Ayla Rose Barreau (FB). I mostly liked her in the vignettes — she was good in the reproductive medicine scene — but her 105-year-old was a tad stereotypical. Again, likely the director.

The men in the cast — Justin Baltz (FB), James B. Sherrill (FB), and Bryan Sapphire (FB) were more of a supporting/foil role. Props go to Sapphire for his difficult job of trying to warm up a Fringe audience in 5 minutes.

Supporting the performance were Sang Hee Cho (FB) on piano and Zach Pope (FB) on guitar, both of whom were great. The amplification on the guitar could have been lowered just a notch, as it tended to overpower King on one or two songs.

Production support was provided by  Jeremiah Benjamin (FB)), whose position is listed as “Mr. Awesome” (and whom we just saw in Family Schmamily). Lindsey Lune provided the publicity.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB), a mini-subscription at the Soraya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

It’s June — ah, June. That, my friends, means only one thing: the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), Here’s our June schedule:

July will get busier again. It starts with the 50th Anniversary of Gindling Hilltop Camp, followed by On Your Feet at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The next weekend brings Jane Eyre The Musical at Chromolume Theatre (FB) at the Hudson [yeah! Chromolume found a new location]. The third weekend in July brings a Bat Mitzvah in Victorville, and Beauty and The Beast at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) that evening on Saturday, and a hold for the OperaWorks (FB) “Opera ReConstructed” at CSUN on Sunday. The last weekend may be a Muse/ique (FB) show. August starts with Waitress at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday, and the Actors Co-Op Too! production of Always Andrews: A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters on Sunday at Actors Co-op (FB). The next weekend brings the last Actors Co-Op Too! production, Twelfth Night, or What You Will at Actors Co-op (FB). There may also be a production of The Most Happy Fella at MTW — I’m not sure about it, but the hold date is on the calendar.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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