🎭 HFF #10/#11: “Silver Bullet” / “Shirley Valentine”

userpic=fringeWhy does someone invest their time and money to do a show at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB)? It really varies by show, but the four shows that we saw on Saturday truly demonstrated that wide range of reasons: from starting a play onto what will hopefully be a long life, to showcasing an established actress, to showcasing a set of students and actors, to putting on a one-woman show to spread a message. All are reasons artists take the time to be at Fringe. But artists are nothing without an audience to hear and see them, and Saturday’s shows demonstrated that as well: the importance of folks like you and me being that audience.

Silver Bullet (HFF19)Silver Bullet was one of those projects that is just beginning its life. It was a world premiere of a play by Jesse Feldberg (FB), and of the many routes a new play could take, was traversing the route of the Fringe Festival to shape its development.  Some plays work with companies (such as the reading we saw a few weeks ago); some find backers and go through workshops; this play decided to brave the dark alleys of the Fringe Festival. Appropriate. I learned about the play a few weeks ago when the author contacted me and invited me to see it. The description sounded interesting, and so I coordinated tickets:

A film noir inspired drama in which an upper class business woman must control the investigation into the death of her best friend’s husband while the detective must use his charm and intellect to uncover the truth, navigate class politics, and avoid the wailing siren of the femme fatale.

My top level assessment after seeing the show?  There’s potential there, but it does need some work (which isn’t a bad thing). It didn’t have a Fringe-y feel to it: the story felt put together, and the performances were reasonably good. Yes, there were some staging and performance notes, but those are correctable. More significant was the story: there is potential there, but some more shaping is needed to bring it to that next level.

The story itself is much like the “Law” side of a “Law and Order” episode: we see a murder take place between two people we don’t know. Apparently, a police officer was shot by some woman on his day off. We then see the investigation into that murder by an Det. Mathieu North, with the discusssions revolving around the victim’s wife, Angelina Mulroney, and her employer, Lila Caine. North, complicating the matter, develops feelings for Caine from the get-go while also considering her his prime suspect, which annoys his boss, Capt. Beverly McKennon, no end.

The basic notion of the story is fine, but there are a number of story aspects that serve only to distract or confuse. For example, at the end of the show we learn that Angelina was beat up by her husband supposedly the morning of the murder and Lila saw that. Yet the detective at the beginning didn’t notice or comment on the bruises — a beating that the Captain indicated landed Angelina in the hospital. This timeline makes no sense. Either there needs to be sufficient time for bruises to heal and not be visible, or the detective needs to see the bruises. Second, at some point the Detective and Lila go out for dinner, and she makes the comment when the main dish was brought that she was starving and hadn’t had anything to eat. That’s distracting, as they ordered both soup and salad, and the soup would have been brought before the main dish — in a finer restaurant in the 30s, with bread. Either the dialogue or the order of the meal needs correction. There was also a comment about print not being dead when a character is reading a paper. That’s not something that would have been said in the 30s and 40s, when print news was in its heyday (newsreels and radio were a far 2nd), and television news hadn’t even started.

There are some larger issues. Although I’m not a writer (except of comments on government documents), I do know that good stories move a character from one place in their life to another, with some change along the way triggered by some catalyst in the story. Det. North seems to be the only character in this play that changed at all. But what was the precipitating reason? A pretty girl. It’s unlikely that one girl would be sufficient, so it needs to be clearer what about Lila or this situation triggers the change in North. Why does he move from where he is at the beginning to where he is at the end?

Lastly, story-wise, somethings my wife noted. First and foremost, in the era in which this supposedly taking place, there would not be a female Captain of Detectives. In that era, women were just not in those positions in the Police Department. Either change the nature of the character to some other position, or have some justification as to why she was promoted from the Meter Maids of the era. Secondly, there was mention of USF, Jesuits, and lots of use of Yiddish. My wife went to Santa Clara University in the 70s, and knew the Jesuits. At the time, they didn’t know Yiddish — she had to teach it to them. They knew Hebrew. So that creates another jarring distraction.

All of these are correctable, and the basic story itself was interesting.

Moving to the staging aspects of the show, under the direction of Jesse Feldberg (FB): This supposedly was in the film noir style — a style characterized by pessimism, fatalism, and menace, by heightened sexual undertones, by a grittiness, a darkness, and a cynicism. There was also a strong emphasis on the dark underbelly of the urban experience. The sex came across, as did the cynicism … but the grittiness was replaced by darker lighting. If noir is the style desired, there needs to be a stronger way to convey the overall menace of this taking place in the big city — and perhaps why this particular detective stands above it all. It needs to embrace the Raymond Chandler, but not duplicate it (and especially not duplicate it to the form of parody of a Gary K Wolf). Hampering the staging was a subdued performance from the acting team. Not bad, mind you. My wife thought they came off as not invested in their roles. I don’t think it was that, but they were clearly at some lower energy state (or most of them were). There needed to be more snap and vitality under the surface. Again: This is something correctable. Lastly (and this is something only someone of my generation would pick up): They need to learn to dial a rotary phone.

Speaking of performance, the acting team was: Katherine Kimball (FBLila Caine; Taylor Mack (FBCapt. Beverly McKennon; Mark Piller (FB) Det. Mathieu North; Eden Rubinpour (FBAngelina Mulroney; Raul Tapia (FBMichael Mulroney, other male roles. A few notes here. I liked Kimball’s performance — much of the time she had the right energy and did a great job of exuding sexiness.  Piller needs to work a bit on his enunciation: it wasn’t until I started writing this post that I learned his name was “North”; from the show, I thought it was “Norf”. His performance was generally good, but needed a bit more energy and grittiness behind it. Rubinpour seemed to express the right amount of grief, but needed to work a bit more on capturing the subtext of why she was behaving the way she does — picking up mannerisms of a battered wife. We’ve noted the problems of a female captain before, but modulo that, Mack was good. Her costuming was more problematic: would a female detective wear that to the workplace (or go out with seams that weren’t absolutely straight).

Turning to the production side. There are no credits for scenic, costume, sound, or lighting. Other production credits: Venus Zamora Stage Manager; Steven Nelson (FBCasting; Taylor Mack (FB) and Katherine Kimball (FB) Producers; Jesse Feldberg (FB) and Steven Nelson (FB) Executive Producers.

There are two more performances of Silver Bullet: Sun 6/23 at 8pm, and Fri 6/28 at 7:30pm, at the Asylum Underground Theatre on Wilton near Fountain. Tickets are available through their Fringe web page. This was pretty good for the first outing of a script. It needed some work, but we enjoyed it.

If there is a lesson to be learned from our second show on Saturday, Shirley Valentine, it was the importance of marketing and an audience. I say this because we were the only audience. Well, the audience was us, the director, and the young lady who was taking tickets. This was an out of town director who was new to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and it demonstrated the value of the Fringe social events, the postcards, the ads on the Fringe website and Better Lemons, and the promotion through the various bloggers, writers, and such. Sometimes a great show and a great title is not enough… even if it has been at previous festivals.

So why did we go? The simple answer is that I knew the title, and remembered the 1989 movie. I was curious about the original one-hander play that led to it, by Willy Russell. I knew the subject matter would be fun for my wife. So I went and got tickets. I’m so glad that I did.

For those unfamiliar with Shirley Valentine (which is apparently more people than I thought), Wikipedia describes it thusly:

Wondering what has happened to her youth and feeling stagnant and in a rut, Shirley finds herself regularly alone and talking to the wall while preparing an evening meal of egg and chips for her emotionally distant husband. When her best friend offers to pay for a trip-for-two to Greece, she packs her bags, leaves a note on the cupboard door in the kitchen, and heads for a fortnight of rest and relaxation. In Greece, with just a little effort on her part, she rediscovers everything she had been missing about her existence in England. She finds so much happiness, in fact, that when the vacation is over she decides not to return, ditching her friend at the airport and going back to the hotel where she’d been staying to ask for a job and to live a newly self-confident life in which she is at last true to herself.

This is a wonderful story of finding yourself, deciding to live life for your self, and doing what is right for you. Although the movie might make one think this is a larger story, the original play is a one-woman show loaded with British-isms. Be forewarned, forearmed, and bring your travelogues for the fortnight.

Side note: In researching this production (i.e., trying to find artist webpages), I discovered the show has been done previously at the United Solo Festival in NYC, and the artists are involved with the Hastings Fringe Festival in the UK.

Although she was performing for a tiny audience, Heather Alexander (FB) didn’t behave like it. Modulo a minor startup problem I’ll attribute to jet lag and this being the first performance at Fringe, the show was great. Alexander did a great job of becoming the character and making you believe the change occurring in her. I’m sure she looked younger and happier at the end than at the beginning, and that’s with no time for makeup or other changes. About the only problem was understanding the British-isms in the script, especially early on in the show when they were coming fast and furious.

The only other production credit was for Steve Scott, presumably the producer.

This was just a real fun and enjoyable show, and I wish there was a greater audience for it. Shows are nothing without an audience, so get off your butts, and go get tickets to see shows!

This production of Shirley Valentine was a great one-woman execution of a very funny show.  We really enjoyed it.

There are four more performances of Shirley Valentine: Sun 6/23 @ 6pm; Wed 6/26 @ 830pm; Fri 6/28 @ 1030pm; and Sat 6/29 @ 830pm. This is a really funny show, and you should go get tickets, which are available through the Fringe website, or for $10/£9 at the door.


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 (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). 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 Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) [2018-2019 season], and the Musical Theatre Guild (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:

The the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) has started. If you are unfamilar with Fringe, there are around 380 shows taking place over the month of June, mostly in the stretch of Santa Monica Blvd between 1 bl W of La Brea to 1 bl E of Vine, but all generally in Hollywood. On a first pass, there were lots I was interested in, 30 I could fit on a calendar, but even less that I could afford. Here is my current Fringe schedule as of the date of this writeup. [Here’s my post with all shows of interest — which also shows my most current HFF19 schedule. Note: unlike my normal policy, offers of comps or discounts are entertained, but I have to be able to work them into the schedule with the limitations noted in my HFF19 post]:

Key: : Non-Fringe Show/Event; °: Producer/Publicist Arranged Comp or Discount

As for July, it is already filling up. The first weekend of the month is still open. The second weekend brings An Intimate Evening with Kristen Chenowith at,The Hollywood Bowl (FB).  The third weekend of July brings Miss Saigon at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), followed by A Comedy of Errors from Shakespeare by the Sea (FB)/Little Fish Theatre(FB). The last weekend of July brings West Side Story at 5 Star Theatricals (FB). August starts with an alumni Shabbat at camp, and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). August ends with Mother Road at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (FB), and we might do rush tickets for Alice in Wonderland as well. In between those points, August is mostly open.

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. 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. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!