🎭 Finishing the Fringe – Tubas and Beatniks at HFF18

userpic=fringeWhew. For me, the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) for 2018 is over. Sunday I saw my last two shows, and as with Saturday’s shows, they were prime examples of what Fringe is: a well-done solo biographical piece, an a workshop of a very good new musical that hopefully is on its way for a longer life. But first, for one last time, my explanation of what Fringe 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 Sunday’s shows. By the way, don’t worry if you missed some Fringe shows. Some of the best of the best of the Fringe will be extended into July; check the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) website for extension information.


A Reasonable Fear of Tubas (HFF18)I’ve noted before that a common characteristic of almost any Fringe festival is the solo show. Sometimes, this is a show where a single actor portrays a single character, as I saw in the excellent Ingersoll Speaks Again! early in the Festival. Often, however, the solo show is biographical, where the performer wants to impart a particular message or lesson based on their experience to the audience. Over the years, we’ve seen a wide variety of show shows; I recall one last year my wife just loved. This year, we’ve seen a broad range. In one, the performer came across as unprepared, and her message was muddled as a result (luckily, I’ve heard that although she was upset at my review, she’s taken my comments to heart and is improving her show — which makes me happy). The second solo show of this type was a bit muddled and needed some tightening, but did get its message across. The third was simply spectacular, although was a bit less autobiographical. I’m pleased to say that the last show of this type I saw, A Reasonable Fear of Tubas, hit that sweet spot: a well-done autobiographical show that got its message across well but didn’t overstay its welcome.

In A Reasonable Fear of Tubasauthor and performer Stacy Patterson (FB) tells us the story of her life, presenting numerous entertaining incidents that provide the basis for her assertion that she was reasonably fearless. She tells stories of situations where friends would have flinched, of not being afraid of heights, not being afraid of this and that. All these stories provide the basis for her exposure of her crippling fear, that came across in 1975 when she saw (insert music cue), the movie Jaws. That awakened her fear of sharks, and that fear began to cripple her near any body of water — first at the coast, then inland, and then even on TV, because — well, you know — cartoon sharks. But she then turns to the facts on sharks, and how so many of them are just killed for their fins, and then tossed to die and suffocate in the water. She doesn’t indicate whether she can now accept sharks, but she does note that she is no longer crippled by them. She then goes on to explain the title: what made sharks extra scary in the movie was not the shark itself, but the music — intentionally played by tubas out of key to amplify the fear.

Throughout the production, she is presenting slides from her childhood, which come up when she expects them to come up. More over, she’s not using the slides to tell the story (as I would with a Powerpoint); rather, the slides just illustrate the incident she has just told (for example, her at the top of a tall tall tree). She’s entertaining, energetic, and most importantly, knows her story and tells it without reference to anything else. It was just an entertaining show.

About the only drawback to the show was the lack of any program. The “program” such as it was, was the show’s advertising postcard. That tells me nothing about the experience of Ms. Patterson; I only know what I learned from the show (and what I have learned subsequently writing up this post).

The show was directed by Christian Davis. There were no other credits provided; in particular, no stage manager or technical support credits were provided.

Sunday was the last performance of Tubas; I have no idea if it is being extended by the venue.


Beatniks (HFF18)My last Fringe show for the 2018 Fringe Festival was a new musical, Beatniks. The musical, with book, lyrics, and music by Davia Schendel (FB, IG), was ostensibly about the “beat generation“, which Wikipedia describes as: “a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-World War II era. The bulk of their work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s. Central elements of Beat culture are rejection of standard narrative values, spiritual quest, exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration.” It was also, at least based on the title, about “beakniks” themselves, which Wikipedia describes as “a media stereotype prevalent throughout the 1950s to mid-1960s that displayed the more superficial aspects of the Beat Generation literary movement of the 1950s. Elements of the beatnik trope included pseudo-intellectualism, drug use, and a cartoonish depiction of real-life people along with the spiritual quest of Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical fiction.”

I’m not sure how all of those particular aspects of beat culture came across in the musical itself; certainly, most of the stereotypical aspects of beatniks and beak culture weren’t there (i.e., dressing in all black, turtlenecks, etc.), except for the heavy smoking. In the musical, the beat generation came across as one obsessed more with poetry and writing (back when you could earn as much as a folk singer by being a poet), and with the exploration of life and feelings.

At this point, I would normally attempt a synopsis of the story. That’s difficult, as there was a bit of convolution to it; further, the program itself provides little after-the-fact memory jogs such as a song or scene list. That could be intentional, as the story still still in development. The story appears to start off with two friends, Audre and Diane, who are heavily into the poetry scene, discussing life in college as they are about to head off to different college. Each has different literary aspirations. Once the story moves to college, the story centers around two main groups of characters attempting to find their way in the beat generation, make a living, get published, and pay the bills. One revolves around friends Joyce and Elise, which Joyce being the main point of interest. Joyce becomes friends with publishers LeRoi and Hettie; they introduce her to Jack. Jack swiftly hooks up with Joyce, before going off on the road for a long distance romance. Meanwhile, Elise has started to hook up with another beat poet, Allen. Allen has been serving as muse to Diane, encouraging her career while’s hooking up with a fellow beat poet, Peter. Diane becomes pregnant, has the baby, but attempt to keep writing poetry while balance motherhood along the way, still getting published and keeping in touch with Audre. They all come back together at the end.

If you notice, in that description, I left last names out of it. That’s because all of the people in the show are actually named after real-life people. Diane, the main character, is Diane di Prima, who actually did attend Swarthmore (one of the schools at which the musical takes place), and whose first book of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, was published in 1958 by Hettie and LeRoi Jones‘ Totem Press. Yes, the Hettie and LeRoi mentioned in the synopsis. Hettie Jones and LeRoi Jones were friends with many of the major beat poets, such as Allen Ginsberg (yes, the Allen in the story) and Jack Kerouac (yes, the Jack in the story); they actually hired di Prima as an editor.  Audre referred to Audre Lorde, although Lorde’s involvement with any of the other beat characters is unclear.  Elise Cowen was another beat generation poet who became friends with Joyce Johnson (then Joyce Glassman — yes, the Joyce in the story). At the same time, Cowen was introduced to Ginsberg by a psychology professor. A romantic involvement followed in the spring and summer of 1953, but Ginsberg soon met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky (yes, the Peter in the story). In parallel, Joyce Glassman became involved with Jack Kerouac; in fact, Ginsberg arranged for Glassman and Kerouac to meet on a blind date while she was working on her first novel, Come and Join the Dance. Floating in and out of this was Neal Cassady, who is also in the musical, who appeared both in Ginsberg’s poems and Kerouac’s writings,

So here’s the problem; The musical focuses on all these real characters. It pays a lot of attention to real relationships that developed between subsets of the characters in real life, and it is clear all — or most — of the characters knew each other at some point. So is this a real story, based on research? Is it a version of Million Dollar Quartet, where it is an imagined interaction between the characters? To what extent is this fictional; and if it is, where are the fictional characters? Further, being built around real characters makes it much harder to have a protagonist who has a quest or a want for something, and goes on that journey to achieve it, finding something else along the way. None of that is made clear.

However, it doesn’t need to be … yet. This is a Fringe musical, in its second mounting (the first was in the UCLA Botanical Gardens). It still has a substantial gestation period and dramaturgy to go through prior to a major mounting. For what it is, the maturity was remarkable. The music itself was pretty strong, although a few songs sounded similar. I particularly liked the “Land of Cardigans” song about Barnard, and the number sung by Kerouac on the ukulele about the blues. For the most part, the songs seemed not to be novelty numbers; they did what songs in a musical should do — move the story along. I’ll note that the group developing this musical is all out of the UCLA Musical Theatre program; as a UCLA grad myself (BS ’82, MS ’85, School of Engineering), I can confidently say the high quality must be in part from the excellent education they received there 🙂 ).

Another thing that was strong were the performance. In what I would characterize as the lead female positions were Rachel Berman (FB) as Diane di Prima, and Roxy Seven (FB) as Joyce Glassman. Both were remarkable — strong voices, strong performances, strong characterizations. I was particularly taken with the emotion that came through Seven’s voice, and with her facial expressions. Both were delightful to watch.

On the male side in leading positions were Matt Curtin (FB) as Allen Ginsberg and Brady Richards (FB) as Jack Kerouac. Curtin captured the neuroticism of Ginsberg well and gave a strong performance. SImilarly with Richards; I was also impressed with his singing and ukulele playing, which worked very well.

Supporting the female leads were Nola Faye Dodd (FB; IG) as Elise Cowen and Autumn Sylve (FB) as Audre Lorde. Both inhabited their characters well and had strong vocal performances. Rounding out the somewhat larger performances were Scottie Nevil (FB) as Hettie Jones, and Dennis Woullard (FB) as LeRoi Jones. Both gave strong performances and had good voices, although Nevil could use a bit more strength behind hers.

Rounding out the ensemble in smaller roles were Kyle Frattini (FB) as Neal Cassady, and Charles Platt (FB) as Professor Williams / Peter Orlovsky.

Music direction was by Mina Bloom (FB), who also played piano and helped workshop this production in 2017 with her Dually Noted Theatre (FB). Rounding out the band were Austin Chanu (FB) [Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute]; Kyle Lesh (FB) [Guitar]; Marion Meyerson (FB) [Bass]; and JJ Ross (FB) [Drums].

There was no choreography credit; presumably, the dances and movement were developed by the director,  Davia Schendel (FB, IG), as yet another hat.  As this was a Fringe production, the scenic aspects were limited by time and budget (although the Beatniks team can always use your donations).  Costumes were by Jared Davis (FB), and were surprisingly not black or bereted (i.e., stereotypical beatnik). Phoebe Balson (FB) was the stage manager.

This was the last performance of Beatniks at Fringe, unless they get an extension. This is a show that I expect will continue, as it shows quite a bit of promise. I’m sure they can use any donations to help them on the way.

***

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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