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One Night at the MET, Three Fringe Plays

Ed Rampell: With the Public Theater’s Julius Caesar production coming under attack, free expression is something we can’t get enough of nowadays.
Hollywood Fringe Festival

The Pleasure Project

HOLLYWOOD FRINGE FESTIVAL 2017 Theatre Review

It’s June in L.A., so that can mean only one thing (besides “June gloom,” that is): Hollywood Fringe Festival is taking place through June 25! This year, 2,000 performances and 375 (count ’em!) different shows are being staged - and dare I say, upstaged - in various venues across Hollywood and West Hollywood. As Hamlet (who but of course presented his own unauthorized play) put it: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

According to the Fringe’s ambitious, 226-page program:

“The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community… Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival’s mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer.”

With the Public Theater’s Julius Caesar production coming under attack, free expression is something we can’t get enough of nowadays.

With the Public Theater’s Julius Caesar production coming under attack, free expression is something we can’t get enough of nowadays. So this intrepid reviewer set out to encounter a sampling of productions presented sans gatekeepers at the MET Theatre. The trio of Fringe plays I saw in a single night are:

Lunatic Fringe: The Pleasure Project (Or: Oh, Clit!)

Rogue Machine Theatre presented the world premiere of this clever one-woman show about sexuality written and performed by the mind-boggling Ava Bogle (who, truth be told, I didn’t mind ogling when she stripped down to the bare essentials). In this witty 45 minute or so multi-media one-acter, one actor portrayed a variety of characters a la Peter Sellers, in a number of onstage and onscreen vignettes directed by Rachel Avery, with a production designed by Lily Bartenstein, who appropriately switch hits (that is, between stage and screen).

The Pleasure Project’s topic is that perennial favorite: Sexuality, in particular as it pertains to the female of the species (and long may she live!). Sometimes plays about sex can be creepy or fraught with tension, but Bogle brings a joyful, playful panache to her subject and exudes a sort of knowing innocence and good-naturedness. I suspect (but alas, poor Yorick, have no way of actually knowing) that this is because Bogle is an orgasmic individual who enjoys sex - the deriving and bestowing of pleasure and intimacy. Be that as it may, this Project is imbued with a certain joie de vivre that makes it good fun to sexperience.

The work’s conceit is that like interstellar Alexis de Tocquevilles, spacey space aliens observe we humans, who are doomed to destruction on what, appropriately, seems to be election (erection?) day. Will sex save the planet? (Talk about global warming!)

However, many of the points Bogle makes, her discourses on intercourse and so on, are completely unoriginal. What - the clitoris is the only organ in the human body designed solely for pleasure??? Holy moley, hold the cannoli!!! Female genitalia is beautiful? I do declare Botticelli, you don’t say!!! And what’s that - males should perform oral sex on their female partners in order to enhance their orgasmic enjoyment? Who knew??? No clit, Sherlock!!!

[CUT TO: Reviewer slaps his forehead in sheer bewilderment. CUT BACK to review:]

It’s pretty old hat stuff - but I suppose it bears repeating and Bogle does tell it in engaging ways, making it enjoyable throughout. The language is explicit and there’s some partial nudity, especially at the end (no pun intended) when Bogle boogies in the buff (almost) in a burlesque number. (Adults should leave their children at home and bluenoses leave their nostrils at the stage door.) The Pleasure Project’s program includes a mirror - guess what for? I gotta give it up to Bogle - now that’s a first! Whatta fruity Froot Loop! Just remember, as Woody Allen once wisely observed: “Sex without love is a meaningless experience. However, as far as meaningless experiences go…”

The Pleasure Project is being performed 8:00 p.m., June 15; 10:00 p.m., June 16; 8:00 p.m., June 20; 6:30 p.m., June 23; 3:00 p.m., June 24 at The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. See: http://www.roguemachinetheatre.net/.

Hollywood Fringe Festival

Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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Holy folio, Bard-man! In this merry madcap mash-up three men in tights perform slapdash, truncated versions of Shakespeare’s entire oeuvre, careening through tragedies, comedies and those problematic “problem” plays with all the finesse and subtlety of a Trump tweet or Godzilla running amok through Tokyo. Phantom Projects Theatre Group is good fun throughout this whirlwind guide, from Hamlet to Romeo and Juliet and beyond, performing even many of the female parts in drag. These three Shakespearean stooges appear to be having as much fun as the aud has watching them zoom through their roles like latter day Ricochet Rabbits.

The three gentlemen from La Mirada are the estimable Paul Green, Jordan Merimee and Dorian Taylor, as directed by Timothy Thorn. The Shakespearean condensations were penned by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. While some stick-in-the-mud, strictly-by-the- folio Shakespeare scholars may find this dazzling 90 minute extravaganza to be much ado about doo-doo, most theatergoers are likely to find all’s well that ends well - with a splendid time had by all. Anon! Get thee to a MET-ery!

Phantom Projects Theatre Group production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is being performed 5:00 p.m., June 15; 10:00 p.m., June 17; 3:00 p.m. at The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. See: http://www.phantomprojects.com/shakespeare.html.

Hollywood Fringe Festival

We Are Not These Hands

Radical Fringe: We Are Not These Hands

Hands down, my favorite of the Hollywood Fringe Festival tripleheader I took in one night at the MET was Sheila Callaghan’s We Are Not These Hands. This Rogue Machine offering is one of those works which - like Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange or George Orwell’s 1984 - invents a sort of Pidgin English dialect. So you have to listen closely as the adolescent characters Belly (Emily James) and Moth (Cecily Glouchevitz) engage in repartee in their peculiar patois. But both are such skilled actresses that within 10 minutes I was able to follow their idiosyncratic lingo and figure out what a “hinky scuzzer” was supposed to be.

Like its off-the-beaten track dialogue, Hands’ theme and plot are also complex and hard to discern. The teenage gal pals live in a filthy, impoverished society where there are Internet cafes (production designers Michelle Hanzelova and Amanda Bierbauer cleverly use computer screen imagery to good effect). This may strike some as being incongruous but as far back as circa 1905 Leon Trotsky and the theorist Alexander Parvus advanced a law they called “uneven and combined development.” Basically, this meant that not everything in backwards countries was materialistically underdeveloped and various sectors of economies can develop at different paces.

The down-at-their-heels teenagers spy a “modern,” educated older foreigner they call Leather (Albert Dayan) at an Internet café, and using that oldie but goodie - sex - set out to entice and lure him, so that he will take them away to his more industrially developed, affluent society. Leather is in their land conducting research for an anthropological book he is writing about their developing nation. He is deftly played with great panache by Dayan - while some ticket buyers might consider his performance to be full of affectations, this reviewer felt he delivered a completely natural characterization of a not-too-cool older man who embarks on a sexual relationship with a much younger female.

Program notes refer to Belly and Moth as “resid[ing] in a dystopian society,” but this almost two hour-long drama presented without an intermission put me in mind of interracial sexual dynamics I’ve witnessed abroad, from the South Sea Islands to Southeast Asia. In a nutshell, the relative wealth, education and social status of white male foreigners enables interactions with much younger, sexually attractive females. This greatly simplifies things but there is often a sort of tradeoff - of relative affluence and prestige for sexuality and other role playing traditionally associated with less educated, “subservient” young women, such as cooking, sewing, housecleaning and the like. I am NOT saying this is fair or appropriate and I know, again, that I am simplifying matters, but it is something I witnessed often while living in and traveling to Polynesia, Micronesia, Thailand, etc., where the sexiest thing in the world was a passport to a developed Western nation. (BTW, the aforementioned Burgess and Orwell both wrote about this phenomenon - the former’s Malaya trilogy and Orwell in Burmese Days.)

Of course, all of the characters in Hands are Caucasian, but while the racial factor is removed, Belly and Moth and Leather do have trans-cultural transactions and the play’s dynamic is similar to what I frequently observed abroad in so-called “primitive” societies. And although they are white Belly and Moth do live in an underdeveloped place, while Leather comes from a far more advanced realm across the river. Although some may feel that the proximity is too close for such economically disparate cultures and economies, consider that to a large extent the Rio Grande has arguably divided the Third World from the First World…

Be that as it may, Hands’ acting is excellently rendered, with the thesps fully inhabiting their characters. Veteran helmer Larry Biederman ably directs his ensemble while additional set designer Natalie Morales visualizes the strange new world Callaghan’s dramatis personae live in. (The Fringe productions at the MET are performed on Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s set for Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs, also playing there Saturdays, Mondays and Sundays through July 3.) I felt that Hands embodied the aspirations of the risk-taking, freewheeling Fringe Festival - which, I suspect, is the opposite of June gloom.

We Are Not These Hands plays 9:30 p.m., June 15; 8:00 p.m., June 16; 7:00 p.m., June 18; 8:00 p.m., June 21; 10:00 p.m., June 23; and 5:00 p.m., June 24 at The Met Theatre, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. See: http://www.roguemachinetheatre.net/.

ed rampell

For more info see: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/reviewer who is co-presenting Alexander Dovzhenko’s Arsenal on Friday, 7:30 p.m., June 23 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. This is part of the ongoing “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the centennial of the Russian Revolution, taking place on the fourth Friday of each month through November. For info: laworkersedsoc@gmail.com.