The Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) offers over 350 shows during a single month; as you might guess, these shows cover a wide-variety of presentations and maturity. They range from one-on-one shows that take under 10 minutes to full-on 2 hour musicals; from everyone being naked to all clothed; from improv to rehearsed; from silly to serious. Yesterday’s sampling of the Fringe Festival was a strong demonstration of that: we saw shows that ranged from silly political commentaries (Zombie Clown Trump) to a one-woman show (Conversations ‘Bout The Girls) to a fully-realized, in-depth play (Inversion). What they all had in common was the fact that they all were excellent.
Zombie Clown Trump (Non-HFF Website) is one of those shows that I would classify as a real Fringe show, or as the show put it at the end: “You only paid $7 for this, what did you expect?”. This, of course, was after we all sang, “We are the world, we are the Fringe Fest”, and waiving our flags, and wearing the red noses that they gave us.
Yes, this was one of those shows.
Zombie Clown Trump purports to be a show about Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020 against Dwaine “The Rock” Johnson, after bombing much of the rest of the world and excreting on the nation all sorts of noxious bodily fluids and substances. Through all of this, Kellyanne Cuntway is trying to suck up to trump, and Press Secretary Sean Sphincter and VP Mike Peenass are blowing it out their … Trump’s wife Barbania Trump has fallen in love with the Rock, and Becky has kidnapped Trump’s daughter SriLanka Trump, which has Trump upset because his homegrown hot piece of ass is gone, and …
It is a bizarre and surreal show, but is it any more surreal than real life, where as I write this I am reading the following: “A representative from President Donald Trump’s legal team said Trump is not under investigation, despite the President tweeting “I am being investigated” this week.”?
In any case, the show is a hot comedic mess, with parody songs and profanity and general sillyness and sluttiness. But it is also fun, and a form of political commentary that you’ll find at a Fringe Festival. It’s not high art, folks.
The performances were similarly across the map at times. I think the real standout was Maegan Mandarino (BS, FB)’s Barbania Trump / Becky. Mandarino had a really strong singing voice, good dance moves, and was quite a lot of fun to watch. A close second with Dani Savka (FB)’s Kellyanne / SriLanka — again, she was having fun with the songs and the comedy moves.
Trump was portrayed by the creator of the show, Rick Cipes (FB). Cipes was a clown and was having fun with the persona, exaggerating what was already an exaggeration (it is, after all, quite small), and keeping the show quite topical, with mentions of the latest Julius Caesar mess incorporated. Rounding out the cast was Craig Aldrich/FB as VP Mike Peenass and with his hand up Sean Sphincter’s ass (Sphincter was a puppet). Aldrich was the crass one would expect in such a position.
No further credits (i.e., director, stage manager, etc.) were provided.
Visit the show’s website for more information on this absurdity, and to see an interesting mouseover. There are two more performances of this show, June 23 @ 10:30pm, and June 24 @ 8:30pm. Performances take place at the OMR Theatre at The Complex. Tickets are available through the show’s fringe page.
The second show we saw yesterday, Conversations ‘Bout The Girls, is a great example of a one-person show / project common at the Fringe. In the show, the author and performer, Sonia Jackson (IMDB, FB), takes on the persona of the proprietor of a lingerie / brassiere shop inducting a new hire. The permit her to take on the persona of a large number of shop patrons and characters, and to relate all sorts of stories about women’s relationships with their breasts.
These stories relate from the experience of their sudden appearance, the reaction of men to them, the reaction of parents to them, the experiences of breast examination and mastectomies (and potential reconstruction thereafter).
Now, I’m a guy and I didn’t personally relate to a lot of the stories (except as a satisifed examiner 🙂 ), but I did find it interesting to watch the audience, and especially my wife, as they reacted to the stories being told. This reflected their personal experience (something I confirmed afterwards with my wife), and in many ways was truly their story.
She did relate one item that was enlightening. She imagined if men had to go in to be fitted for a jockstrap, and the store clerk making statements like, “Don’t worry, it may be small now, but I’m sure it will grow.”, or yelling out to the story, “Do we have any of the petite left in stock?” Including this story did make this production much more understandable to the men in the audience.
Overall, I’d say this is a fun show for women or man, and a great example of what a one-person show can be: A personal exploration and exposition of a particular subject, based on personal experience.
According to the program, this isn’t a new show. It has been in development for 12 years, has been adapted into a full length play, and has been subsequently adapted into a screenplay.
Given how late I’m writing this, there is one more performance of Conversations ‘Bout The Girls on June 24 @ 1pm at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex. Tickets available through the show’s Fringe website.
The final show of the day, Inversion, was at the other end of the spectrum. While Zombie Clown Trump was a surrealistic hot mess, but funny, Inversion was a serious well-written play about a realistic subject. It was an exposition of something that many people feel — especially folks in my field of work — when dealing with the opposite sex. Author and lead Aditya Putcha (FB) has created a story that speaks to personal experience. It is remarkably well crafted for a first play. I think it reflects another aspect of Fringe: the launching pad for new plays — a place to get them out there, and start shaping them for a full-fledged professional production. I think with a bit more shaping and expansion, this could be a production worthy of most intimate theatres in Los Angeles, a potential off-Broadway production, and possibly an even longer life.
The description of the show is as follows: Adam (Aditya Putcha (FB)), a socially awkward mathematician, especially with women, laments his inability to find the hot woman of his dreams before his mom (Lena Zhanik) declines too far into the world of Alzheimer’s. His best friend, Brendan (Adam Daniel (FB)), who seems to get any woman he wants, tries to support his endeavor, with disastrous results. Thus beings the spiral into dating and love and relationships as Brendan encourages Adam to date a low self esteemed slightly older (and, as portrayed, larger) woman, Rhonda (Shayna Spielman (FB★, FB)), in order to help Adam learn how to date. In meeting up with Rhonda, Adam finds his hot woman: Natalia (Gaia Passaler (FB)), Rhonda’s roommate. Thinking he’s finally met the woman of his dreams, Adam forges ahead with Natalia thinking maybe he can also ease his mother’s concerns about his well being as she declines. Romantic entanglements explored in this touching, all too real look at how men and women relate to not only the opposite sex as friends and lovers, but how friendships are tested by the dating world.
Now most reviewers of this show are likely trained critics, with experience in the humanities — or they are actors who are working as reviewers. On the other hand, I’m actually like the lead — I was a math major at UCLA; I’ve been doing cybersecurity for 30 years. My wife, similarly, is an engineer. We know characters like the lead character; we’ve seen the same mistakes he has made happen time and again. In an over-zealous lust for the “hot chick”, imagining that every small positive gesture conveys full blown love, and over-reacting. Meanwhile, the potentially right girl gets ignored and insulted. However, unlike what you would expect from this story (everyone ends up happy; the schlub of a guy ends up with the lovable schlub of a girl), this story ends up with a bit more empowerment: the schlub of a girl realizes she doesn’t have to settle, but can be there for herself. The hot chick ends up with a guy that she loves, not that is just hot for her. The guy who dates around realizes what true love is, and finds both a job and the right girl. And the lead is left… perhaps more confused than ever.
As the lead, I was unsure of what to make of Aditya Putcha (FB). He comes from a background of real stuttering. He has an awkward performance where he seemingly gets stuck on lines at points, but it is unclear whether this is reality or performance. In real life, such a character would be stuck on those same lines, and would exhibit the same problems talking to women. So his performance, while awkward, is remarkably realistic.
I just loved Shayna Spielman (FB★, FB), but perhaps this is just because she’s the type of girl I’ve always enjoyed watching. Playful and happy and confusing and such. She gives a performance that is fun to watch, and again, something that is very realistic because I’ve known girls just like that. As her roommate, Gaia Passaler (FB) also gives a strong performance, believably Russian. Beautiful, and also fun to watch, the two young ladies work very well together, playing off each other and off the character of Adam.
The remaining two performers only interact with the lead. As the best friend, Adam Daniel (FB) gives a suitably bro performance, and handles the transformation from ‘bro to adult quite realistically. Lastly, Lena Zhanik handles the mom with Alzheimer’s quite well, portraying a wonderful level of confusion. Dealing with a similar situation with my M-I-L, it is a confusion that is all too real and all too sad.
Overall, this was a very realistic show, well-performed with a good story. It demonstrated the professional end of Fringe as a place for new playwrights to get a great start.
Alas, the last performance of Inversion was (a) today, and (b) was sold out. Supposedly, a DVD of the performance is available for a short time from their Indegogo page.
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 Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (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.
- Saturday, June 24: 11:30a – Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman [D/K/R] ⇒ 3p – Slightly Off Broadway (Chromolume) | [D/K/R] ⇒ 5:30p – Trump in Space | [D/K/R] ⇒ 7p – The ABCs | [D/K/R] ⇒ 9p – Reasons to be Pretty / Maxwelton | [D/K/R]
- Sunday, June 25: 2p – Transition | [D/K] ⇒ 4p – Khant Hotel | [D/K] ⇒ 5:30p – Bachelorette by Leslye Headland | [D/K]
With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.
July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 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.