Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Fringe Shows (review) Part One

Spoilers ahoy!

I am reviewing multiple shows in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival.  Here is a precis of each, with links to the full review, in the order in which I've seen them so far.  At least one more of these is coming...

Jack the Ripper's Mistress by Cynthia Asmar, marks the first of six vampire plays in this year's Fringe.  Yeah, in this one Jack is a vampire, and the murders for which he's famous a work of art intended for his undead lover.  The play shows the full arc of their love story, in all its very VERY dark splendor and passion.  Like the love child of Rice and Fassbender, it ends up equal parts romance and nihilistic manifesto.  What it needs however is more than an hour.  At present this version just doesn't have the time to do more than plot highlights, albeit with lots of promise.  Ultimately I ended up looking forward to the next iteration of the piece, my appetite whetted by this taste of something very compelling yet to come.
The Little Mermaid (A Movement Piece) by the Boundless Art Theatre Company.  Based (refreshingly) on the deep, often disturbing fairly tale by Hans Christian Anderson, this piece straddles the line between play and dance.  I don't believe it quite succeeds at either one, despite being ultimately very effecting.  The choice of music by Evanessance proves a nice choice, and the cast generally does very well, but in a movement piece or dance the movement needs precision and it only sometimes had that.  Yet the story was there, with performers experiencing it rather than going through the motions or posing.  No small thing!
The Spidey Project by Justin Moran is Theatre Unleashed's low budget but delightful musical based on the famous superhero.  I cannot think the Broadway one was half as good.  Humor is tricky, because you either laugh or you don't.  This time I laughed and laughed and laughed, but also felt my heart tug more than once.  At heart the story is about a lonely young man who by raw chance gains real power, and at heart wants to be a hero.  So the undertone of "What is a hero?" flows throughout, with a very skilled cast of actors doing wonders.
Three Can Keep a Secret by Greg Crafts of Theatre Unleashed gave me deja vu.  Because when going to school in NYC the musical on Broadway I most enjoyed was Edwin Drood in which the audience elected several plot points, including the identity of the murderer.  This show does something similar, but sprinkled throughout the plot, to vastly funny and entertaining effect!  It is all about a crime, where things (naturally) go wrong--and from there matters spiral more and more out of control.  The cast is fantastic, giving all kinds of startling nuances to the story.  What could easily have been formula instead is played straight, but with skill to make the laughs emerge easily.  I may see this one again to view multiple endings and plot twists!
Love's Adventures by Margaret Cavendish proved a special little prezzie for yours truly.  The Broads Word Ensemble found a classic piece I've neither seen or read (nor heard of to be honest) and it proved delightful!  Apart from the fact it gives a lovely glimpse of ideas not-so-modern as we think (women winning swordfights with men, for example) the cast under a very fine director were just fantastic.  Language in these things can be an issue, yet never was.  It was simply a style of speech, which the actors understood to their core and thus so did we.  Recommend this one highly (Full disclosure: The editor of the piece and the director are both good friends of mine.)
The Rise and Fall of Dracula by Melissa Ortiz bills itself as a "total immersion" piece, in this case meaning we are led room to room, with our perspective changing scene to scene. That is actually the least interesting bit, compared to the movement and compelling retelling of Stoker's novel--which brings in Ancient Greek history as well as LeFAnu's vampire classic Carmilla. This gave Ortiz the chance to re-write/reconfigue the story as she saw fit, including (and I will simply not complain about this one bit) a reimagining of the roles played by Mina and Lucy.  The performance is not without a few problems, mostly in length (this NEEDS a longer version) but ultimately works very well indeed.
Normal by Anthony Neilson marks the best, most powerful piece of theatre at the Fringe this year so far.  That I have seen.  I expected little less from the Vagrancy to be honest.  Peter Kurten was a real serial killer/arsonist whose crimes and atrocities shook Weimar Germany.  The so-called "Ripper of Dusseldorf" was executed just before Hitler's rise to power, having been adjudged "normal" (i.e. not insane) by the courts.  Seen from the POV of his defense attorney, the play unfolds as a compellingly intense chamber of horrors--with the most horrible of all realizations, that that chamber is in some very real sense Home.

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