It's a Wrap!

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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With the 2019 edition of the Hollywood Fringe Festival in LA now behind us, we can offer an important observation about small theatre in Los Angeles. If larger theatres want to know how to “integrate” their graying audiences, they might consider: young people came out in droves to support each other, and through social media and word of mouth, supporters encouraged their friends to do the same.  As a result, in general, overflowing crowds converged on small venues as early as 11 am and as late as midnight every weekend.  The following three represent a sampling of the wide variety of the pieces presented at the festival this June.

Red, White, Black & Blue

These two one-acts came together in a set of revealing monologues portraying the difficulty of adjusting to lives in transition.  Leilani Squire’s “Drowning” depicts Adam (Matthew Thompson), a returning vet whose short fuse has estranged him from his wife and precious daughter. Through his dialogic phone calls, we experience the amount of effort it takes to keep it together in the face of unrelenting rejection, from wary would-be employers to his vindictive spouse. Squire’s tightening tempo reflects the time-bomb ticking inside of this man whose only solution may be suicide.

In “Black & Blue,” Blaine Vedros plays Tom Wilkes, another man whose forced eviction from his job and subsequently his marriage leaves him desperate for retribution. But, as he ruminates, we realize that he is not exactly an innocent victim, and the only way out of his dilemma may be the self-realization that eludes him. Both Thompson’s Adam in “Drowning” and Vedros’ fierce Tom in “Black & Blue” reinforces the fact that, as a group, men have lost important support systems to aid them.

Mil Grus

Stemming from a tradition of foolery that harks back to the Middle Ages, this grotesque ensemble keeps audiences amused and constantly off-guard. Their deadpan stares, their misshapen and gyrating bodies and their dumb-show drolleries are surreal rather than threatening. It helps, as various members climb through the audience, that they deposit tiny origami birds into outstretch palms.  Since there is no through-line to engross us, a spirit of camaraderie descends upon the packed audience. When we are asked to help “tent” ourselves and we can no longer see the stage, we realize that we have been duped into ending the piece ourselves. I thought their joke on us ending their shenanigans was just right.

The Narcissist Next Door

The Narcissist Next Door covers much the same ground as Larry Shue’s The Nerd, where the house-guest from Hell wrecks havoc on a variety of characters at a dinner party. Here, Tony, The Narcissist, (Luca Malacrino), proves to be a charlatan as well as a pain when he introduces his next-door neighbor, Sebastian (Michael Nardelli), and friend Kate (Kincaid Walker), to a New Age practice called “The Source.”  When the practice work wonders in their lives, they welcome Tony into their midst, but as he takes more and more advantage of their trust, inviting himself on a trip to Mexico to “shoot” singing star Charo Veraga (Maggie Miguel), a result from “The Source,” they finally admit his toxicity. Only when he opens the way for a pair of Banditos (Robert and Bryce Harrow) to rob the group, do they finally plot to get rid of him with hilarious results.

Narcissist, Ellen Buckley’s first full-length play, is sprightly and increasingly funny, pointing the way to a future of churning out one crowd-pleaser after another. It has been given a well-developed production by its producers with director Susan Dallan.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2020 celebrating small theatre all over Hollywood and beyond at https://www.hollywoodfringe.org.