Monday, July 7, 2014

Covering the Hollywood Fringe Fest

I'm embarrassed to say it's been an entire month since I've been heard from here at the Village, but I've been quite busy.

As a member of the press for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which ran from June 12 to June 29, I took in no fewer than 15 productions, writing reviews and providing exclusive interviews with some of the gifted companies who presented terrific work at the Fringe.

One of the most fun aspects of the event for me was that I could take my bike on the Metro from Universal City and ride around Hollywood, making the experience as "green" as possible.

But now onto some of my Fringe favorites. Click on the links to be taken to my reviews and more.

Paul Hoan Ziedler's Woof-Woof was a dynamic, foul-mouthed kick in the teeth, telling the story of a severely traumatized Iraq war vet who, just released from the army psychiatric hospital, decides to go visit his childhood friend in New York, even though he's in no way prepared to re-enter society. The actors — Jay Seals, Devin Skrade and especially Brett Donaldson — really delivered.

Benjamin Durham (face covered) and Jonny Rodgers in No Homo.
Also good was two-time Fringe Fest award-winner No Homo: A Bromantic Tragedy, which skirted potential clichés and offfered up a scenario with fully-developed characters everyone in Los Angeles can relate to. And it was funny, too!

Another happy surprise was The Best of 25 Plays Per Hour, which consisted of sketches running around two minutes apiece. This sort of format runs the risk of becoming tedious, but the enormously talented company, Theater Unleashed, knew just how to present the pieces for maximum impact. Naturally, most of them were comedy skits, but there were a few poignant ones thrown in to break it up.

Brendan Weinhold and Dawn Alden in Four Tree Plays
There was even an entertaining avant-garde theater piece, Four Tree Plays, consisting of a quartet of environmentally-themed pieces performed by actors who played trees, animals and even the occasional human. It had humor, it had movement, and it felt...oh, so avant-garde.

The Lost Moon Radio troupe, a Fringe favorite, came loaded for bear with Million Dollar Hair, a riotous musical tribute to a fictitious record producer, hosted by his malapropism-afflicted daughter, who introduces the acts that helped to make her father rich throughout the years. The genre spoofing is mostly dead-on, with some hilarious lyrics — and appreciably fine musicianship.

David Haverty, Kyle Nudo, Leigh Wulff and Michael Shaw Fisher.
Adding to the musical fun was Orgasmico Theatre Company's The Werewolves of Hollywood Blvd., and this one was really ambitious. With some more spit and polish (and budget), I can easily see it playing successfully off-Broadway.

It's about an entertainment agent who, when fired by the new owner of his firm, is urged by actual "werewolves" throughout history to get in touch with his animal side. And unlike those musicals whose songs merely set to music the dialogue the characters have just spoken (cough—Wicked), the tunes here actually advance the plot and develop the characters.

Among the other shows I enjoyed, Meet & Greet was a comedy about the "business" that features four actresses who meet in a San Fernando Valley casting office to compete for a lousy role in a trashy series about a "cougar" and her young lover.

Writers Stan Zimmerman and Christian McLaughlin, who've both been in the scene for a while, create a knowing and hilarious send-up of the dreadful Hollywood casting process. Carolyn Hennesy (True Blood) and '80s goofy blond (and game show favorite) Teresa Ganzel brought the star power, ably supported by Vicki Lewis, Daniele Gaither and Paul Iacano. Easy to stage and funny as hell, I can see this becoming a regional theater favorite.

One-person shows were big at the Fringe, and I saw some good ones. I Want to Bury My Testimony was the intimate coming-out story of a former Mormon (Scott Hislop) who describes the challenges of growing up a "girly-boy" in Salt Lake City and Reno. Hislop's charm and energy really put it over. 

The Wake, written and performed by a riveting Ben Moroski, was a dark and strange piece about a guy getting over being dumped by falling in love with a dead girl. Now who hasn't done that?  

Linden Arden Stole the Highlights was written and performed by Colin Mitchell (whose Bitter Lemons site I also write for), and it's a truly galvanizing work. Taking the lyrics of a rather obscure Van Morrison song as a starting point, Mitchell creates a legendary character — an expatriate gangster hiding out in Scotland — and it results in a forceful evening of theater.

If you've never experienced the Fringe, one thing to keep in mind is that there's a scant 30 minutes downtime between shows, with several of them playing each day at each venue. So when one finishes, its company must rush out to let the next one come in, set up, do a lighting and sound check, and be ready to perform. Tick tick tick. Given these time constraints, it makes their accomplishments even more impressive.

I miss the Fringe already. Since shows were happening every day, I could hop the Metro on a Monday or Tuesday night if I felt like it — and go see a play. Now we're back to a less-sparkling beginning of the week. It feels like the lights have gone out.

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