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The False Servant

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To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Evidence Room, the company has chosen to produce Marivaux’s The False Servant in a contemporary translation by Martin Crimp. Like all of Marivaux’s plays, the stylized, commedia influenced plot is an excuse to plumb the psychological undercurrents of society, particularly the emotions, or lack thereof, surrounding love.

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Adam and Eve and Steve

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In Chandler Warren and Wayne Moore’s amiable new musical Adam & Eve and Steve, Eden was a little more populated than we’ve been told. An enthusiastically competitive Beelzebub throws a wrench into God’s plans by making sure that Adam’s first encounter with another human is Steve, not the intended Eve. The two become fast friends, though Steve definitely wants more. The balance of the slight plot finds a determined Eve resolutely staking her claim as Adam dithers between potential mates and Beelzebub quarrels with God.

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Picnic

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During the 1950’s, the plays of William Inge were ranked with Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller as the gold standard in American playwrighting. By the 60’s, his star began to wane and his works became less popular. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1973. While his plays continued to be produced, they appeared to have less staying power than those of his contemporaries. Perhaps his characters seemed somehow prosaic when compared with Williams’ flamboyant Southern eccentrics and Miller’s morally ambiguous protagonists. After all, Inge wrote about the people who lived next door.

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Taming of the Shrew

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The mission statement of Queer Classics is to produce “Classic stories re-imagined through a queer lens: Art for the LGBTQ Community and its straight supporters.” The company’s entry into this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

 

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Matilda the Musical

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The tour of Matilda has arrived at the Ahmanson Theatre with Roald Dahl’s quirky and often nightmarish darkness intact. Also discernible beneath the cartoon sets and costumes is Dahl’s understanding, shared with Dickens, of the vast and often scary gulf between children and adults.

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Singin' in the Rain

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In 1952, Singin' in the Rain made its debut as a film starring the inimitable Gene Kelly. In 1983, using the book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the lyrics of Arthur Freed and the music of Nacio Herb Brown, the screenplay was adapted into a stage musical. It was thirty years ago that Singin' in the Rain made its Broadway premier, earning a Tony Award for its leading man, Don Correia. And now the show is being given a homegrown production at Long Beach's acclaimed Musical Theatre West, through July 26.

 

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The Gospel at Colonus

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Created in New York City in 1983 by Lee Breuer, The Gospel at Colonus is an African-American take on Sophocles's ancient tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus. What's more, this 20th-century redux is an emotional musical that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and later had a Broadway run for which it earned a Tony Award nomination. Moreover, and luckily for So Cal theatergoers, a production of The Gospel at Colonus is now being produced by Los Angeles's Ebony Repertory Company and performed through July 19 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

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Jason and (Medea)

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There were four versions of the Medea myth at the Fringe. Jess Shomemaker’s new play is the only one I caught, and I’m glad I did. Unlike the Greek original, which gives the backstory to the Chorus, Shoemaker recounts a relatively full version of the story. She also chooses to tell the story through Jason’s experience--a completely original concept as far as I know. The play’s language is direct, and the gods, for the most part, have been replaced by Science.

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Marry Me a Little

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In the early 1980’s, just before Craig Lucas transitioned from performer to playwright, he approached Stephen Sondheim about using some of the composer’s trunk songs in a new theatrical context. The result was Marry Me a Little. With his director, Norman Rene, Lucas fashioned a wisp of a concept to create a loose structure for the songs. A Man and a Woman spend a Saturday night alone in their respective apartments in the same building, 2C & 3C. The small cast, the intimate setting, and the fact that the script is dialog-free, allowing great flexibility in interpretation, meant that the show was immediately popular. Then, of course, there are the songs.

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Enron

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After too long a hiatus, The Production Company is back in business with the local premiere of Lucy Prebble’s Enron. The play, which dramatizes the story behind the most egregious of the financial scandals of the 1990’s, could all too easily devolve into a dry and distant denunciation of corporate greed. But Prebble wisely uses razor sharp satire and a wide a range of theatrical devices to enliven this cutthroat tale of money and power.

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Spotlight

More of the Fringe Festival

Starf*cking

Despite its provocative title, Sharon Lintz’s Starf*cking is not a sensational tale of the seamy side of Hollywood. Her loosely linked monologues, along with a single two-person scene, are a sensitive examination of how the public’s obsession with celebrity can inform crucial moments in their lives.

Alternately humorous and poignant, the scenes play mostly in the privacy of a bedroom. Lintz’s pungent dialog is so specific that even characters we assume we know surprise us. Martin (Stephen DeCordova) longs for the now forbidden sensual pleasure cinema goddesses of the 30’s took from smoking. In the most overtly comic episode, the hilariously high-octane Mary (Kelly Schumann) relates how a marionette led her to an afternoon on a porn set. A genial Randy (Blaine Vedros), overshares a bit when he reveals his special use of Kurt Cobain as a sexual aid. While a rebellious Ruben (Tory Devon Smith) changes out of the suit he hates and dons his gay apparel, as he dreams of Egypt and Eminem. Patty (Dawn Joyal) makes us feel the heartbreak of a cancer patient calling on the young Elizabeth Taylor as her talisman. In the disappointing final scene, Meagan (Katy Yoder) and Jake (Ali Allie) bond over movies in a motel room.

Eric G. Johnson has directed the play with a sure hand, and the cast is eminently watchable. Though the final scene feels out of place, the rest of the production is worth your time.

Theatre Asylum Lab   June 7 – June 27, 2015   Tickets: http://hff15.org/2192

Suicide Notes:  In Their Own Words

Stan Zimmerman is always the funny guy. He's the writer with the jokes coming fast and farcical, from his work on the Brady Bunch movies, to countless TV shows, and his Fringe hit from last year, Meet and Greet, which went on to a regular run after the Festival ended.

But this year Zimmerman has moved out of his comfort zone with a project he is passionate about. A project born of his personal confrontation with the suicide of a friend and his realization people in pain are doing this all around us.

Suicide Notes:  In Their Own Words is simply that. Suicide notes collected from people who, except in once instance, have successfully taken their lives. Some are famous, most you wouldn’t know. But their pain and the horrifying darkness that surround them is palpable in their last words. Words that are surprisingly cogent and memorable. Some choose to explain, others to blame, still more try to make sure that no remaining loved one feels blame.

As writer and director, Zimmerman has smartly chosen to present the words in as stark a manner as possible. The four talented actors, Olivia D’Abo, Allie Gonino, Peter Onorati and Brendan Robinson read the notes from music stands. While they imbue the words with feeling, there is no grandstanding. These final words are treated with respect and dignity.

Zimmerman has added some important statistics about suicide to put the notes into context. The show is difficult and may not be typical Fringe fare, but it earns its place there. And it definitely has a place beyond the confines of the Fringe. For in a world where so many are heartsick, bullied, survivors of war, mentally ill or just achingly lonely, the message of this piece should be heard. A portion of the proceeds for the show will go to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Theatre Asylum    June 19 – June 28, 20 15    Tickets: http://hff15.org/24

Unemployed Finally

Heather R. Dowling has had 30 jobs in 30 years. She’s waited tables, worked in retail, been a reporter, even dabbled, highly unsuccessfully, at a Navy career. Sometimes the jobs were a search for meaning in life and sometimes they were a screen to hide behind. But in Unemployed Finally, Heather tells her tale of serial employment with good humor and the new-found knowledge that a job doesn’t necessarily make the woman.

Dowling is an energetic and engaging performer who makes you care about her crazy history, both the good and the bad. You root for her to find the right guy and then to take steps to realize the dream she’d lost track of. Of course, the title tells you that she’s made some changes, but her odyssey is worth your time.

Elephant Studio   June 7 – 25, 2015

 
Max and Elsa

With Max and Elsa, playwrighting team Mason Flink and Lindsay Kerns have focused on the lives of no one’s favorite two characters from The Sound of Music. The play’s capsule description raises the specter of hairy nuns in drag and over-the-top camp humor which is better appreciated when imbibing your third dirty martini. But the big surprise is that the script is witty and well-written. Though, for the record, there is a nun in drag.

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Fugitive Songs

Fugitive Songs is less about lawbreakers than about the need to escape—to discover new horizons. The restless fugitives in Chris Miller (music) and Nathan Tyson’s (lyrics) song cycle feel trapped. They are ready to say farewell to loser boyfriends, dead end jobs, general malaise, or the realization that life in Washington Heights has become too comfortable.

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Catherine

Northanger Abbey is certainly the most neglected of Jane Austen’s novels. It was only published posthumously, and its characters have not, to my knowledge, been faced by zombies or forced to solve murder mysteries in their homes. But, if Catherine and her Northanger friends haven’t achieved immortality like Darcy or Emma, they have their own attractions. Something that was noticed by playwright Stina Pederson with her modern adaptation of the book, Catherine (The title Austen had chosen for the novel).

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Annabella

Annabella is an ambitious musical inspired by Italian folk tales of the Strega (Witch). Dark, mysterious and featuring malevolent marionettes, the story is part nightmare and part romance. And, even in a bare bones Fringe production, there is much to admire.

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Sleeping Around

Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen was published privately in 1900. Schnitzler knew that his roundelay of fornication could not be produced on any stage at that time. Even 20 years later, the first German-language productions were disasters. But the construction of the play, partners moving from coupling to coupling, was too clever to deny. And by the 1950’s, the French adaptation, La Ronde, had become a successful film, and translations of the play were produced under that title. By the 70’s and 80’s the more permissive times spawned a number of adaptations of the work which were more sexually frank than the original. There were even musical versions like Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again.

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Merely Players

Backstage comedies, which are typically valentines to the theater, have a long history of popularity. Community theatre was famously lampooned as far back as George Kelly’s The Torchbearers. With Merely Players, the Color and Light Theatre Ensemble updates the Community theatre satire for the 21st Century with mixed results.

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7th Annual One-Man Show World Championships

Interestingly, poking fun at the stereotypical over-sharing one-person show seems to be a recurring motif in Fringe shows. Even within one-person shows.

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