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Aliens VS Musical and Strap-On

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Erik Przytulski and Steve Troop’s Alien VS. Musical returns to the Fringe in an expanded version after a successful run last year. The concept: what if the Alien from the “Alien” film franchise terrorized our favorite musical characters? It is the sort of late-night-after-a-quantity-of-martinis idea that will either fizzle in the morning light or become an obsession. Luckily, book writers Przytulski (who also wrote the music & lyrics) and Troop went with obsession and have created a Fringe-friendly 90-minute musical.

In the Land of Musicals, a host of our favorite characters are frolicking in honor of the ultimate Dreamgirl Effie’s (Levanna Atkinson-Williams) birthday.  There’s Maria Von Trapp (Brianne Sanborn), Elphaba (Suzanne Petrela), Valjean ( Matthew Noah), Tracy Turnblad (Ally Mulholland), Annie (Allie Costa), Danny Zuko (Christopher Bunyi), Harold Hill (Nick Emmett McGee), Rent’s Mark (Brad Simanski) and an unnamed Elder (Taylor Minckley) from Book of Mormon.

Tragedy strikes when a strange plant is discovered and disgorges an alien onto the face of the Elder. (Apparently none of these characters ever bothered to learn anything from Little Shop of Horrors.) In no time, the Alien has exploded from the Elder’s stomach and goes on a killing rampage with our favorite musical characters as its targets. One by one, the woefully unprepared crew face their untimely ends while belting out their final numbers.

As a composer, Przytulski has a way with pastiche, and he uses it to great comedic effect in the show. His lyrics are slightly less inventive, but ably do the job. While the book is always amusing, it is the visual jokes that truly shine. Moments like the Alien in a blonde wig seducing Danny, the rap-off between Harold Hill and Alexander Hamilton, the Sharks and Jets dancing to their doom, the Sandy and Annie spin, and the wounded Spiderman still make me chuckle.

The show’s slightly ramshackle quality and the variable voices in the cast make this a shining example of a Fringe property. But, if the creators want to move the show up the theatrical food chain, they will need to boost the quality for a number of elements.

In the end, Alien VS. Musical leaves its audience with two inarguable conclusions: Troop’s designs for the various alien creatures are totally brilliant, and Annie is truly indestructible.

http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2202

Certainly the most thought-provoking play of my Fringe experience was Strap-On a world premiere production by the Proboscis Theatre Company. Apparently devised by Director Jeff Mills and his cast, (they’d run out of programs) the story details a fascinating real-life British court case in which a 20-something woman was convicted of vaginally penetrating another female with a strap-on device.

The complaining partner told a story of being deceived by someone she thought was a man. The accused perpetrator explained that the woman was quite aware of her actual sex and sought someone with a "male" identity to assuage her guilt over her lesbian feelings.

Mills and his fearless cast Madelyn Robinson and Erica Flor base the play on actual testimony. At times, Robinson and Flor act out scenes inspired by the individual histories of the women as told in the court records. At other points, they play jurors reading testimony in the jury room and discussing the case.

These multiple points of view give an already complex plot a kaleidoscopic feel which only heightens the profound mystery of what really went on. Did they meet online or at gay social night? Whose idea was it to add a blindfold to their sexual encounters? Is it possible, even when blindfolded, not to know the difference between a strap-on and human flesh while performing oral sex?

If this seemingly unbelievable situation feels vaguely familiar, you may be thinking of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly, which told the story of a male French diplomat in a 20-year relationship with a male performer of female roles in the Chinese Opera, who claimed not to have known the performer was a man.

But Strap-On is a simpler and far more visceral experience. Much of this immediacy comes from the fact that the play is not a conventional dramatization. But another factor is how much the general public’s understanding of gender issues has developed in the years since Hwang’s play opened in New York.

Because Mills and his cast refuse to take sides, this dark and enigmatic play leaves you with more questions than answers at the end. But those questions will reverberate with you and you’ll walk out of the play animatedly arguing the “facts” with your friends. When was the last time that happened to you at the theatre?

http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/3711

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.