In spite of having a show myself in this year’s Fringe Festival, I managed to get to see and review 16 really fine original works. I love the Fringe because there are no ‘experts’ deciding what goes on. You pay your fee and put on your show and either fall on your face or triumph – either way it’s a wildly exciting journey and you always come out stronger and more confident to keep doing theater.
The show I directed was YURI SPEAKS OUT! that was written and performed by Ariel Labasan. This beautiful Asian-American gal is determined to challenge stereotypes and she does by showing us a courageous woman in history, Yuri Kochiyama. A leader in the 1960’s Civil Rights era, Yuri learned about racism when she was interred in a camp in Arkansas during World War 2. Years later, after meeting Malcolm X she saw the parallels between all disenfranchised people and took up the battle for equality. When Malcolm was assassinated there was a famous photo in LIFE magazine that showed him fallen and being held by an Asian woman. That was Yuri. We have been asked to bring the show to a number of Public Libraries in the Fall.
Here are my reviews in the order I saw them.
POWER - Terrific show but might be alarming for young people because of the brutal historic photos. Yet the young need to know their history!
Writer/Actor Meshaun Labrone gives a powerful performance as not only Stokely Carmichael, best remembered for his call for Black Power, but a host of other characters. He mesmerizes as the impassioned leader of SNCC during the Civil Rights era, who challenged the efficacy of passive resistance against the implacably brutal white power structure. On a screen, we see devastating photographs of the brutality against blacks in Jim Crow South, as well as against the unarmed protesters of the 60’s. He acts out a gentle 74-year old sharecropper being mocked and bullied by his tyrannical landowner, then, to our delight, channels the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and shows how his music had undercurrents of protest. It’s a journey back to a terrible time in our history that resonates today within the Black Lives Matter movement. A timely show.
A LITTLE HAMLET - Fast moving and FUN!
Everybody gets into the act in this Shakespeare spoof when Will is trying to get his great work staged and half the cast have skipped rehearsal. Glimpses of great drama come through as the costume lady who has dreams of being an actress does Gertrude; the good looking guy keeps the action going with his Method; the producer’s daughter finds the whole idea of playing Ophelia a lark, and, in a tribute to historical accuracy, Will himself plays the Ghost. Even a theater critic jumps in, as Laertes, since aren’t they all frustrated actors at heart!!! Even if you hate Shakespeare you’ll love this madcap gang, The Crescent Troupe, who mutilate him then salute him in equal measure.
STICKY FINGERS - Its an intriguing concept and a sociological statement about women’s needs and frustrations. Terrific acting.
Apparently based on actual cases, 8 women in a therapy group confess why they shoplift and their reasons are clearly emotional. One gal steals to give gifts to her cold mother; another senses magical properties in mascara; an older gal steals to get back at her fish loving husband; a mousey receptionist finds a new identity in a sexy red jumpsuit; a bold Texas gal steals rather than wait on the checkout line; a child of two hippies is sick of their dumpster diving for old clothes and spoiled food; and then there is the recognizable film star, bewildered by her own need to spend and steal in equal amounts. Narrated by a store detective with a back-story of her own, it’s a fascinating show.
MACHO LIKE ME - Don’t miss this woman’s journey into the secret lives of men!
Here is an intriguing and provocative view into what it means to be a man in this restrictive society. Helie Lee enjoys being a sexy, beautiful young woman, but always believed that men had advantages she was denied. Men were clearly free of the roles women are forced into - Hey, men rule the world, right? So, as a social experiment, she chopped off her long hair, scrubbed all traces of make-up off her face, bound her breasts, and wore jeans and plaid shirts for 6 whole months. What she learned will surprise you, as she discovers The Rules for Men that keeps them bound by social roles even tighter than women’s. Already a hit on You Tube as a personal documentary, Lee’s live telling adds greater dimension to the story we already knew.
LAS GARCIA - History is brought to life as the beautiful Gabriela portrays members of her family who fought against tyranny.
In 1965, while the U.S. was roiling in the Civil Rights battle, there was a revolution in the Dominican Republic where author-performer Gabriela Ortega’s grandmother was a fighter for Independence. As tribute to this magnificent woman she never met, Ortega takes us on a journey back in time as seen through our modern eyes. She portrays a number of women across the intervening 50 plus years to demonstrate the fear, the courage, and the persistence of the women in her bloodline. Ortega is mercurial as she transforms from a stubborn child, to a worn and bent old woman, then to a stern parent, even depicting her grandfather who died in the Revolution. We are whipped across generations by this beautiful, dynamic young woman, even as we are caressed by her singing. A very moving play.
TILT - Superb performances in a violent confrontation between two thieves who are testing the bounds of friendship with possible mortal results.
These two amazing performers (Michael Shaw Fisher & Ben Moroski) hold us all as hostages in this dynamic brouhaha that seems to be straight out of a Quentin Tarantino film without the bloodshed (although of that I’m not so sure). Whether the duo are totally nuts, or just fools for love, or desperate for money, they are now locked in a battle for our lives. We are in a mountain cabin, where they are hiding out from the Feds, and we are a pair of luckless lovers unable to escape. Much of the action is back story as we learn about our captors and how and why they came together and whether they will ever split apart. It’s an amusing if sometimes alarming conflict, there is a mean looking crowbar being swung our way, and the tension never lets up. Not for the faint-hearted.
SEX - You’ll have some good clean fun and with lots of Sex!
Yes, its called SEX and, in this original comedy, there’s lots of it in all permutations – mostly in the attempt to satisfy a woman with a voracious appetite for Sex. The two men in question (David Abed & Maurice Neuhaus) would clearly prefer the Sex to be consensual, between themselves, but Peggy Hopkins Joyce (Courtney Christenson) wants it and if they want to be in the movies they better get it up. The dialogue is raunchy and sweet but by no means arch or subtle - Noel Coward it’s not. The three actors are clearly having a lot of fun and, if you’re not a prude, you’ll have fun too. Based on an actual American actress, model and dancer in the Roaring 20’s, famous for her flamboyance, her six marriages to millionaires, numerous affairs, divorces, diamonds, furs, and hedonistic lifestyle, it’s all there.
SWEET LOVE ADIEU - A play in verse that The Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere), or Sir Francis Bacon, had nothing to do with.
If you go expecting Shakespeare you’ll be wrong, and if you expect Monty Python, sorry but Nah! This is a mock-up of Elizabethan comedy, told in rhyming couplets, where the costumes are traditional but the sensibility strictly 21st century where sexually anything goes! There’s a horny young guy who might be Romeo, and an audacious girl who could be Juliet if she didn’t have a alarming propensity for doing violence to men’s parts (and not only their hearts). There is a slight nudge towards the Romeo & Juliet story, with some swordplay, a balcony and a sleeping potion, yet with a not-so-pious priest who can never get any satisfaction. Still, the show is a free for all romp with the cast at full throttle and the plot thrown to the four winds. If this sounds like your cuppa tea, go and enjoy!
WHO ARE YOU ANYWAY? - Does love die when the person is no longer who they once were?
To lose a loved one to a terminal illness is tragic, but when they live on with their mind gone it’s a tragedy with no end in sight. That is the theme of this sorrowful play where a loving wife and daughter try to reclaim their own lives, while their once vibrant father no longer knows who they are. Now locked in a wheel chair, with endless questions pounding in his confused mind, he who was once a brilliant brain surgeon recognizes the irony of his now befuddled brain. The story covers a period of years where all three struggle with the same questions. Can anyone keep living with a useless hope? Wouldn’t it be better to cut the ties that bind and imprison us? Is it worthwhile going on as if the past might somehow miraculously catch up to the present? For the answer to these questions, go see the play.
PLEASE STAND CLEAR, THE DOORS ARE CLOSING - Don’t forget to tap your card and take a ride on the Los Angeles Metro!
Yup, it’s a familiar scenario: you are on the Metro, the doors close, and some character who appears somewhat normal starts a dialogue with an imaginary enemy, an invisible friend, or you! It’s at least four minutes to the next station and you’re trapped. Well, here are 11 loquacious chaps sharing their peculiar stories with us, and one punk sharing his music. For example, there’s the guy in love with his cars, another mad as hell and taking it out on you, and (my favorite) a meek little man giving you directions in a childlike self-effacing way. Writer/Performer David Harper understands the suspended-in-time atmosphere created in a subway and brings life to these wonderfully eccentric characters. Join him on the Expo Line as we travel from Culver City to 7th Street/Metro Center with never a boring moment.
BUMPERSTICKER MUSICAL - Here’s a lively and imaginative musical revue with traffic everywhere and some really odd folk living up to their BUMPERSTICKER beliefs.
If you’d never thought about the personalities behind certain weird, provocative, or gentle sayings, in this show you can meet them all. GAS GRASS OR ASS! Yup, it’s a duel in the sun between a rauchy trucker and a sexy gal hitchhiker you wont want to miss. HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS! A rouser with enough soul to take off the roof. WELL BEHAVED WOMEN DON’T MAKE HISTORY! Better watch out for these feisty Babes. AMERICA IS FULL GO HOME! Haven’t we been hearing this a lot this recently? PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS! Aaaah! In the end it’s a gentle message so, even though you might leave with your ribs aching from laughter, your spirit will be soaring as you cruise home along the Interstate.
VINCENT DECONSTRUCTED - You’ll be drawn in to Vincent’s story, even if you have your own idea of what drove him.
What is it about Vincent Van Gogh that makes the tragedy of his life so riveting? We almost get the answer in this beautiful play, with an actor (Alex Walters) who personifies the bewilderment, passion and sweetness of a madman who knows he’s mad but cannot help but embrace it. Behind him on the wall are his paintings, in glorious color, and we applaud his work even if it cost him his sanity. Mad artist or troubled child? To live with such intensity demands the loss of one’s soul and here we view the battle and understand what it means to be a great artist. As a play, it’s a series of vignettes, with people who love him trying to understand and forgive him. Forget what you’ve heard, see this portrait and be moved.
EINSTEIN - A believable portrait of a man who was certainly a genius, but difficult to like.
The manifestation of Einstein’s genius can only be explained by the suspicion that he had Aspergers, a condition on the autism spectrum, where higher functioning people demonstrate an all-absorbing interest in specific topics but are socially awkward. This makes sense after seeing Jack Fry’s interpretation of a man, obsessed by his mathematical discovery while remaining an often cruel and dismissive husband and father. We spend time with him over those desperate years when he eagerly awaited confirmation of his Theory of Relativity while being scorned by the Scientific Community. Fry portrays other scientists, some supportive, but one who wants to steal the world’s most famous equation, E = mc2. In some touching scenes the actor becomes Hans, his own meek eldest son, who still suffers from early rejection.
CRAFTSMAN - Having owned a Craftsman House in the past I had no problem believing this one is haunted.
A gay couple are looking for a house to buy but the original occupants are still there in spirit, caught in a time warp because of unresolved sexual issues. In this charming play, the graciousness of life in 1910 Los Angeles is contrasted with the anything-goes world we now live in. Often we yearn for the apparently serene past, but clever author Tony Foster shows that under the veneer of politeness there was cruelty and hypocrisy. Differences were repressed and the love between those of the same gender was stifled and corrupted. Today’s conflicts are different but still there is the question of can love ever be silenced. Beautiful performances, antique and modern, by the entire cast.
25 FULL LENGTH FEATURE FILMS IN 50 MINUTES - Quick, take your pick, before you fall over laughing.
Ray Chao, founder of KNOW LAUGHING MATTER, a series of comedy shows out of Chicago, has assembled the daftest movie cast since the Marx Brothers. There’s THELMA & LOUISE blithely headed over the cliff; SOUND OF MUSIC with some really obnoxious little kids; ROCKY taking on the meat-packing world; PRETTY WOMAN on a vengeful shopping spree; FORREST GUMP dispensing his naïve wisdom, REVENANT competing with a Teddy Bear and deadly Horse; LES MISÉRABLES marching against the Barricades and, best of all, TITANIC as the most tragic love story of all time. To see the rest you’ll have to see the show - if there’s still time!
OFFICE BEAT – A TAP DANCE COMEDY - You’d have to be a tap dance aficionado to truly appreciate this pitter-pat show.
The show is a demonstration of the talents of 13 young people whose feet, and sometimes hands, keep to a beat that hardly ever stops. There are no individual characters in this story, that is set in an office where no work gets done because the staff enjoy dancing the workday away. They are certainly an energetic, attractive and talented lot and deserve to be given individual cameos. Sadly, since there was only a theme – nasty boss forbids tap dancing – but no real story with recognizable characters it soon wore thin. Tap Overload is a company that produces videos on their You Tube Channel so check them out as the dancing is terrific.