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Portraits: Icons Unveiled

Lucille Ball once said “it’s a helluva way to start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.” For theatre lovers, feminists, storytellers, Portraits: Icons Unveiled, written and directed by Lucy Green and Sarah Wheeler, is a great start indeed.This charming fringe piece, set in a museum gallery, celebrates remarkable women in history.

The play itself combines two one-person shows based on the lives of Lucille Ball (Green) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Wheeler), two women who, while each famous and notable in her own right, have little- if nothing- in common.

Lucy Green weaves Ball’s personal life and public persona through a series short scenes depicting her rocky relationship with Desi Arnaz, her illustrious career as comedian and studio executive and punctuated by her iconic Vitameatavegiman skit. The pace and flow of the story suffers from too many blackouts. Green delivers Lucy as a serious and thoughtful individual, a generous and warm performer, but ultimately falls just short of Ball’s comedic mastery in the play’s unpoopular climax. With a skit as iconic and perfect as Vitameatavegiman, there’s no room for interpretation.

Sarah Wheeler tells the story of socialite and author Zelda Fitzgerald with grace and humor. Fitzgerald, married to famous writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was wild, intelligent and troubled. She was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and spent the latter years of her brief life in and out of Sanatoriums. Wheeler finds emotional depth and manages to reveal the mastery of language and storytelling often attributed to her much more celebrated husband.

Both ladies seem to mainly focus on the husbands that let them down. Salacious indeed, but not what makes each of these women truly iconic. Although, it was Zelda herself that said “I don’t want to live, I want to love first and live incidentally.”

http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4711

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Pagliaccis

Pagliaccis, a painfully serious piece by Harim Sanchez, tackles the messy aftermath of an unexpected suicide of Zane (Eric Barnard), a bright and troubled young man. The play achieves a deep level of sensitivity and surprising humor as those left behind search for answers and summarize the totality of their loss.

The story follows Tarik (Jesse Atijie Robertson) and Suzanne ( Daniela Rivera), Zane’s best friend and sister, as they hastily sort the disaster Zane has left in his wake. In a well measured performance, Robertson’s Tarik is evasive and withheld, revelatory of his relationship with Zane. He finds an emotional release during the final moments of the play that bring tears to my eyes as I write; primal and full of pain. Daniela Rivera’s performance as Suzanne is strong and steady; she’s the one to step in and take care of business.

An especially powerful performance by Eric Barnard as recently departed Zane offers a clear view into the complex persona of a deeply troubled man. Barnard plays the role with vulnerability and tenderness. The mask he wields is literally melting before our eyes as he drowns in self loathing and becomes increasingly isolated, both by his own actions and the intentional distancing of those closest to him. The fragility he finds in the final moments leading up to his suicide is almost too difficult to witness.

Director Eric White navigates with clarity and precision, finding ways to beautifully overlap time and place, creating the piece itself as a bit of a blur, wholly appropriate for characters in the throes of grief. A stellar debut by first-time playwright Harim Sanchez, who manages to capture the deeply felt pain and confusion of those dealing with the aftermath of a suicide in a way that is both potent and poetic, accessible and raw.

Suicide offers no closure,no answers, no peace. Only pain, regret, sorrow. There’s no right answer, except forgiveness. Love well, friends, you never know who’s life depends on it.

http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4465

 

Shakespeare and Chill

Who says Shakespeare can’t be hip? Bag O’ Bones Collective nails the chill vibe and youthful quality through an edgy mash-up of Bard’s many tales of love. The Three Clubs venue has a sexy atmosphere, and the audience cozies up in the dimly lit backroom cabaret-style space. The best way to summarize the evening was … chill.

The play itself feels like a cabaret; there’s music, hip hop, scenework, solo performances, interpretive dance, even a mime. It all flows together seamlessly though, and even the text itself feels fresh. “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” can still garner a hearty laugh from a young crowd, which I found extremely satisfying. Damn, Bill, you still got it. At times the text was under-voiced and under-energized, making it difficult to hear the more tender moments as the venue itself shares a wall with a loud, crowded bar (and should be noted that my theatre watching alter ego is a partially deaf cranky old lady).

Original music by Coates adds an edgy flare and stand-out performance by Jazzlyn K. Luckett elevates the quality of this production to a must-see. The innovative direction by Tinks Lovelace is refreshing; she’s not afraid to find new ways to tell old stories. Bag O’ Bones is really on to something here. Go get you some Shakespeare and Chill. Recommended.

Fringing it Up, 2017

I’m back, bitches.

Last year’s fringe was a wild and illuminating jaunt through the good, the bad and the completely baffling (see below). If I know anything about the fringe, I have plenty of sexy, screwball and sacrilegious art in my near future, and I’m reviewing it all for your reading pleasure.

If you’re interested in a review for your show, shoot me an email at DanaMartin18@gmail.com. Me, myself and my humble opinion will be there. My dance card is filling up fast, so get on that sh**.

Happy opening, all, and May the Fringe be with you.

Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy by Catherine Butterfield was an excellent, satisfying night of theatre- simple, finessed storytelling. Butterfield creates a rich world of complex relationships and well-rounded, identifiable characters. The incomparable Ron West directs with polish and specificity. A stellar writing/directing team. More please.

I knew I was in for a polished play when I entered the theatre and saw the arrangement of the set; always a tell-tale sign of impending success/disaster. It was simple ( a partition and a few blocks) and yet arranged in a way that created depth. Under West’s direction the play transitions efficiently from scene to scene with simple changes to the blocks and depends heavily on the acting. Directors, take notes.

The cast creates a gaggle of rich, authentic characters with whom we all recognize and/or identify. Every actor in this show is a stand-out, Alla Poberesky in particular. She’s mesmerizing.

The final scenes of this play brought tears to my eyes. We’re all in it together, friends. Make time for this one- you will not be disappointed.

http://hff16.org/3538

Doing it Yourself: A Solo Experience

They say if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. In the world of solo shows, that statement is sometimes true.

A Horse With a View, written and performed by Christopher Piehler, maintains a steady trot, never quite reaching a full gallop. Piehler weaves his experiences riding horses and his relationships with women together, creating a solid, unique and specified narrative. The way Piehler tells it, horses and women are both good company.

You just can’t help but like the guy. He’s a good, solid guy. The kind of guy that shows up on time, meets deadlines, irons his shirts.  The kind of guy that rides horses. With that being said- loosen up a little, bro. Breathe more deeply, sit more deeply into the saddle early on and settle in for the ride.  Ultimately,  Piehler achieves a wonderful, genuine connection with the audience.

The play held my attention throughout.  I’m fascinated with horses and therefore was keen to listen to his adventures.  Piehler is a seasoned playwright/performer and therefore constructs a good story.  Although this was only fringe show I’ve seen that utilized the projector, I would have loved to see actual pictures of his travels.  There were four separate horse tales; perhaps one too many.  I wonder what else he’s got? http://hff16.org/3721

Deana Barone’s MetaFam tackles a subject we know all too well: Family. Complicated, dysfunctional (at times), broken and beautiful family. Barone reveals herself fully in a compelling story of love and survival. It’s vulnerable, smart, playful, compelling.

A masterful storyteller, Barone fills the room with her powerful presence. Keen on the fine art of audience participation, her blunt style feels initially abrasive. I’m usually cool with participating as long I’m eased into it. I’m shy. Barone, in her own way, did just that. It was always inclusive, always creative and clever. It almost felt like we were in her living room- and she was glad we came.

Barone understands character specificity and authenticity. The way she “put on” the characters was fantastic. The way she played herself at younger, more tender ages was beautiful. Her characterizations of her parents and siblings were far more than impersonations- but carefully crafted characters filled with love and respect. I can only imagine what she discovered about her family by immersing herself so completely in their personas.

I caught glimpses of myself and my own family throughout this play. I learned something about myself. I felt braver. I felt inspired. I left feeling full and satisfied, and not just because I ended up with the bucket of oranges. Now that is a good day at the theatre. http://hff16.org/3568

 

As a white woman, I can safely say that white people love to make a big deal about basically nothing. We know this. The amount of time I’ve spent in the last few weeks in a darkened room listening to white women wax poetic about breakups and yoga, clothes and loads of other boring, inconsequential shit irritates and surprises me, and so I’ve created a Solo Show subcategory- WWC, or White Women Complaining.

Okay gals, rules of thumb: If you want to tell us a story, great! Do it boldly and fiercely. You’re a storyteller. If you’re compelled gather us together in order to complain about the shortcomings of your privilege, then go the fuck home. Seriously. Why? Because we’re not therapists, nor do we want to be. Entertain us, stop complaining. Figure out what’s real, immediate, dangerous. Tell us THAT story. If you have even the slightest notion that you’re complaining: RE-WRITE.

Cold Tangerines wasn’t technically a solo show, but it should have been. Adapted by Lynn Downey Braswell from the novel by Shauna Niequist, this is WWC incarnate. To sum up,it’s the story of a white woman deeply unsatisfied with her life of privilege. No real message, no real point. Of all the novels to adapt, why this one? I don’t get it. http://hff16.org/3416
Suddenly Split and Swiping Over by Tracy Held Potter is another prime example of WWC. Why, oh why am I watching a play about TV and texting? If I wanted to see those things, I would STAY HOME. I not interested that your shitty, non-committal boyfriend won’t text you back. Or about your tinder sexcapades. Or that you apparently love love love TV. That simply isn’t stage worthy.

The very last moments of the show were the most real and authentic of the evening.  This is where the play began, in my opinion.  The rest, I’m afraid,  is doomed to be white-washed into the bowels of my memory.  http://hff16.org/3791

 

SEX SEX SEX!

Sex sells people. The #hff16 is no exception.  Read on:

Black Widow Laughs by Nina Rose Carlin at the 3 Clubs is young blood at it’s finest. We’re transported back to Prohibition Era backroom secrecy- with an added bit of danger, courtesy of the Zwillman Family.

The script is fast-paced and well-structured; my favorite combo. The pay-off at the end of the play is clever- although the reveal should be total (meaning rip those pants off!). Deon Summerville is particularly delightful as Charles.

Overall, a good mix of camp and sexiness, never taking itself too seriously.
I really applaud this work. Nina Rose Carlin shows tremendous promise as a writer.  http://hff16.org/3466

 

Porno Dido by Sean Graney is sexy-silly romp through the inner-workings of creating quality porn.

The play begins with rehearsal. Porn rehearsal. Cue bored moans (which actually has a hilarious pay-off). All the expected archetypes are present and accounted for.  We’ve got the stressed-for-time director, the cynical star, the starry-eyed newcomer, the happy-go-lucky fluffer,  the drag queen, the predator, the mysterious backer.

The play is well-executed and manages to empower women, which was fucking great and the acting is also fucking great. Porno Dido could use a thorough cut of the script as the latter half of the rehearsal felt monotonous. The parallel of rehearsal and the story of mythical Dido of Cathage inter-spliced with the Big Bad Wolf wasn’t clearly established. I zoned out for like 30 seconds and then was completely confused. Predatory intentions of Jef, the sinister-yet- well-endowed male star steer the play into dark and dangerous waters.  An unapologetic performance by Sean Bolger.  As tone shifts drastically with the introduction of Jeff, the play itself never fully delivers the pay-off the audience deserves…we left with collective blue balls.

It feels funny when porn gets all serious.  http://hff16.org/3530

 

Speaking of porn, Absolute Zero (How Lovers and Sad People Hold Up the World) offers a surprisingly naked glimpse into the psyche of writer/actor Ryan Lisman.

The play opens with our protagonist Charles’ (Lisman) acceptance to Harvard. Shortly thereafter, Charles is kidnapped by Jim, some creepy guy who has been obsessed with Charles for some time, apparently, but not before he and girlfriend Iris (Lindsey Jean Rotezel) agree to wait until the big #18 to lose their virginity to one another. Unfortunately, in Charles’ absence, virgin Iris is oddly, crudely persuaded into performing sex acts with Charles’ older brother (to the collective sighs and head-shakes of the ladies in the room).
Meanwhile in creepy Jim’s basement, Charles and Jim are forging a romance of their own- and though Charles is but innocent and pure- he decides to “get with” Jim anyhow. Alas, their bliss is cut short, however, as creepy Jim is discovered by an affable-yet- inexplicably-clever cop. Jim is allowed escape from the world’s worst detective and promptly pops up at Charles’ apartment who eagerly strips naked for Jim and lets it all hang out. Cue music.

Is it just me or is this a porn plot? This is porn, right?

There are genuinely unsettling moments, particularly the very beginning of the play. Lisman shows promise as a writer. The play itself could benefit from additional re-writes.  While I do appreciate the blunt inclusion of sex- most plays seem to shy away from the pay-off- there is a fine line between art and porn.  http://hff16.org/3498

Angel’s Flight vs. All the Best Killers Are Librarians

I caught Angel’s Flight by Matt Richey and Benjamin Schwartz at the Three Clubs during previews. The venue was packed and the energy in the room was intense and exciting. Also, I’m pretty sure I saw Ellen Burstyn, which is fucking rad. Hollywood.

The show is described as film noir that’s “caburlesque”- an accurate summation. It was campy, stylized, slick. I have to be honest, I wanted more burlesque from Cherry Poppins- and I sensed the audience did as well. It felt a bit restrained. Nevertheless, enjoyable and recommended. http://hff16.org/3353

Who did it better? In film noir style is All the Best Killers are Librarians by Bob DeRosa.

This is the kind of fringe show you hope to discover: a true stand-out. It’s entertaining in every way. The writing was intelligent and fast-paced. Alicia Conway Rock directs a rock solid cast with finesse and comedic precision. I was delighted from start to finish.  The Establishment clearly has a lively and imaginative sense of humor and a keen sense of story-telling.

Lauren Van Kurin is delightful as Margo the Librarian who also happens to be a very talented assassin. One can’t help but love her in spite of-or perhaps because of- her killer instincts. Her performance was a blend of larger-than-life physical comedy and very real vulnerability. Eric Giancoli is another stand-out as Lancaster, Margo’s mentor. He is charming and pushy, commanding and sensitive.  Swoon.  Fight choreography by Mike Mahaffey is top-notch.

There were too many blackouts and it seemed to slow the actors momentum after awhile. That is literally my only critique.

Don’t miss this one.  Get a ticket right now.  http://hff16.org/3510

 

 

 

 

Lolita, Daisy, Ophelia: A Love Story

Interesting premise- Lolita, Daisy, Ophelia: A Love Story is an interesting premise. We meet the characters in what appears to be book purgatory. The play explores the remorse, wants and inner emotional working of these three famous literary heroines.

The parameters the play establish that the women are in a place of purgatory because their stories are not being read and thus, they die. Or are on their way to die. No one ever quite figures out where the f we are. Regardless, the ladies love it- wherever they are. Lots of shrieking, giggling and chasing ensues. They find the new digs much less oppressive and want to settle in. Rightly so. They find eachother’s company much more gratifying rather than returning to a place where they are sexualized, objectified and victimized. This is reasonable. But alas, they are doomed to return to their stories. They contemplate not returning to their stories ( ?) or fighting back to allow their new- found strength as independent women… Mmmmmkay. I’ll go with it.

The latter part of the play becomes heavily weighed down with message. It felt a bit like a bathroom full of drunk girls. Fight back. Fight the man, the oppressor. Resist the urge to fall into the old narrative.  Interesting, but the audience keep saying- Yes, but the stories are already written…

The play is worth seeing for the performances alone.  Where the script falls short the acting makes up for in spades.  It’s predominantly Lolita’s story. Leah Artenian is fierce and crumbled. Lolita was repeatedly raped by her step-father for years- and Artenian creates a fragile, painful space for the character to exist within. We recognize her prowess  as the facade of an abused child rather than a young seductress.

Ophelia, played by the wonderful Sophia Brackenridge, is a straight-up victim. And Hamlet sucks big time as a boyfriend. Brackenridge brings the power of vulnerability to her work. A beautiful performance.

Daisy is the most intriguing character. She is a societal slave and she often cow-tows. She murdered her husband’s mistress and shows little remorse, which is fascinating. Savannah Gilmore is glamorously tragic. Her slow reveal of her inner world is wonderful to watch.

http://hff16.org/3362