#HFF18 Reviews

Steps of Glory

By Dana Martin

Writer/performer Anja Racić brings a rowdy and raucous the 19th century romantic poet Lord Byron to the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Steps of Glory is an interesting exploration of a man in so love with the spotlight that he can shed no light on his relationship with his own child.

The play explores Byron’s boisterous attitude, his need for adoration and his love of the sound of his own poetic brilliance. He spends his time among admirers and indulging in performance and an artist’s existence, choosing to ignore correspondence from his family regarding his young daughter who is seriously ill at home.

The second half of the piece is told from the persona of his young daughter Allegra. Byron’s absent presence looms large over her life; a constant reminder of parental neglect, her world shaped by the disappointment and neglect from Byron at every important turn of her short life.

Racić finds an intriguing premise for a solo show. That Byron and Allegra had equal stage time is not a benefit to either character, each compelling in their own right. She doesn’t have time to sit in either character for long enough and it’s hard for the audience to get to know either character enough to empathize fully. Racić is a compelling young actor, capable of exploring extremes of the character’s experience. She constructs moments for big discoveries and large feelings within the story and deserves the time fully sit in them. She’s created an interesting piece worthy of additional exploration.

Steps of Glory is truly an exploration of the cost of glory. Byron lets down the ones who truly matter most: his family. Byron basked in the praise and adoration of those who reveled in his words but his inglorious behavior toward his own family is what ultimately resonates. https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7487

Abortion Weekend

By Dana Martin

Jairis Carter and Mareshah Dupree in Abortion Weekend at the Broadwater

Writer/Performers Jairis Carter and Mareshah Dupree have something to say about abortion. The provocative title of their latest collaboration, Abortion Weekend, is intended to provoke, and it is provocative, but in none of the ways you might expect.

Ayanna (Dupree) and Dazia (Carter) are best friends on the precipice of a huge transition: graduating from college. Their futures are bright and open to possibility. But Dazia finds herself pregnant, and her whole future is thrust into turmoil. Dazia doesn’t believe in abortion but also isn’t ready to assume the responsibility of parenting. Determined to help Ayanna jumps into action and searches holistic ways to end pregnancy. Why? Black women are 243% more likely to die in childbirth than their white counter parts might be one reason. Only 35% of black children placed in the foster care system might be another.

Whatever the reason for seeking an abortion, it’s Dazia’s to make.

The play is a dark comedy stylized in all the right ways and in all the right places. Though the subject matter is highly charged, the story feels immediate. Dupree and Carter find the story with simplicity, humor and humanity. The writing it’s a quietly defiant and deeply personal confrontation of the right to choose.

Dupree and Carter have a way of drawing the audience in and taking them for a ride. Together they have magnetic stage presence and oscillate between several roles, stepping in and out of the various personas with ease. Dupree transforms fully into each character they embody, from the heart-led, loyal Ayanna to the defiant and confrontational Davion. Carter’s Dazia anchors the play.

Abortion Weekend confronts the heated debate and massive subject abortion with humor and courage. It’s a “pick of the Fringe” for a good reason; it’s provocative, educational and highly entertaining. Ultimately, Carter and Dupree plan to make a feature film out of this story. All ticket proceeds and additional donations go toward this cause. https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7359

Tommy Cooper: I Didn’t Let You Down, Did I?

Tommy Cooper lived for a laugh. In fact, he depended on it. Tommy Cooper: I Didn’t Let You Down, Did I?, written and performed by Niek Versteeg, explores the final days of the endearing British comedian’s life. While Versteeg navigates Cooper’s compelling story in earnest, he is at times under energized at times, particularly when he’s exploring Cooper’s private self.

Toomy Cooper died by heart attack onstage while performing his stand-up act in 1984. What a way to go. We all want to go doing what we love, but Cooper took it quite literally. The piece moves back and forth through time; on stage throughout Cooper’s most memorable performances and in a backstage dressing room as he calls these memories forth.

I attended a preview performance and Versteeg was still settling into the timing of the physical choreography and finding the charged intensity Cooper exudes; all in front of an audience. No simple task (and also the purpose of a preview performance.) Director Sean Cowhig stages the piece with full use of the stage, dividing the playing space evenly into public and private spheres. He keeps the tempo moving at a clipped pace.

Cooper’s chatty, unguarded personality is extremely endearing and his humor silly and pure of heart. Versteeg explores all of this successfully. Much of Cooper’s act was use of props and while Versteeg is clear about the choreography, he needs more time to settle into the joy and life of that choreography. Cooper is always ready with a clever wise crack and Versteeg finds his one-liners with much delight. In that way, he’s always one step ahead of the audience.  The show culminates with an intricate hat bit that Versteeg was on the verge of nailing.

There is much more to be mined in the storytelling, particularly in the aspects of Cooper’s private self when he’s dropped the public persona and faces his own demons. But it’s Cooper’s pain and vulnerability is as tragic as it is compelling. It informs his public performances, revealing his fragility that he hides inside a joke or a gag. It lays bare his need to perform.

Cooper’s intense and unique humor and personality shines through the performer.

Versteeg clearly reveres and respects Tommy Cooper and it shows in his performance. The care and sensitivity with which he has written Cooper’s story and the way he physically brings the character to life is filled with nuance. The sincerity and pain wrapped into Cooper’s vulnerable question, “I didn’t let you down, did I?”, resonates throughout the piece and is a universally shared sentiment.

The Actor’s Company; 916 North Formosa Ave., Hollywood. https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7462. 45 minutes with no intermission. Through June 25th.

#HFF22 (HERE WE GO AGAIN)

The Hollywood Fringe Festival 2022! The Fringe is back in full force, people. To be fair, they never left. Like all of us, they transformed. They survived. The last two years have been tough for the festival and they’ve done an admirable job carrying on the festival virtually the first year of the pandemic, and then a combo plate of virtual and in-person for the second year. A valiant, Herculean effort on behalf of the Fringe organizers. Respect.

We survived a pandemic in the meantime. I mean, we’ve survived a pandemic so far. One million Americans cannot say the same. Absolutely staggering. I’m not the same person. You’ve changed too. It’ll be interesting to see how the Fringe hits this year and what conversations will come out of it.

The Fringe gives us life, the Fringe gives us hope. The Fringe gives us more theatre than we could ever want or hope for. The Fringe is a labor of love. The Fringe is a panic. It’s weird and it’s wonderful.

So, happy Fringing everyone. I’ll be out there too, in the dark, receiving deeply and responding quickly 😉

See you at the Theatre. xo

Othello and Otis

Othello and Otis
Through June 21st

“I’m terrified at the moral apathy – the death of the heart – which is happening in my country.” Spoken by prolific writer James Baldwin in 1963, these powerful words could very well have been uttered today in response to the continued gross and persistent racial inequality and continued atrocities exacted on the African American community. A powerful and impactful hour of examination of white apathy of the black experience, Bag O’ Bones’ Othello and Otis proposes an end to this cruel war.

Trayvon Martin was walking through his Stepmom’s neighborhood on his way back from 7-11. Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman- on a personal errand at the time- followed Martin for several minutes because “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or on drugs or something”. The two had an altercation and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in front of his Stepmom’s house.

He was 17 years old, unarmed, carrying skittles in his pocket.

Trayvon Martin’s death is outrageous. This is no justice for Trayvon. Hundreds of individuals have suffered a similar fate: Stephon Clark was shot in his own backyard. Eric Garner was murdered in NYC by being put in a chokehold: a maneuver prohibited by the NYPD. Michael Brown was shot six times in the middle of the street. Tamir Rice was 12 years old and unarmed. Philando Castile was murdered in front of his girlfriend and daughter as he reached for his driver license. There are hundreds more. Hundreds. The white community cannot continue to ignore the pain and suffering of the African American community.

The company  blends text from James Baldwin, Solange, Shakespeare, among others using Martin’s murder as a point of departure, a point of focus. Audio from President Obama’s remarks on the Trayvon Martin ruling is effectively interspersed throughout the piece and serves as a touchstone for the evening’s performance.

Selections of music by Otis Redding, performed by soulful Sandy Rather, adds depth and soul to the already powerful fusion of texts. She bellows, belts and mourns her way through a variety of Redding’s work. Her presence is raw and her pain visceral. Francesca Gamez’ straightforward performance is grounded and direct. Barika A. Croom brings sophistication and depth to her heightened text. Choreographer Paulina Gamiz captures emotion that transcends words. Director Tinks Lovelace has once again created a timely, necessary piece of theatre that packs a hard punch and lingers long after you’ve left the theatre.

There’s a lot of pain surrounding what happened to Martin; an ancient, festering pain. The African American community have a set of experiences and history that inform how the community interprets what happened to Trayvon Martin- and the many others that have followed. Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty on all counts citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, claiming he was using self-defense against the unarmed 17 year old. Outfuckingrageous.

The white community desperately needs an education on the black experience. We must sit through uncomfortable truths about racial inequality and the heavy burden of injustice that we will never understand. It’s easy to ignore a problem that is painful and ugly by claiming ignorance, or imagining it has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with us. Now is the time.

How can the white community re-enforce and support our African American community? Shut up, listen and learn. Give a shit about the pain and suffering the African American community has endured for hundreds of years and continues to endure. Seek out stories about the black experience. Learn African American history and then honor and carry that history. Acknowledge the pain caused by white privilege, ingrained racial bias, general apathy. It’s our minimal responsibility.

One more performance on Thursday June 21st. Don’t miss it.

 

Trayvon Martin (1995-2012).

 

Othello and Otis; Three Clubs, 1123 N. Vine St., Hollywood. Running time: 45 minutes with no intermission.

Lorelei: I’m Coming Out!

Lorelei: I’m Coming Out! is a coming out story complete with lipstick and cynicism, heels and Grindr, tap dancing and shit talking, lip-syncing and ballad shrieking,costume changes and attitude for days. Lorelei confronts her demons and belts her face with wicked humor and colorful grace at the Three Clubs.

The story unfolds as sordid tale of a common OC twink traversing the wild, untamed beauty of L.A. And by “beauty” I mean the plastic, vegan, manicured, gluten-free, botoxed, mirco-bladed blue-bred boob job plumped up L.A. bitches. Naturally. Like any good drag queen worth her weight in glitter, Lorelei blazes onto the stage, the belle of the ball, demanding your attention and is entertaining as hell. Her sense of humor is razor sharp, almost prickly, and her humor is quick. She’ll claw and she’ll bite, but playfully.

Her parents, particularly her father, were clearly not supportive of her identity, which has clearly had an impact on her; it’s turned her into a fighter and gifted her with a healthy, hard-won dose of skepticism. Under that jagged, outrageous persona, there’s a truly beautiful human. Lorelei takes a serious turn to sing a few ballads toward the end of the show, and it’s a beautiful thing. As of today, she is not afraid to be Who She Is, proudly. The whole show is a celebration of her, a party the audience readily joins; she’s an excellent host.

The play itself may have one queen, but it certainly has multiple players. Band leader Raiah Rofsky serves as salty side-kick and occasional scene partner. The four-person band is awesome, particularly Yu-Ting Wu on violin. Their sound and skill raise the level of quality of the production because they are dope. What’s even more delightful, the band enjoys themselves as much as the audience.

Lorelei: I’m Coming Out is good and salty, boozy late-night fun. It’s a great show to bring a few friends and get rowdy (but not too rowdy bitches, not your show). You have to have a wicked sense of humor and don’t mind being called a bitch occasionally. But in Lorelei’s world bitch is a term of endearment. Ultimately, she wants to encourage you to be Who You Are.

Bitch, work.

http://hff18.org/5166

Lorelei: I’m Coming Out!; Three Clubs, 1123 N. Vine St., Hollywood. Running time: 50 minutes.

Sunday June 10th @3 p.m.
Thursday June 14th @ 7 p.m.
Friday June 22nd @ 7 p.m.
Saturday June 23rd @ 7 p.m.

Nephew of the Universe

Nephew of the Universe, a solo show now playing at the Lounge Theatre, follows the late adolescence and early adulthood of Rob Bruner, an unassuming, everyday guy from Canada with an unconventional, if not extraordinary upbringing.

Our hero spent his tender teenage years as a devoted disciple of Guru Sri Chimoy, an heavily influential Indian spiritual leader who taught meditation and spiritual practice in the U.S in the 60’s and 70’s. Bruner’s parents were embroiled in a bitter divorce, and his Aunt introduced him to meditation, guided and by the Guru himself.

Chinmoy attracted thousands of followers during his lifetime, including the likes of Carlos Santana (a one-time friend of Bruner) and John McLaughlin. He practiced celibacy and demand that his devotees remain celibate themselves and refrain from marriage. In fact, Guru wasn’t super down with things like education, independence or autonomy of any kind, dancing, drinking, socializing or basically anything fun and/or normal. Rob, coming of age and horny as hell, has a hard time complying with the many restrictions of spiritual life. Ultimately, Rob chooses secular life, his desire for companionship and a normal life ultimately usurps his devotion to the Guru.

Fascinatingly, Bruner and Chinmoy shared a father/son dynamic, and his own father made him feel ashamed for following the Guru. The Guru behaved like a father to Bruner in many ways , but also placed many restrictions on Bruner’s behavior that impeded his growth,  maturity, and his ability to lead a healthy, normal life. Bruner ultimately separates from the Guru in favor of normal relationships, and his expression relief and newfound freedom is weirdly cathartic. Although Bruner’s portrayal of the Guru is respectful and even reverent, one gets the sense that he escaped from an unhealthy, oppressive situation.

There are several projected images meant to enhance the storytelling but slowed the evening’s pace significantly due to the many technical difficulties (which will no doubt be ironed out for the show’s official opening). The script itself could use a trim; a 75 minute story that could be told in an hour or less. Director Jessica Lynn Johnson keeps the staging simple and straightforward enough, though the pacing feels sluggish at times.

Bruner is endearing and it’s certainly interesting to hear the tale unfold. He is at his best when he’s relaxed and riffing, the script seems to trip him up at times. He is a fun character actor and embodies Santana, his therapist and even Chinmoy himself with playful ease.

Ultimately, the show is a success; Bruner is an engaging actor telling and he has an unusual story to tell. Ultimately, his: Be a Good Person. That’s a story worth hearing over and over again.

Nephew of the Universe, Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
Thursday June 7th @ 8 p.m.
Saturday June 16th @ 6 p.m.
Saturday June 23rd @ 2 p.m.

http://hff18.org/5010