Thursday, June 9, 2016

Feast of Snacks (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Followers of this blog can expect me to review most productions by Theatre Unleashed, and that includes their entry into each year's Hollywood Fringe Festival.  This year certainly marks no exception!

A Feast of Snacks consists of four mini-musicals, each filling up about fifteen minutes or so of stage time, each with their own wacky score and not-very-naturalistic plot (as per usual with most musicals).  And I genuinely want to praise not only the casts but director Julia Plostnieks, musical director Deborah Berman, choreography Lindsay Braverman but especially composer Michael Gordon Shapiro for giving us so many different (and appropriate) styles of music to highlight these mini-plays.  Shapiro also wrote the book for all but the first of the four.

That first, The Charmed Life, emerged from the pen of Mark Harvey Levine.  It focuses on a young woman (Heather Lake) bewailing the monotonous good luck of her life.  Never a flat tire, forever winning every contest she ever enters, randomly selected regularly for valuable prizes, etc.  Yeah it sounds good, but it hardly feels natural and she's cracking under the pressure.  Just a little.  And then...she finds she really does have a guardian angel, albeit a flesh and blood rather than spiritual kind (Jim Martyka).  The backstory of this turn of events, plus the fallout, proved delightful and nicely surprising.

Climb the Smallest Mountain features the cut-throat world of miniature golf.  Yeah.  Really.  David Foy Bauer plays the rock star equivalent of this sport, complete with groupies and a manager (Margaret Glaccum) as well as memories of his Sensei (Matthew Martin), source of all his vast skills.  Tension arises when a heckler rival (Martyka again) manages to technically obey the rules while violating them in spirit in order to thwart our hero of his grand prize.

The Escape Artist is a world premiere, taking place in a jury selection room wherein a master of avoiding jury duty (Graydon Schlichter) his skills in that direction.  But to his chagrin--and growing fascination--a pretty woman (Braverman) who up to now seemed eager to participate, starts using all his tricks one by one. 

Special mention in this one to Foy Bauer again, who plays a member of the chorus damn near (but not quite) stealing the show.  You'll have to see it to find out how!

Finally there is HMS Headwind, the tale of an 18th century British naval vessel ensnared in a struggle against Abigail, Pirate Queen of the North Sea (Sammi Lappin).  This masked beauty and her crew of women have managed to capture one ship after another in His Majesty's Navy, returning them to port with the crew trussed up and a scathing critique nailed to the mast of their conduct.  If this sounds almost Gilbert-and-Sullivan silly, you're not far off.  Although hardly a ripoff or even pastiche, this show does have a sense of that silliness taken absolutely seriously. It might also have the best chance of being expanded to a full one act musical or maybe even full-length!  The characters are especially keen, such as the British Marine rifleman (Mark Lopez) who cannot bring himself to shoot the pirate queen, an effete nobleman (Carey Matthews) who figures out what is actually going on, etc.  It all winds up with a nicely ironic twist!

I notice my failure to single out ensemble member Lauren Holliday, which must be unfair since she did such a fine turn in a variety of roles (including a Judge who isn't the easiest of persons to fool in The Escape Artist).

My own taste often runs to the dramatic and mind-blowing (which TU often does with great skill) but this is the theatrical equivalent of a really first-rate dessert--like key lime pie, New York cheesecake, eclairs, oreo cookies and the like!  In other words, delicious!

A Feast of Snacks plays at the Lounge Theatre 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard (one block east of Vine) Sunday June 12 at 11:55am, Sunday June 19 at 10pm, Friday June 24 at 8pm and Saturday June 25 at 11:55am. 

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