Monday, August 30, 2021

Boy Crazy Psycho Slut (HFF2021)

Spoilers ahoy!

The title Boy Crazy Psycho Slut did give me the wrong impression, but maybe that was me.  Images of some rebellious woman trapped in her teen image and growing into adulthood long after her being able to vote or legally drink came to mind, shades of Joan Jett, P!nk, Wendy Williams, etc.  What I got was different, and I am not complaining even a tiny bit.

Instead we follow Jo Dellapina's (fictionalized) life from childhood on in series of utterly charming vignettes, theatrical and moving and often drawing out laughter, sometimes tears.  It is a poignant journey, albeit less gothic than I'd expected.  Hers is a story we can all feel might be our own, which is not always the case of those who've gone through traumas involving addiction or physical self harm or outright persecution (this is intended as a criticism of audiences, btw, including yours truly).  Her story unfolds and we see her life up until now, shaped by her own desires for love and companionship, by the bitterness of her parents' divorce, by her own feelings of inadequacy as well as raw enthusiasm, even love (and far from only the romantic kind).

At the end, we share her looking to the future.  A very human, ordinary in the way we are all extraordinary, odyssey of the human spirit.  Yes, I wish it were longer or dug in a little more when it came to her issues and pain.  But that seems more like personal taste.  We took this journey with her.  Felt much if not all of what she felt.  Saw her, not a stereotype or pre-conceived archetype, but the fully rounded person who has joys and disappointments in plenty to remember--and, like all of us, to look forward to.  

It made for a powerful show.  A moving one.  

Boy Crazy Psycho Slut has ended its run at the Hudson Theatre Guild on Santa Monica Blvd, but I have hopes it shall be revived.  So should you.  
 

Lies, Anger and Forgiveness (HFF2021)

 Spoilers ahoy!

Most solo shows tend to be a bit short, especially for the Fringe.  Lies, Anger and Forgiveness seems like it should be much too short.  At only thirty minutes, one wonders how it could really delve much into anything, especially since most solos last almost twice that and leave me wanting more.

But, like a haiku, this one manages it.  Barbara Saba essentially captures the essence of a life lost amid childhood hurt never healed.  She seems to be an Italian ex-pat living in Hollywood, pursuing her career as an actor, but wanting to quit smoking.  Well, she doesn't really want to quit.  In truth she loves smoking.  But she realizes she should and has found a hypnotherapist--also Italian--who has a good reputation.

That therapist herself is a magnificent little creation, utterly vivid, totally believable, and one who literally reaches in to ask the most piercing questions in a breezy, yet extravagant style.  Turns out Barbara's father ran a tobacco shop, so of course she smokes.  Oh but there is much more to it than that...

Of course she is lying to herself.  Don't we all?  Maybe she thinks she needs to stop smoking but what she really needs is to find a way past her own pain, her own anger.  In a startlingly simple set of tiny scenes, she gives us the entire arc of her life, or at least the essence of it.  More, she does far more than act out such scenes--she lives them.  Someone once asked me how actors achieve really moving and powerful scenes and dialogue.  I told them "we pretend really hard, with all the passion of a child, but the discipline of an adult."  Well, Saba pretends extremely hard, with the passion of a very imaginative child, and the discipline of an insightful, skilled adult.  It was an honor as well as a pleasure to see her perform.  The climax of the play worked only because of her own abilities as a performer, and methinks she wrote to her strengths.  Results speak for and of themselves.

Lies, Anger and Forgiveness has ended its run at the Thymele Cultural Arts Center as Western & Santa Monica.  I have hopes it will be revived.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Junk Girls (HFF2021)

 

Spoilers ahoy!

Another warning--I am going to pontificate a lot here, shocking I know.

Junk Girls is a full-length (or, maybe long one act at 80 minutes) play dealing war, death, and love.  That honestly oversimplifies a lot.  The various characters entwine over the fact so many have connections with the then-current war in Iraq (the play is set in 2007), and one way or another nearly all connect with a young woman who is a U.S. Army casualty notifications officer.  That job is exactly what it sound like.  She has to go and tell loved ones in person their son, daughter, spouse, sibling, etc. has died.  In person.  This CNO has been saddled with an army photographer and a freelance journalist to "record" and of course publicize this process--a fact she finds appalling and thoughtless, and then of course the way the journalist especially shows an attitude of nothing matters, everything is a joke only makes her feel this more.  An added twist--the journalist and her have been friends.

Other twists include the journalist was just in Iraq, met a soldier there and fell in love, but doesn't want to admit it.  

With all this are a lot of almost-dream-sequences, with the officer apologizing to the dead, and at one time three couples in effect march into formation to have a dance.  A phone call from Iraq, mid-combat, bleeds in terms of action into the scene where the person receiving the call is doing something else.  

You can tell there's a "but" coming, perhaps?  There is.  This script skims over a lot, with plenty of scenes we actually need simply not present.  Characters bond off stage, go through traumas off stage (sometimes with barely the tiniest hint of what those trauma are), and frankly at a pace that left me confused--which is odd.  Not to be immodest, I generally follow things better than most.  It seems this script leaves all the really heavy-lifting to be done by the cast, which is selfish, depending on an emotional punch delivered by iconography rather than interaction.

There's another problem.  I was initially a bit startled at what seemed like a group of clearly talented actors, given the task of so much effort by the nature of the script, who weren't pulling that weight.  Flashes of chemistry between several sets of couples, nothing more.  At least two thirds of the cast literally show no emotional change from beginning to end.  Yet the talent remained visible, there on stage.  

Here is what the notice about the play says:  This show has a mix-and-match variable cast with each show being fresh and different.  In other words, most of the cast never ever got enough time with any single character to find that character.  No wonder the chemistry was off!  No wonder so many of the cast seemed to play attitude and general emotions instead of specific desires and attempts to achieve them!  That process needs time, and not only did they not get it, their attentions were dispersed over several different characters instead of one.  Yeah, this kind of thing can work to switch a set of characters, and with enough rehearsal (switching up Iago and Othello is something of a tradition, for example) it can work very well.  But not only in this case did a genuinely talented cast give a weirdly inconsistent set of performances, I have zero notion as to what the remaining performance will be like.  How can I?  I literally have no way of knowing.  So what good can this review be, since the only certainty about the performances I can give is that you won't see the one I saw.

A shame.  This is a play that deals with strong, fundamental issues of love and desire, regret and longing, trauma and courage.  It focuses on the little-thought-on corners of a powerful historical event, and on the individual passions involved.  All these deserve a lot of praise.

This show has one further performance as of this writing, Saturday August 28, 5:30pm at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Transetter (HFF2021)

 

Spoilers ahoy!

Earlier this year, a friend of mine re-appeared in Los Angeles.  Hadn't heard of or from them in awhile, but what with the pandemic that was no real surprise.  When they did emerge, they did so as a new person.

Transetter is a one person show about how Carey Matthews became Veronica Carey Matthews, told with the same kind of humor which I always loved in my friend.  But lots more naked honesty.  This marks the second time a fringe show this year has led me to know a friend far better than before.  Frankly, I feel both touched and honored by that fact.

In a nutshell, Carey's life began to fall apart, due to a variety of issues (see the play for most details--fascinating and often painful) which she gradually makes clear were largely symptoms of a fundamental issue.  Both explained and also acted out before us, we get to know Carey as a young man at war with himself, denying some aspects of his own identity so fiercely it took a long time for those issues even to become VISIBLE!

Veronica introduces herself as that issue, i.e. the person Carey in sense always was, yet needed to find a way to accept and then become.

Honestly, this tale is of a life hitting not quite rock bottom, at least not physically (almost, though).  From this, eventually, the masks begin to fall.  Carey begins to seem themselves for who they truly are, what they truly want.  And--again, I must emphasize--this whole story and performance remains amazingly lighthearted, even funny, without losing its genuine power.  A tightrope our hostess/performer crosses all the way to the end with great skill.

Yet it is not an end.  Such is the whole point.  Rather it is a beginning.  

This show has closed, but hopefully shall be revived at some point in some venue.