THE PLATINUM MEDALS:
THE LEGEND OF BOBBY DARIN: AN UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY
SIMON CORONEL: GLITCHES IN REALITY
NO TRAVELER: A COMEDY ABOUT SUICIDE
THE GOLD MEDALS:
BOOZE, BALLS AND BLUEGRASS
THE DEVIL YOU SAY
THE THREE MUSKETEERERS: CLOWNS WITH SWORDS
THE BRONZE MEDALS:
FIFTY SHADES OF SHREW
MUDD THE MAGNIFICENT: MAGIC & MAYHEM
ORSON WELLES & SCATMAN CROTHERS IN ‘A HOLLYWOOD ENDING’
THE EAR WAX MEDALS:
CURSED “MY ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD”
SPIDEROCALYPSE! A LOW BUDGET HORROR FILM FOR THE STAGE
Well, I thought I’d put this off until I had reviews written – more like scribbled – for all the shows I’ve been seeing during this, the second week, of the month long Fringe Festival.
But time waits for no man, and neither does the bloody Fringe.
The schedule I’m keeping is a tad killing. Twenty four shows seen while producing my own.
It is for this reason I cannot delay my work, gutting the bad and praising the good, not if I want you to still have time remaining to hurry down to Santa Monica Blvd. and see what should not be missed.
So, forgive me dear reader if I get down and dirty with my assessment and swiftly stake out those shows you should beat a path to the doorway of, and those shows that…well that should just be beaten- with iron bars and the petrified carcasses of weasels.
But first, a revision to my Appraisal-O-Matic Board!
I always run into the same problem at the Fringe, year after year. Typically you find a couple of imbecilic, glopping travesties which you file away under ear wax; then there are those shows that are deserving of the bronze, shows that, while not successful, at least attempted…. something. Next, of course, is the silver category, reserved for those undertakings showing merit, and where the talent and effort are readily apparent. Finally you have the pinnacle of performance, the gold.
The dilemma, though a happy one, is a dilemma yet, which is the Fringe’s level of transcendency. So successful are the Fringe shows that they swell the highest grouping with their numbers.
Therefore I announce a new ranking, reserved for the loftiest of achievements – the category of the (wait for the fanfare!) THE PLATINUM MEDAL!
So now some new reviews.
Let’s kick off with some historical plays.
The Fringe is doing very well in that category this time around.
We have of course the previously reviewed Nell Gwynne: A Dramatick Essaye on Acting and Prostitution, Bella Merlin’s exceptional One Tart Show on the mistress of Charles II merry ol’ England’s merriest of monarchs.
Now we can add some shows to that genre.
Bright Swords tells the remarkable story of Ira Aldridge (1807 – 1867). Born in New York, the son of a freed black minister, Aldridge was fortunate in attending the African Free School in that city, established to provide the children of free blacks and slaves with a classical education. It was here he was introduced to the world of theatre.
Aldridge would go on to become one of the most renowned actors of the time, reaping praise for his Shakespearian portrayals which would take him to stages the world over.
And if you ever pass through Stratford-upon-Avon take the time to check out the plaques on the walls of the Shakespeare Theatre. Aldridge is the only African-American actor honored there.
So clearly, playwright Rick Creese has picked out a compelling subject for his piece. He tells of young Aldridge’s apprenticeship in the African Company, the country’s first black owned and operated theatre troupe where he honed his acting skills. Creese continues on with the story, when, in 1824 no longer able to abide the all pervasive prejudice of the day, Aldridge abandons America for Europe, where a new life beyond his imagining awaits him.
Now in trying to explain my passion for theatre to the uninitiated, I often speak of that magical experience, unique to live theatre alone, when a world different from our own, is created out of “airy nothing.”
Of course, in order for those “airy nothings” to show up and take care of business they need the support of a solidly crafted script, an actor (or actors) of no mean talent, and a director who knows there’s more to the craft than pontificating and striking brooding poses.
Bright Swords stands as a sterling example of that experience and of what can be achieved when the synchronized talents of theatre join on a bare stage.
For there is little on stage at the Complex except for Rick Creese’s tight and expertly written play, Jeffery Wienckowski’s able and intelligent direction, and Ryan Vincent Anderson’s stellar performance, from which is conjured up a world long gone and a life of a man now long dead.
Such is the power of theatre.
Oh! Wait, they had a stool on stage too.
It is fitting that the Fringe should offer this amazing tale drawn from the history of the very thing we are gathered to celebrate.
SATURDAY JUNE 27 2015, 3:30 PM | 1HR
COMPLEX THEATRES (EAST THEATRE, 6468 SANTA MONICA BLVD)
SIMON CORONEL: GLITCHES IN REALITY (Platinum Medal)
Simon Coronel is a soft spoken lemur-faced Aussie who manages to accomplish two rather remarkable things in his show. First he meticulously deconstructs the entire stock in trade of the professional magician, describing in detail methods used to achieve the desired illusions, nonchalantly revealing secrets of the trade, at one point even enquiring who in his audience wants to know how a card trick is brought about, and who doesn’t. Then the “ignorance is bliss” crowd is invited to join him on stage and he sets about performing the trick for them, while exposing to the “Sho’me” bunch his mastery of card manipulation. Coronel’s second accomplishment in the course of the show is blowing the collective minds of his slack jawed audience.
I hate magic. I hate pigeons flying out of a popped balloon, elephants disappearing, and Chris Angel’s pompadour.
However, I am an aficionado of the ancient art of prestidigitation, and I wouldn’t say Coronel is a world class slight of hand artist.
He’s better than that.
This guy is in the league of Ricky Jay.
TIANANMEN ANNIE (Platinum Medal)
This was not a show I had meant to see. But, a gap unexpectedly opened in my schedule and this play was a convenient plug.
In 1989, writer/performer Ann Starbuck was a young student fascinated with China and sought to improve her fluency in the language by a yearlong residency at Beijing University.
In April of that year, Hu Yaobang died. Three years earlier, on becoming General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu had sought to liberalize China and end the abuses of power by the party elite. Forced from power by a conservative coalition before his reforms could be initiated, Hu was idolized by the country’s intellectuals, reformists and especially its students.
Those wishing to mourn his passing began to gather in Tiananmen Square. Within a week over a million people, from all walks of life, were filling the square, demanding reforms and greater freedom from their government.
Starbuck was there, witness to the great events from those tumultuous days. But the core concern of her tales are not of history, but humanity.
I have seen some amazing work at this Fringe.
There were even a few shows where I was tempted at the conclusion to stand and join the ovation they received.
But only tempted.
At Tiananmen Annie I lead the ovation. This is excellent, excellent work.
SATURDAY JUNE 27 2015, 3:00 PM
HUDSON THEATRES (HUDSON GUILD) 6539 SANTA MONICA BOULEVARD
THE LEGEND OF BOBBY DARIN: AN UNAUTHORIZED AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Platinum Medal)
At first glance Cliff Todd comes across as the quiet, unassuming sort. Hardly the guy you’d think of in connection with Bobby Darin, the brash crooner of “Splish Splash” and “Mack the Knife” fame, who died tragically young at 37. But at the start of this loving bio play of the singer, Todd is suddenly gone. There in his place is Bobby. Todd captures Darin’s singing style and mannerisms perfectly, and under Miles Chapman’s adroit direction, the transformation is stunning. My wife who is considerably younger than me wasn’t familiar with Bobby Darin. So she watched some videos on YouTube. She thought Todd made a better Darin.
SATURDAY JUNE 27 2015, 10:00 PM | 1HR
THEATRE ASYLUM (ASYLUM LAB – 1078 LILLIAN WAY LA. CA. 90038)
NO TRAVELER: A COMEDY ABOUT SUICIDE (Platinum Medal)
Written and flawlessly performed by Penny Pollak, with Lindsey Hope Pearlman directing No Traveler reveals itself part dance, part psychodrama, part vaudeville, part morality play and all diamond. I doubt that any tale of pain and despair has ever seen a wittier staging or suicide viewed in such a frisky light.
Pollak portrays Abigail, an angst driven party girl who dances (literally) herself into an act of self destruction. She awakens to find herself in a tub, and the tub in purgatory. There she is given another chance at salvation if she can prevent another despairing soul from following the path she chose.
But as good as Abigail was at screwing up her life, she’s even better at screwing up her one shot at salvation. Sent to talk a jumper off a ledge, she argues with her that it’s foolish for her to end her life. “Go out there, experience the world” Abigail advises, “You’ll find good reasons to kill yourself.”
Pollak’s show is bizarre, dark and brutally fun. And one not to be missed.
FRIDAY JUNE 26 2015, 7:30 PM | 1HR
SATURDAY JUNE 27 2015, 4:45 PM
COMPLEX THEATRES (RUBY THEATRE, 6476 SANTA MONICA BLVD)
NEXT UP: GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE AND EAR WAX MEDALS