Forbidden Love Rears Its Ugly Head | “Taming of the Show” @ HFF16

Taming of the Show (HFF16)userpic=fringeThose who have been paying attention this month may be wondering where this show came from? After all, it wasn’t on our original schedule of 15 shows; it wasn’t even on the list of shows of interest for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). Those wondering would be correct. This show was added at the last minute, when we realized we had a three hour break between our two Saturday days, which were at the same theatre. This looked interesting, and it was at the same theatre — and so, for the first time, we had three consecutive shows in the Sacred Fools (FB) Black Box space: Squeeze My Cans at 4pm, Taming of the Show at 6pm, and My Big Fat Blond Musical at 8:30pm.

In the manner of productions like Kiss Me Kate, the focus of Taming of the Show is less the Shakespeare production itself than the meta-story of the making of the production. And, as in KMK, that “making” is going all wrong. In the case of Taming/Show, you have a maniacal director (Montana Stanislavski) who has a conception of the show as a time-travel story: an astronaut goes back to pre-historic times where mankind is living with dinosaurs. Think Flintstones, but with more grunting and less technology. OK, don’t think Flintstones; think It’s About Time. You have a lead actor (Brayden Stryker) who has an over-inflated sense of self, whose peak was being on the CW, and who uses drugs and sex to get by and a lead actress (Annie) who doesn’t want to have anything to do with the lead actor. You have one additional actor (Ronald Jeremy — and yes, they called him that) who played most of remaining male roles (and some female ones), and one additional actor (Betty Turnipseed) who played most of the remaining female roles (and some of the male ones). You have an aged stage manager Hilary Nikademus, and a former student of his drawn into being assistant stage manager, Eddie Littlejeans. Oh, and this ASM is recovering from theatrical tourettes, where he breaks out in song at any inconvenient moment.

What could go wrong?

Oh, and I forgot: there is a strong theme of forbidden love — the love that must not speak its name. That’s right: the love between someone in the crew and someone in the cast. Naturally, in this case, the tension isn’t just created with the show: Eddie falls in love with Annie, who is also the object of lust of the lead, Brayden. Annie wants nothing to do with either of them.

Now wind it up and let it go.

This isn’t Broadway-caliber writing folks. This isn’t even Colony-caliber writing. That’s not to say the show was bad. It was just not deep; it wasn’t complex. The characters were lightly drawn and boxed into particular tropes and roles. The humor was broad and broadcast. The show was funny and made you laugh, but then you felt guilty for laughing at such an obvious and broad joke. These problems can be laid squarely at the feet of the author, Blake Walker (FB) — and it appears they were intentional. The show notes indicate that the original production (this started when Walker was in college at SMU) was intended as a comment on the state of the theatre department there, and has been refined to embrace the tropes, cliches, frustrations and experiences found in the real world. Translating that, it means that this show was intended more as a parody and less as a real show — and parody is by its nature broad and cliched.

The performances were reasonably good and fit the materials — that is, the stereotypes and tropes — well. In the lead positions (at least from my point of view) was Jeff DeCrosta (FB) as Eddie and Chineze Enekwechi (FB) as Annie. DeCrosta gave a very affable and friendly performance; just a nice guy you wanted to succeed. I don’t judge these things, but my wife thought he was good looking.  He also had a very nice singing voice with only the occasional overreach. Enekwechi’s Annie was similarly accessible and friendly, and the actress just had a lovely face that was a delight to watch. I also kept detecting a slight sense of a lovely accent to her voice.

Steve Peterson (FB)’s Hilary Nikademus had an odd creepy cryptkeeper vibe to him, which was likely due to his makeup. This made the ending of the show a little hard to visualize, but then again, it takes all types. Peterson’s Nikademus had this aura of “been there, seen this, I don’t need another T-shirt” that was quite interesting.

The two “professionals” (at least in terms of the story) were Marc Forget (FB) as Montana Stanislavski and Greg Steinbrecher (FB) as Brayden Stryker. Both captured their stereotypes well: Forget as the overboard director more obsessed with his ego than the production, and Stryker as the celebrity actor more obsessed with his ego that …. well, you get it.

Rounding out the cast were Paula Deming (FB)’s Betty Turnipseed and Anthony Pappastrat (FB)’s (Ronald Jeremy). First and foremost, I should note that Pappastrat’s portrayal of Jeremy was nothing like that other Ronald Jeremy. Pappastrat had the character with the most physical comedy of the ensemble, and he handled it well. I liked Deming, but I was confused as to what age she was portraying. She seemed to have both young and old aspects. Still, she was quite fun to watch.

The music was by Blake Walker (FB) and Michael Turner, and was provided by an on-stage upright piano — which must be a pain to load in/out for Fringe. Some notes were off, and there were times where the cast that sung (i.e., “Eddie”) had trouble reaching the notes of the lyrics.

The production was directed by Blake Walker (FB), assisted by Karissa McKinney (FB). Rebecca Schoenberg (FB) [any relation to Larry?] was the stage manager. Billy Gill (FB) was the onstage accompanist, with Todd Collins (FB) providing the fight choreography. Props and costumes were by Lynn Downey Braswell (FB). In general, the props and costumes worked well, modulo the cryptkeeper hair. Taming of the Show was presented by Little Candle Productions (FB).

We caught the last performance of Taming of the Show. If encore performances get added, they will be listed (and available to ticket) through the show’s ticketing page. This was a silly show, not deep, but situationally funny and enjoyable.

Attention Programmers! Take the Fringe Programming Challenge! Scheduling your shows at the Fringe can be a pain in the …. I’m trying to solve the problem for next year, so take a look at my specs for a Fringe scheduling app. Can you write it?

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre 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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. 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: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September is similarly mostly hold dates at this point. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.