The evening of our penultimate day of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) changed our focus from musicals to dramas / dramadies / comedies. We started in the early evening with The ABCs (FB) at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex, and continued the theme with Reasons to be Pretty.
The description of The ABCs (FB) in the Fringe catalog is what caught my eye: “The ABCs explores fantasy and the imagination in the lives of teenage girls. Navigating the realm between childhood and adult hood, teenage girls are forced to give up the trappings of the young, like imaginary friends. They are thrust in a new, technologically unimaginable adult world filled with fantastical idols like the Kardashians. How can we ask teenagers to give up one fantasy for another? What happens when fantasy, imagination, and social media blend? How do teenagers navigate the world today when their “stories” can only be ten-seconds and will literally disappear on apps like Snapchat? The ABCs follows one girl, Dakota, on her quest for achievable perfection and fantasy fulfilled in a world that tells her that this is possible.”
The subject matter discussed here — the impact on teens of social media — was very timely. A Gen Z teen has recently joined our household — one who is obsessed with her phone, obsessed with Snapchat, and who is obsessed with looks and makeup. Hence, the subject here was appropos, and would provide an opportunity for all of us to learn, and to do what theatre does best: stimulate discussion.
The center of this story is a group of girls called “The ABCs” who are just about to graduate from high school. These girls — Adriana, Bella, and Caity — are obsessed with fashion and the fashion icons of the Internet. Their goal is to be perfect, and each has gone so far as to ensure they have the right clothes, the right makeup, and most importantly, the right body, for that perfection. They want to be “10”s, and if that means having breast augmentation, butt augmentation, or lip augmentation — well, that’s the price of perfection and who wouldn’t want to be perfect as the media wants you to be. Into this group comes Dakota as a provisional member. The ABCs like her: she has a great Instagram, she posts the right stuff online, follows the right fashion idols. However, she’s a new transfer student with an unknown past, and more importantly, she’s an “8”. For her to be admitted to full membership, she needs a better bust. Dakota’s best friend, Margot, agrees. She ultimately convinces Dakota that she must get the surgery and be perfect. There’s only one problem: money. Whereas the other girls had found various, umm, ways to get their enhancements funded, Dakota’s father refuses. But Dakota is convinced she must have the surgery to be beautiful, and she sees her salvation in the story of the Bling Ring. If she can just convince her friends in The ABCs to help her break into a rich friends house while the family is away, steal a few items that can be sold, she can have the money to get the surgery. Will the The ABCs value perfection over principles? That’s the central conflict in the story, and its resolution teaches lessons not only to the members of The ABCs, but to Dakota as well.
That’s about what I knew about the show going in. Most reviewers haven’t spilled the beans on the ending. I won’t as well, but for one thing: by the end of the play, the circumstances teach Dakota that she must stand up for herself, that she must learn to embrace her own beauty and not chase the imaginary perfection that the Internet creates. That is a vital message — and it is a message that will be echoed in a different way in our last Saturday show, as well as our last Sunday show.
In The ABCs, playwright Monica Trausch (FB) has crafted a story that speaks to today’s teens and sends a vitally important message: that the perfection that society pushes is false and ultimately dangerous, and that the best thing is to love yourself for you. That’s an underlying belief of mine. A friend once said that perfection is when you cannot make mistakes and nothing changes. That only happens when you are dead. Life is being the best we can be an embracing our imperfections. So I truly think this is a wonderful play; perhaps one of the best I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.
The ensemble presenting the story was very strong: Diane McNulty (FB) as Dakota, Lani Engstrom (FB) as Margot, Josette Canilao (FB) as Adriana, Lauren Henning (FB) as Bella, and Ashley Nichol (FB) as Caity. Engstrom as Margot was out even before the show started, in character, interacting with the audience. The others had the teen mannerisms down pat; one might believe they had recently been teens :-). I’d like to particularl highly both McNulty and Nichol’s performances which were spot-on.
As Fringe is over, what I saw Saturday was the final production of the show. As The ABCs did not get an encore award, it is unlikely to get an extension even thought it sold to sold-out shows.
Another timely play, given the addition to our household, is Neil LaBute (FB)’s play Reasons to be Pretty, as it deals with what we consider to be beauty in society, and how different types of men and women perceive beauty. This year at Fringe I lucked out: there were two companies producing Reasons to be Pretty. One version had a multiethnic cast as was taking place in the heart of Fringe: at the Dorie Theatre of the Complex (where we saw The ABCs). This version was getting rave reviews both on the Fringe site and at Better Lemons, and they had postcards and everything. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit that version in our schedule. What we were able to fit was the Maxwellton Productions version, it had no postcards anywhere. There wasn’t even an image online, and the event page they created had nothing on it. The sole image on the Fringe project page was of the cover of the printed play. This version was being held at the Asylum/Underground space over on Wilton (where we saw Wombat Man many years ago), and its final production was about an hour after The ABCs ended.
The good news is: even without the publicity, this production was sold out and was excellent. So what if I had to craft them an image for this writeup — the show was worth it (however, next time, Maxwellton, at least create some publicity). Trying to figure out the lack of publicity, I think it was because all of the actors trained at Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio (FB), and this was a showcase for their students under the auspices of Fringe. The lead actress is involved with Maxwellton, so that organization helped to mount this. They didn’t need the publicity because most attendees either knew the cast, or were invited through the school. There were just a hapless few of us unwashed masses that actually read the description in the Fringe catalog and were enticed in. In any case, however we got here, we got a treat.
Reasons to be Pretty tells the story of two couples: Greg and Steph, who have been dating for a while, and Kent and Carly, who are married. Greg and works with Kent in a warehouse; Carly is a security guard there. Carly and Steph (who is a hairdresser) are best friends. The catalyst for the show is a seemingly small incident: In a discussion between Greg and Kent, Kent is talking about a new hire at the warehouse, how beautiful she is, and how he would like to get in her pants. He asks Greg what he thinks. Greg indicates the new hire looks fine, but he prefers Steph, who looks regular. Carly overhears this and reports the discussion, and World War III has been started. The little word “regular” has been perceived as an insult by Steph, who considers her face to be her most beautiful feature. The bulk of the play is the disintegration of the relationship, and the while the audience gains understanding about what it is that Greg really loves about Steph. In parallel to this is the story of Kent and Carly. Unlike “regular” Steph, Carly is beautiful, and Kent loves her for her physical appearance: her legs, her ass, her breasts, and her face. But he also chases beauty in other women… and you can guess what happens.
Reasons to be Pretty is really a study of different type of men, and their attitude towards women: One, Greg, loves women not for just the physical but for the person inside. However, he makes one slipup, then keeps tripping over his tongue by not realizing it. Ultimately, he loses the one he loves over his mistake, but never loses the love for her. The other, Kent, goes for the physical. This lust is what does him in. Will he ultimately be happy, or will he go from conquest to conquest, leaving broken relationships in his wake. As for the women, there is one who is secure in her beauty, but knows it is the only reason her man is with her. She has to keep up that beauty at all costs, and when it invariably fades from the perfection she desires (as it always does), the relationship disintegrates because it was built on the superficial. The other is insecure in her beauty, and believes she must have that beauty acknowledged or she can’t have confidence in herself. Not getting that reassurance, she implodes the relationship to find a man who will give it to her. Where will she find her happiness? The play is a brilliant expose of people and how beauty — or the perception thereof — impacts lives.
The performances here were top notch. The cast consisted of Matt Klemenz (FB) as Greg, Erika Rose (FB) as Steph, Andrew Gonzalez (FB) as Kent, and Railynne Danzot (FB) as Carly. All brought a lot of fire and heart to their performances, especially Erika in the opening scene with Matt. Their performances just grabbed you for the roller coaster ride of this story, and you were just drawn into it.
Reasons to be Pretty was directed by Emma Shalaway (FB) and Janice Park (FB), assisted by Ansley Rowe (FB). It was produced by Erika Rose (FB) (who served as executive producer), Janice Park (FB), and Emma Shalaway (FB). There are no credits for stage management. Note that this information comes from the show’s Fringe page — it was not in the handout provided to attendees nor were there bios associated with the production team on the Fringe page. The school may teach these folks how to act and direct; it does not, however, teach them how to properly publicize and promote their show, and how to recognize their production team. Those logistical elements are equally important to the success of a show, and it is the one place where this production of RtbP could learn from the other production of RtbP.
Not surprisingly, although this production was excellent, we saw the final production and it did not win a Fringe encore award. Your only hope is to contact a producer, if you can track them down. Hopefully, my sleuthing will benefit you.
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.
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.