Category Archives: Reviews

My Fatty Fringe Festival Review

  • Four Clowns Presents That Beautiful Laugh. Jeremy Aluma, the artistic director of Four Clowns, spoke during the Bitter Lemons Fringe panel about the benefit of packing the house during the first weekend of shows, and I can absolutely see why. It definitely helps the vibe of the show to have a full audience reacting, and this was definitely the case when I saw That Beautiful Laugh. It was delightfully funny, surprisingly touching, had very unique props/set, and made me interested in seeing other stuff by them. I do feel like I’ve been spoiled by the excellent clowning I saw while at UCI, but I found this production successful nonetheless. I find this type of work to be very important– to bring a childlike sense of wonder and joy into the lives of adults– so props to them for facilitating that.
  • 25 Plays. This was definitely the way to get the most bang for your buck. Pacing was good, and the experience was fun overall. A great mix of different vibes/styles. Even if I didn’t love 100% of the pieces, it didn’t matter because they were so short. It also didn’t matter because Greg Crafts, managing director of Theatre Unleashed, is such a great dude.
  • D is for Dog. Regardless of the small amount of their work I’ve seen, I’ve always been a fan of the Rogue Artists. I had the opportunity to see some workshoppy things they did back in Orange County when I was still at UCI (several of the Rogues are UCI grads as well– zot zot), and they blew me away with their beautifully impressive commitment to their own aesthetic. Their shows are magical because of the effort and thought that goes into their work. Keeping up with my expectation, the sets and music were really beautiful and very well crafted, and I loved the commitment to detail throughout the entire show. As far as absorbing me into their world, they did an excellent job. The script, although, had it’s imperfections, and I didn’t understand how the puppets were talking to father character from the air vents. I felt like I needed a little bit more information. The puppets were extremely creepy. Taylor Coffman, who played Jane, did an excellent job of creating an interesting role while not turning it into a caricature. Overall this was much more visually stimulating than most of the other Fringe shows I saw, so definitely want to give props for that. They’ll be on my calendar in the future.
  • Is He Dead? Excellent. I don’t even know if it’s fair to put this in the same category as the rest of the Fringe because it was so fully realized and so professionally executed (the performance was in their home space and I don’t know if there were other companies working in there). Excellent acting and stellar directing. I definitely left with the feeling of “this is a company I’m putting on my radar.” I talked with the illustrious Gedaly afterwards about Coeurage’s Pay-What-You-Will method and I’d really love to hear from any other companies who are doing that. Anyway, very entertaining play and a quality production from top to bottom.
  • Milk from Stone– Live Theatre Blog. O.M.G. So great. This was my favorite show of the Fringe, and was the only show where I walked out of the theatre saying “HELL. YES.” For those who didn’t see it, Coeurage‘s main company writer (Eric Czuleger) is currently in the Peace Corps in Albania and writes back to the company about his experiences and impressions from abroad. One of their actors back in LA (Deven Simonson) with the help of one of their directors (Sara Perry) performs Eric’s words as a monologue. Sure, it’s just a man and a microphone, but the writing and acting were so excellent, and it was so beautiful to see stripped-down storytelling like that. I may have a bit of a personal bias to this type of work because of my experiences abroad, several years of working with international students, and my obsession with finding ways to combine cultural exchange with theatre, but I find the observations in Live Theatre Blog to be so insightful, educational, provocative, and IMPORTANT, not to mention entertaining and engaging. Well done, guys. I highly recommend everyone to see whatever future incarnations this project will take.
  • LOLpera. I STILL don’t know how I feel about this show, and I think that may be to the credit of the creators, Andrew Pedroza and my fellow UCI alumni Ellen Warkentine. On the one hand it comes off as one long-ass inside joke that you may or may not be in on, and on the other a celebration and dedication to silliness. When I realized that the entire show would be comprised solely of text from the LOLcats memes, I was pretty concerned. However, the show kept my interest, even if that interest was coated with a feeling of “what the hell is going on,” and I definitely appreciated it’s uniqueness. It’s also well worth mentioning that the score and the band were excellent. Downsides were that it was very long for the things it needed to communicate, and I do think they should make a few casting changes before they head off to the NY Fringe.
  • The Relationship Play. Oy. I knew from the first few lines of dialogue that this was going to be a horrible show. I had a very hard time sitting through the whole thing, and wish I had left. I didn’t believe any of the actors at any point in the show and the script was awful. (The only person who should not be included in this comment is Tessa Flores, who was actually pretty good as the role of Jean.) There were tons of obvious beginner mistakes like strong vocal projection in an indoor scene in a very small theatre, the actors being too young for the characters, and awkward accent decisions. I mean, this is a play set in the UK that talks about getting green cards in the US, moving internationally, and cross-country relationships, yet only two characters have an English accent and the rest have American accents that we’re supposed to forgive…? Not to mention the childish viewpoint that people should air their dirty laundry in front of each other. Maybe that decision was part of the point of the show, but it left me feeling frustrated with the immaturity of it all. I know the Fringe is supposed to be a place for people to try things out, but this show was not ready to be done in front of people.
  • Richard Parker. I enjoyed the Royksopp for the house music. Reminded me of my time in the UK. I liked the first act and found the obsession with coincidence and fate to be very poignant. The second act was a bit strange, and kind of stagnated. Great acting though. I miss the UK.
  • All Atheists Are Muslim. It’s performances like this that make me sad that there’s such a bad reputation for one-person shows at the Fringe festival. Zahra was fantastic– very funny, great characters who were all super likeable. Only downside for me was that I really wanted to hear more, and to me it was like the first half of a play– I wanted to know what happened after Duncan moved in. I would pay to see a longer version, Zahra.
  • pool (no water). Although the long stretches of nudity made me super uncomfortable (Catholic roots, anyone?), this was a really interesting show. I enjoyed the controversial and subjective ideas and statements about art, fame, and friendship. I’d heard a lot about this piece when it and I were both in London in 2006 and I was doing physical theatre work, and the physical theatre elements in this show were well incorporated and helped enhance and carry the story. It makes me have more faith in the ability of ensemble-based theatre, in general, to create a cohesive production.
  • The Black Glass. I couldn’t get into it. Maybe it was the fact that I was overwhelmed by having to race down the street with my slight asthma to get to the show on time, or maybe it was that it was more of an essay or a dramatic poem to me than a play. The actors seemed very talented even though the script wasn’t helping them. I could see something in the way Brad Culver handled himself onstage that makes me think he’s probably a really great actor. In a non-lesbionic way, I was also very distracted by what a perfect body Elizabeth Greer had. Holy crap. Good for her. Ms. Greer, if you are reading this, please tell me what you did to look like that.
  • Confessions of the World’s Worst Missionary. Oh wait, I didn’t see this because the dumb people in the ArtWorks office told me to go to the wrong space! Sorry Miss Alfinito. I really wanted to see it. Instead I saw…
  • The God Particle Complex. All the science-y talk immediately put me into I’m-in-zero-period-high-school-physics-class-mind-block mode, so unfortunately my brain wouldn’t really let me pay attention. I’m sure would have been a lot cooler to someone more science-savvy. Plus my focus was still on the frustration about being told to go to the wrong place. Seriously, what the hell. I did like the parts with the alien guy, Karl Ramsey, coming in and out. He was excellent, and all three of the characters in the alien from the future exchanges had great comedic timing.
  • Before the Red Trees Come. I enjoyed this and my non-drama-nerd boyfriend did not, which I found very interesting. I thought that it was a very beautifully crafted, very well directed piece using influences of Commedia and clowning as well as a silent film vibe and that Kristopher Lee Bicknell handled each moment of the performance with so much care. The boyfriend, who doesn’t do any theatre and hasn’t sat through copious theatre history classes as I have, told me he found it inauthentic and self-conscious, like it was an exercise in a particular style instead of about a story. Obviously something so committed to a specific, less modern style was something I appreciated and he did not, and it makes me wonder if things like this get lost on people who don’t have a frame of reference for it. Would love to hear thoughts on that.
  • INTERNment. I appreciate theatre that is relevant, and the subject of this show is certainly relevant to LA and to the type of people seeing Fringe shows. However, the show was kind of a downer for that type of people, as it was so focused on how ruthless and screwy the entertainment industry is, especially when it comes to the treatment of actors. Perhaps this was Joe Mahon’s intention as the writer and performer of this piece, but it certainly made me feel suicidal upon leaving the theatre. Regardless, Joe’s acting was excellent. The three characters he created were so different, I had to keep reminding myself that they were the same actor. Although, none of the characters were particularly likeable. I kind of wanted someone to relate to, but, again, maybe that wasn’t the point– maybe giving the feeling of alienation in this business was part of the plan. Maybe my feelings of complete dejection following the show are a sign of its success. Also I want to give an irrelevant shout-out to my amazing actor friend Michael Hanson, whose headshot was featured in this production.
  • ASAP Fables. I did not enjoy paying for parking. I did enjoy being ushered around to different parts of the Hollywood Methodist Church to see each scene. The fables themselves were okay. I wish there were more kids than there were adults in the audience– I think that would have made it more fun. The rules that the company set up for the stories (each team had an animal, a moral, and a quotation they had to fit in, as well as a time limit to create their fable) seemed very arbitrary to me. Sure, they had to make it quickly because it’s called “ASAP Fables,” and I understand that ASAP is a play on Aesop, but I didn’t understand what the relevance of that was dramatically. All of that aside, I would be interested to see this developed a bit, because I do love the tradition of fables and think this could be a really great kid-friendly show with a little tweaking.
  • Bitter Lemons Talk. This maybe deserves it’s own article since a lot of worthwhile subjects were talked about. The concentration of the talk was how the companies on the panel stay successful as producers considering the challenges we’re faced with in LA. Several people talked about the wealth of talent in LA being a big draw for creating theatre here. Jeremy Aluma mentioned the fact that because of the wealth of activities combined with the geographic challenges, when people go out in LA, they really want to GO OUT and make it an event for themselves and we need to find ways to cater to that. The panel seemed to agree that we need to work together to cultivate a community of theatre-goers in LA, and that the biggest challenge seems to be how to win (or, earn?) the respect of the rest of out city and our country as a high-quality theatre creators. Simon Levy of the Fountain Theatre said something that made me melt inside: “If you produce with your heart, everything else will take care of itself.” 🙂
  • Voices in My Head: A Life. Very special performance. Bill Ratner opened his heart completely to the audience, relaying the most intimate and difficult moments of his life. Such an intense and immediate connection is something we hope to, but don’t always, get in the theatre. He had a great command over the audience and really drew us in. I do have to say, I was hoping to enjoy more character voice samples as the marketing was so geared towards his clout as a voiceover artist. The lack of that left me a little unsatisfied. Overall, the experience made you want to go up and give Bill a hug at the end of the performance.
  • Nostalgium. Tracy Dillon was fantastic and Luke Scroggins was not great. Tracy seemed so comfortable in her character and so confident on stage, which unfortunately highlighted Luke’s “I’m being an actor”-ness. The writing overall is not spectacular– the first three quarters of the play are like sitting in a room with two high people when you’re not high. The dialogue kind of meanders, highlighted by random lighting changes that don’t seem to signify anything in particular. The last section of the play is a deus ex machina-infused sci-fi trip that was handled very well by director Alex Scott. I did really like the set pieces and admire that Alex refuses to limit himself by the “15 minutes in and 15 minutes out” Fringe set-up rule. The total ambiance of the dark lighting, junk-filled set, and slow pace, was very strong for this production and definitely sucked you into the world of the play, whether you wanted it to or not.
  • Mission to Mate. Missed the first ten minutes because I went to the wrong theatre. Oops. In this show I was most distracted by Alla Poberesky and how immediately envious I was about her entire person. How hot and talented is she? So unfair. Very excellent casting and very excellent performances throughout– Michael Sanchez, too, was so comfortable and so authentic (holla Santa Cruz!).
  • Kaleidoscope: A Sketch Comedy Project. I hate to admit that I walked out of this (with Ian Federgreen as my accomplice). It was clear from the beginning that the writing and the acting of this show were going to be juvenile, and I was tired, and I felt like I’d be happier spending my time getting a chai and a bagel. The first two scenes we saw showcased poor acting, poor writing, and were not funny at all. The one positive thing I have to say about Kaleidoscope is that they gave us awesome free glow bracelets.
  • The Nina Variations. This was a breath of fresh air. I began my experience at this show very nervous, as this was the same theatre, same-ish subject matter, and same age of actors as the unfortunate Relationship Play. So scarring, it was. Fortunately I made better memories with this well-executed take on Steven Dietz’s great play. I think it’s safe to say that these guys know what’s up. They picked a great script, which was much more emotionally and mentally rich and mature than many other Fringe shows. The acting and directing was respectable and intelligent, and it makes me so happy to see clearly educated and experienced performers, guided skillfully by Scott Marden‘s on point direction. Because I was impressed with the performances, I wish I could have seen more info about everyone’s background in the program. I am SUPER on board with their mission statement, and Will Play for Food can expect some stalk-age from me.
  • I Am Google. This was a great way to close out my Fringe-viewing experience. Probably too many puns for my taste, but I enjoyed the tribute to the familiar pop culture of our generation and that this was big inside joke we could all be a part of. Talking about technology in a group setting is so bizarre because we’re so used to experiencing it alone. Although a bit cliché, I did appreciate the ending where Craig talked about the importance of connecting with people in real life rather than on the internet, of which I am also a firm supporter. And Craig, I support the continuation of the “mail time” song. Many great artists of the past– Blue’s Clues, Mr. Rogers, Strongbad– all have a song about getting their mail, so why shouldn’t you?
  • IN CLOSING… I do want to also take a moment to talk about a few pros and cons of the Fringe this year. Two big things that continue to frustrate me every year are the parking situation and the timing of the shows. Of course parking is always an issue in LA, but this is something that’s going to deter people from coming out to the festival in the first place. Not to mention the fact that as a young female, I don’t prefer walking around at night by myself many blocks on dark streets in Hollywood at night to find my car, and I don’t feel that I should have to pay $10 or whatever to park in a lot to counteract that. Also, I didn’t like the fact that so many of the shows overlapped or were immediately back-to-back, taking travel time into consideration. This made it difficult for me to maximize the number of shows that I saw and difficult to plan as I was never sure how long I’d need in between. It was super stressful running back and forth between shows and affected my overall experience. Despite all that, I need to spend a few sentences talking about how completely rad Fringe Central was this year. I think this is something everyone can agree on. Having such a large indoor AND outdoor space with restrooms, lots of space to sit down, and a food truck on retainer was so perfect. It was a much more comfortable place to hang out and encouraged communing and conversation, which is so integral to this type of gathering. At the Bitter Lemons panel we talked about the need for a year-round Fringe Central. I really hope we can keep that conversation going and figure out a way to make it happen.

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Power of My Press Pass

With great power comes great responsibility.

Endless array of Fringe Flyers for the crazy number of shows produced this year

I’ve been flaunting my press pass around the Hollywood Fringe Festival for the past two weeks, demanding free tickets left and right, and, well, looking super cool. Sure, I know that the real reason I have my laminated badge of royalty is that Colin and Enci are really busy this year and asked me to see as many shows as possible on their behalf, but it still makes me happy to force people overlook me to that see I might actually have something to contribute to the community.

However, as the Fringe Festival is coming to a close, masquerading as a theatre reviewer is finally catching up to me. I keep getting questions like, “What kinds of things have you written?” and, “Are you going to review our show?!” that I find difficult to answer. I try to change the subject or mumble something like, “Oh, yeah, we’ll see…!” So I’ve started thinking that maybe I should actually write something. Maybe it’s about time to let the internet know what Maureen Chesus thinks about the theatre scene in this town.

So if I’m going to pen down my opinions, I need to find a solid lens through which I see theatre; a point of view. What’s my lens? I know I love new stories. I’m always asking how drama is evolving to adapt to our always changing world… how we can  be relevant, and how we can have the most efficient exchange with audiences. In trying to narrow it down over the past few weeks I think I’m asking two things: How taken into their world am I (level of engagement), and did I learn something from this/did this cause something shift inside of me? I think if those two aspects come through, I can give it my stamp of approval.

Another review element came to mind in a great conversation I had yesterday with Ian Federgreen and Mary Kimball about universally-determined quality versus subjectivity. Are some shows “just bad” or is it a matter of one’s own personal opinion via their background, experience, etc?

I’d love to hear other reviewers/drama nerds’ opinions!

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Filed under LA Theatre, Reviews