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The Hollywood Fringe Festival 2015…

the final reviews

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The Hollywood Fringe Festival 2015: Final Tallies & Reviews
HOUSE OF RABBITS CHARIVARI IN VOYEURVILLE (Platinum Medal)

House of Rabbits Charivari in Voyeurville developed by Brandon Baruch and directed by Baruch and Kyle Johnston owes a great deal to The British Music Hall/rock band The Tiger Lillies and their musical reinterpretation of Heinrich Hoffmann’s 19th century children’s book “Der Struwwelpeter” or “Shockheaded Peter.”

Hoffmann’s illustrated book of rhymes was intended to furnish German children with moral instructions; instructions which basically played out as, don’t be a little prick or Shockheaded Peter will swoop down, rip your arms and legs off and replace them with twigs.

House of Rabbits, which describes itself as a: “Hardcore-Vaudeville/Art-Rock band” has created a show which in tone and style takes its “true north” from the Tiger Lillies earlier work.

Fortunately, though, Baruch and Johnston were not content with fashioning a mere facsimile, but wisely set off in their own direction. The resulting production which, while it may acknowledge being “inspired by” The Tiger Lillies and “Shockheaded Peter,” is definitely not derivative of the same.

With music by House of Rabbits and book by Jess Gabriell Cron, we are given an odd and exceedingly entertaining highbred of Edward Gorey blended with Bugs Bunny then served as an admonition against the world’s morality police.

You would think that was a no-brainer considering how scenarios, attesting to that point, surface with regularity and are played out ad nauseam in the media: the “family values” conservative is caught picking up hookers, anti-gay marriage legislator is revealed to be paying hush money to former students he molested.

That attempts to impose narrow sexual prohibitions on a society are both hypocritical and doomed, is a lesson the human race seems incapable of learning.

David Offner’s scenic design in conjunction with Laura Wong’s costumes contributes to a sense of the stage dripping with a fetid dampness. The good citizens of Voyeur-ville are portrayed as rabbits and other minor rodents, with Cron belting out tunes as our Virgil, leading us along as we follow Ashley Elizabeth Allen, Cara Manuele and Cory Storey down a tortured path woven from barbed wire and pitted with betrayed love to a dark and disturbing finale.

The show lacks for nothing and achieves much, for which portion of credit must be given to producer and technical director Max Oken.

 

PILLAR OF FIRE (Platinum Medal)

(NOTE: Encore Producers’ Award extension, Friday, Jul 17, 8 pm at Theatre Asylum!)
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Ray Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire was originally published in 1966, as part of S is for Space a collection of short Sci-Fi stories aimed at young adults, which was always one of the most page worn volumes in any junior High School library. In 1975, Bradbury, the constant creative tinkerer, adapted it for the stage.
It is unlike anything else that Bradbury ever wrote, yet, paradoxically, it is a conflux of elements that would always be inherent to his style; the fusion of the rational with the irrational, the lover of literature, the modernist secure in science, the superstitious primitive, cowering at the bumps heard in the night, the poet and the brute. What is perhaps so jarring about Pillar of Fire is the lack of amalgamation the parts display. Bradbury had yet to harmonize the distinct voices he bore within himself, so here they each perform in severance, with a purity of pitch later be muted in the cohesion of Bradbury’s creative choir.
Unlike Bradbury’s later works, Pillar of Fire is more poem than prose, more rage than reflection, and more horror story than speculative fiction.

It is 2349; the future is logical and disinfected. Man is germ-free, fear free, sanitized of superstition, of fear. Humanity has been “cleared.” Even death has been sanitized from the psyche of mankind, with only one graveyard still remaining in existence, as a tourist attraction.

But now the directive has come, it is time for it to be expunged and the bodies interned removed and conveyed to one of the huge incinerators that towers over the landscape. But before the removal can be completed a corpse awakens. One William Lantry, dead for 400 years.

Bradbury doesn’t bother with explanations for this occurrence.

What is important to Bradbury is a reckoning of what would be lost if “death” dies.

If the great fear of life’s end was taken from our awareness, would there be any terror left for man.

If terror was lost to man, would Poe be lost as well? Lovecraft?

If we thought there was nothing in the darkness, would we have ever crowded around a small flame seeking security among others? Would we have told stories to pass the time, and take our minds away from what may be lurking in the night’s blackness?

If we thought that blackness empty, would imagination die?

Bill Oberst Jr. has chosen his role well.

His lean hard body and gaunt face has a cadaverous quality.

There is nothing on stage other than a thin patch of dirt, and Mark McClain Wilson’s superbly chiseled sound design that supports Oberst’s efforts to excellent effect.

Oberst does more than become the role he’s playing, for as the resurrected corpse discovers the world anew, Oberst creates it, becoming the reality of Bradbury’s dystopia for his audience.
Oberst does not perform the role of Lantry, he exists in it.

I cannot believe Pillar of Fire will not be extended passed the closing of the Fringe, allowing others to experience Oberst’s truly remarkable work, and one of the very best, if not the best solo show the Fringe had to offer.

 

THE PLAYER KING (Platinum Medal)

Darin Dahms has worked on his one man show based on the life of Edwin Booth (1833-1893); considered the greatest American actor of the 19th century and the older brother of John Wilkes Booth, for a number of years.
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He will stage it every so often as he did for this year’s Fringe. When he decides to stage it again go and see it.

If, when that occurs, you happen to be held prisoner, chained by your leg in a basement somewhere, well then chew through your leg and crawl to wherever Dahms is playing.

Trust me; you will see a performance that will stay with you all your life.

It’s unlikely you’ll ever see a one man show about Van Gogh performed by a great artist. In The Player King you can see a show about a great actor performed by a man who epitomizes what that means.

Superbly directed by Paul Koslo.

Brilliantly stage managed by Carl Garcia.

 

BLOOD, A VOODOO LOVE STORY (Platinum Medal)

 

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Michael Phillip Edwards has written and directed a dazzling, twisted, sensual, scary, strikingly clever, viciously funny, marginally pornographic and thoroughly original little morality tale about a man and a woman who meet at a sex retreat, fall in love, accidently enter into a ménage à trois with a succubus from hell and are condemned to spend all eternity retelling their tale to audiences and having brain numbing magnificent sex. (Hey, it beats the hell out’a pushing a big ass rock up a hill eternally!)

Phrederic Semaj as “He” and Maria Tomas as “She” give tour-de-force performances.
This show was deserving of having a place in the Smithsonian.

 

ANOUILH’S ANTIGONE (Gold Medal)

Brittany Kilcoyne McGregor, Miguel Perez, Tyler Peck, Katarina Rose Fabic, Michael Vega, Amy Huckabay, John Moeslein and Rossi Thomas. Directed by Joseph Matarrese.

It is annoying to me that this review comes at the end Fringe and will do no good as far as raising awareness of this show to the festival goers. But with three hundred plus productions that’s going to happen.

So all this review can do now is list the talented cast and credit the skilled director for staging a stripped down, bare staged Antigone that came as close to knocking my socks off as anything I’ve seen in years.

Kudos to all involved, it was amazing work.

 

MARRY ME A LITTLE (Gold Medal)

 

Stephen Sondheim’s 1980 Marry Me A Little is akin to one of those really excellent Japanese hors-d’oeuvre bars, where nothing is served but side dishes.

The comparison is applicable because Marry Me A Little conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René, is a review of songs culled from Sondheim’s major works – A Little Night Music, Company, and others, as well as a number of songs cut from Sondheim’s epic Follies. Songs that, like everything that flows from Sondheim’s pen, are gems in and of themselves, but which have been overshadowed by such towering tuneful touchstones as Send In the Clowns,” “Losing My Mind,” “A Comedy Tonight” and “I’m Still Here.”

marryme1.jpgWith Marry Me A Little you can hear them, as if for the first, and appreciate their stunning artistry in what amounts to a mini-operetta.

The plot is rice paper thin.

A man (David Laffey) spends Saturday night alone in his apartment longing for someone to share his life with.

In the apartment directly above him a woman (Jessie Withers) is spending her Saturday night alone, also longing to have that special someone in her life.

Producer/director Janet Miller has done a splendid job of overlapping the two separate lives onto the same simple set, thus highlighting how snugly their lives would bond if together, while simultaneously applying a light layer of pathos, in their oblivion to one another.

Both Laffey and Withers manage to make it seem as if this show was tailored made for them, and that they, and none other, either by an Act of Congress or Biblical commandment, shall ever be allowed to play these roles.
There are some outstanding songs offered the audience, songs that reinforce why Sondheim all but dominated the realm of musical theatre these last few decades.

Withers sizzles in her rendering the shrewdly suggestive “Can That Boy Foxtrot?” Laffey manages to keep topping himself in one number after the other, especially the ballad “Multitudes of Amys.”

That they can stay apace of some of Sondheim’s more challenging airs such as “Two Fairy Tales” and “Bang” highlights their considerable chops and Miller’s impeccable staging.

Katherine Barrett ably supports the concepts with her skillful lighting that provides structure to each scene’s shifting.

All in all a tip top presentation that I dare an audience not to enjoy.

Musical Director Corey Hirsch supplies the thirty piece orchestra. Okay minus twenty-nine other instruments, but you’d never know it.

 

uandme1.jpgU AND ME AND MY BEST FRIEND P (Gold Medal)

 

Abby Schachner strikes one as this tornado of neuroses and talent, and her one woman show at the Elephant Studio was Ground Zero for me on the night I sat in her audience.

Free form to the gills, Abby bounces off the walls reciting her poems (one for every letter of the alphabet), and sharing her Fairy Tales that show the influence of the Brothers Grimm and Mickey Spillane.

I would find it impossible to believe anyone left that audience without being utterly floored by her writing, utterly exhausted by her performance and eagerly looking forward to spending another night being thoroughly entertained by her.

 

AM I A GROWNUP YET? (Silver Medal)

Grayson Morris is personable and endearing. She’s also funny. There are two substantial flaws fettering her one woman show Am I A Grownup Yet? The first being that it’s actually not a one woman show, but a comedy routine trying to pass for one, which is not an uncommon criticism of a good number of solo shows in any Fringe.
Now if you want to do a comedy routine as your Fringe offering that’s fine, but what Ms. Morris has here is neither fish nor fowl. Fortunately she is, as previously stated, personable, endearing and funny so she can manage to pull off the deception.

The second flaw is the more serious. Sitting and listening to her tell family anecdotes and give an account of her travels and trials I couldn’t help thinking that she was capable of crafting a really unique, and far more involving solo show than the one I was watching.

For instance, Ms. Morris lived a number of years in Thailand. (And no doubt has a ton of tales from that time.) It is also apparent that she studied Nang yai the century old art of Thai shadow puppetry, which incorporates song, poetry and music.

Ms. Morris begins her performance by employing elements of Nang yai to share her family history with the audience. This is by far the most engaging and most interesting portion of the show, one which is too soon discarded.

I understand why she chose to go the route she did. Get people laughing and they’ll overlook a pile of flubs and shortcomings. In that way, comedy is safe.

And there you have the primary distinction between a comedy routine and a one person show.
The One Person Show courts danger.

amigro1b.jpgAnd you’re working without a net.

Comedy, as any comic will tell you, hides pain.

In a solo performance you confront it.

Ms. Morris is not a slacker. Her choices are, simply put, “insight” or “punch line,” and I’m confident whichever Ms. Morris picks she will do fine. She is talented, she is smart, but she needs to decide out there on the stage, if she wants to be fish or fowl.

If fowl, that’s good, because it holds the hope of flight.

I was conflicted about what medal, bronze or silver to award Am I a Grownup Yet?

In the end I didn’t give the silver to the show I gave it to her.

Now get rid of the net.

 

THE BRAZEN BOOTIES PRESENT: BOOTIES’ PLAYHOUSE (Silver Medal)

Ah, Fringe, glorious Fringe! Burlesque, fan dancer, pleated skirts, stripper pole, fuzzy, drag, Cthulhu, pasties, and boobies! What’s not to like?

Clean fun for the whole family. Well, maybe not “clean,” really. Okay, a little besmirched. And maybe not the whole family, unless your family’s the Borgias. But fun it is.

Unlike Am I A Grownup Yet?, the Brazen Booties know precisely what they’re peddling, and don’t pitch it! And did I mention boobies?

 

warpeac1.jpgWAR AND PEACE – THE ONE MAN SHOW (Silver Medal)

That Brad Griffith actually condenses Tolstoy’s monumental to me down to an hour is pretty amazing. That he succeeds in doing so in a way that is so funny and still manages to convey the breadth of the work itself, as well as the love he feels for book, is even more amazing.

BLUE BALLS KNOLL (Bronze Medal)

Dark Mark is a Goth Comic. He made me laugh.

 

ETHEL MERMAN – QUEEN OF THE MUSICAL COMEDY (Bronze Medal)

Twenty-something actress/singer Gaby Rey is either to be commended on her chutzpa or chastised for her impertinence in assuming she possessed the needed musical chops and acting endowments to successfully strut the boards as the iconic Ethel Merman.
But she doesn’t.

Singing selections from Annie Get Your Gun and Hello Dolly reveals a pleasant voice, but one that doesn’t come close to the nuclear warhead clout of Merman’s pipes.

Then there is the slack narrative Rey relates as Merman, which is about as lackadaisical as a water logged firecracker on the fifth of July.

The project was misconceived from the start I believe, however, with apologies to Browning, “A gal’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a Fringe for?”

 

KING DICK (Bronze Medal)

 

I am someone who is consumed by the study of history, and feels that history is not something that should be played fast and loosed with. It is therefore understandable why I would have trouble with Christian Levatino’s King Dick.

First the facts, Levatino uses as the basis of his play, one of the strangest meetings that ever took place in Washington D.C., when on December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley arrived at the White House to offer his service to President Richard Nixon.

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Elvis was concerned about what he regarded as forces working against the well being of America: The commies, the hippies, the Back Panthers and of course, the Beatles.

Elvis went to Nixon seeking to be made a “Federal Agent at Large,” in order for him to infiltrate these groups and report back to the government. He also wanted a badge.

This encounter has all ready been the subject of documentaries and one film, and is shortly to be the focus of a new film directed by Liza Johnson, starring Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon, and Michael Shannon as Elvis, slated for release in 2016.

Even the photo from that meeting of the King and Nixon shaking hands is the most requested photo from the National Archives.

However, my problem with Levatino’s King Dick is the same as my problem with his earlier work A Sunny Afternoonabout the 12 hours Lee Oswald spent being interrogated by the Dallas police between his arrest on Friday after the JFK murder until his death at the hands of Jack Ruby.
Levatino has no understanding of, nor, it seems, respect for history.

In King Dick Levantino doesn’t commit to writing a farce and he is certainly not writing history.

While the play is funny, it lies to its audience and does a disservice to both the art of the theatre and the study of history.

Sorry but, to me, any play that doesn’t know what it is, and isn’t honest to its audience is just crap. I don’t care how much the audience laughs.

 

DEAD DOG’S BONE: A BIRTHDAY PLAY (Ear Wax Medal)

A rather muddled mess of a play by Veronica Tjioe, given a rather muddled mess of a production by 2:20 Productions. Some interesting theatrics and that’s about it.

 

♦    ♦    ♦

BEST OF THE FRINGE: BLOOD: A VOODOO LOVE STORY

(HONORABLE MENTION: U AND ME AND MY BEST FRIEND P)

BEST COMEDY: THREE MUSKATEERERS—CLOWNS WITH SWORDS

BEST MUSICAL: HOUSE OF RABBITS – CHARIVARI VOYEUR-VILLE

(HONORABLE MENTION: ANNABELLA)
(HONORABLE MENTION: STUPID SONGS)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR: DARIN DAHMS FOR THE PLAYER KING

(HONORABLE MENTION: BRYDON ALLMAN IN REVOLUTIONARY LOVE)
(HONORABLE MENTION: TYLER PECK FOR ANOUILH’S ANTIGONE)
(HONORABLE MENTION: DAVID LAFFEY FOR MARRY ME A LITTLE)
(HONORABLE MENTION: RYAN VINCENT ANDERSON FOR BRIGHT SWORDS

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS:  A Three Way Tie (Hey, it happens!):

BELLA MERLIN FOR NELL GWYNNE – A DRAMATICK ESSAYE ON ACTING AND PROSTITUTION

MARIA TOMAS FOR BLOOD, A VOODOO LOVE STORY

BRITTANY KILCOYNE MCGREGOR FOR ANOUILH’S ANTIGONE

BEST ENSEMBLE: THENARDIER’S INN AND ANTIGONE

(HONORABLE MENTION: LA LA LA STRADA)

(HONORABLE MENTION: D’ARC VOICES – RETELLING THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC)

BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE: BILL OBERST JR. IN PILLAR OF FIRE

JUDGES PICK: CLIFF TODD FOR THE LEGEND OF BOBBY DARIN

(NOTE: Please check the Fringe website to see if a play you’re interested in has an extension date: www.hollywoodfringe.org.)

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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