Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Inside Edge of the World (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Here is the official blurb for The Inside Edge of the World (Or Where Have All the Good Serial Killers Gone?):

A lonely criminal forensics enthusiast stumbles across a serial killer in his own neighborhood. With the help of his dog, they set out to study the man, but get a little too close. It’s kind of a cross between Rear Window and The Dog Whisperer.

This doesn't really convey the rather wonderful  one person show enacted by Michael Evans Lopez.I myself have a taste for the odd and beautiful, the lonely outsider who tries to do good. Which makes me very nearly the target audience for this show!

Lopez begins in a way that gives a pretty clear "taste" of what is to come. A conversation in the dark I first took as between brothers, one of them much younger. Then, as the lights arose and I saw only one figure curled up as if in bed, my mind went to the idea of multiple personalities. As the conversation proved quite human, if eccentric, and ultimately rather touching this gave promise of something special.

When I eventually learned one member of the conservation was the central character's dog--I smiled.

As it happened, quite a few smiles crossed my face as the story went on. Different kinds of smiles, to be sure. The smile that goes with hearing something so bizarre it has to be funny, a smile at the friendship between man and dog, a smile in strange harmony with sad weirdo awash with a poignant madness. And while the script did much, the bulk of the effort in generating those smiles lay with Mr. Lopez. In particular the open ended moment of revelation making up the play's climax only worked because the fifty minutes of performance that preceded. Without our understanding of the central character, it would have fallen flat.

But we did understand. And as a result another smile, as well as maybe a tear, arose.

(Quick note: I do think the title of the play is a bit dull. I had trouble remembering it. The secondary title has a lot more zing, at least to me.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

R&J (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Last year I reviewed the Mine is Yours theater's gender-swapped production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I had a mixed reaction to it. Now they've re-imagined that production for the 2015 Hollywood Fringe with a somewhat different cast and noticeably different staging and approach.

The new R&J, about the star crossed lovers Romea (Mary Ellen Schneider) and Julian (Dane Oliver), is much improved! In fact, the chemistry between these two actors is one of the major highlights of the production--that and the often-startling ways their love is portrayed. I don't want to spoil anything (despite the above disclaimer) but the moment wherein they meet is fairly electric--and tellingly, from that moment on the hitherto rather callow Romea begins to act in a more adult manner. She starts to show promise of what a very fine young woman this teenager might grow to be, if only.

If only. Two little words that might as well be engraved on one of the two theatrical masks. We've all seen this particular Shakespeare play many times, but kudos to the cast and director Abby Craden for making us feel that tragedy in the gut. In fact, that seems to be the reason for the gender switch. It makes us see the work anew. When Julian is treated as a sex object, we aren't used to thinking of that in relation to a teenage boy. When Romea stabs Tybalt to death, the rage involved feels different when fueled by feminine energy.

This means that (for the most part) anything about the matriarchal nature of this world simply never ends up explored. Which is too bad.

But on the other hand the world of this play does exist, does feel consistent (using Julian as a maypole in a party--and his reaction--was a nice and disturbing touch), especially in the interplay of characters. The gangs of restless young women such as Tybalt (Cj Merriman), Mercutia (Taylor Jackson Ross in one of the plum roles of this play) and Benvolia (Hannah Pell) to whom Romea belongs were much better realized than the same in most other productions I've seen--which involved young men of course.

Alan Blumenfeld as the Nurse and Katherine James as Sister Laurence also stood out, lending a gravitas to older individuals who understood yet remained in some sense baffled by the leads.

I genuinely would say this is my favorite live production of Romeo and Juliet. Perfect? No. But it works, it holds my attention and twists my heart.

R&J has one more performance, Saturday, June 27th at 3pm at The Actors Company in The Other Space,
916A N Formosa Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90046.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Unemployed Finally... (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Heather R. Dowling's Unemployed Finally... got me thinking about one-person shows. Because it is one. Which you've probably figured out already. The subject matter is admirably captured in the title and poster as well as the promotion:

The story of a woman who tried on 30 jobs, in 30 years before finally doing what everyone said she couldn’t. Heather Dowling is an actress and writer who has impersonated someone who wanted a “real job” since she was 14. She has surrendered to her passion for writing and performing. But now she has dirt to dish about the odd-jobs and odd-balls she’s encountered along the way. Come see her now. Unemployed. Finally.

So how is it? Fun! Let me be more precise. One person shows pretty much need a few  specifics to work. First is an interesting subject matter, or at least an entertaining one. Dowling's story of (essentially) how she ended up making this one person show proves exactly that. It all comes down to the perennial conflict between what we want versus stark reality. Classic, really. The same as many a more famous piece of theater from Hamlet to The Fantastiks. But that proves no guarantee! More importantly, how does Dowling pull off the actual performance?

Happily she not only has genuine stage presence (an ineffable something every smart director loves to see) but a fine sense of timing as well as physical clarity. Both vital when you're the only one on stage. Literally every eye remains fixed on one person, who needs must remain focused and clear. Many will say this comes out most in terms of playing different characters. Well, yes and no. She does accomplish exactly that, with style even and enough vivid detail they all come off as individuals. As a nice touch (that frankly some actors should learn from her) lies in the fact that each character has a different attitude and a different physicality. They look at things with different eyes, sit in chairs with different bodies, listen even with different faces. Yeah, they are all Heather R. Dowling's but she makes them different. And in that lies precisely why we end up caring, why we smile when she (as she clearly does here on stage before us) achieves her dream of theater. Makes for a charming and engaging hour of theater, one that also strikes a chord in those (like myself) who in some way or other share her dream.

Unemployed Finally... plays at Theatre Asylum’s Elephant Studio, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038 on Thursday June 25 at 8:30pm and Saturday June 27 at 1pm.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sleeping Around (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

The idea of Sleeping Around is pretty simple. It is an offering by Theatre Unleashed to this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival. In essence we start with a couple Donnie and Angela (Jim Martyka and Sammi Lappin) who are using each other for a sexual fantasy. What gives a hint something special awaits is what their fantasies turn out to be. Nun and choirboy? Hooker and john? Father and daughter? No--a happy marriage, with two people glad to see each other at the end of the day's work. Happy to see one another. Eager to find comfort and company by giving and receiving joy.

Okay wow. A scenario I expected to be gloriously tacky proved moving, and I instantly liked these people.

Then in scene two, we see Donnie again--this time with his wife Elizabeth (Courtney Bell), who adores him. And whom he adores. So why was he cheating on her? And why is she urging him to do it? These two very nearly broke my heart as the answers emerged.

Elizabeth then meets and sleeps with Ryan (Lee Pollero), who then sleeps with Sophie (Brandy June), who goes to "confess" her infidelity to an uncaring Elliott (Eric Cire) and so on. La Ronde for the 21st century in effect. We get to meet more characters--Sam (Gregory Crafts), Colleen (Jenn Scuderi Crafts), Chris (Jase  Lindgren). A tapestry of humanity, all of them realized with with and humor and most of all with honesty. I'm very pleased with everyone, although I do believe Martyka and Lappin and Bell gave the best performances--a remark meant to convey very high praise indeed.

For the Fringe, Sleeping Around has two more performances at  Theatre Asylum - 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. LA. CA. 90038, Sunday June 21 at 5:30pm and Thursday June 25 at 8:30pm.