Here are our final eight reviews for 2012 Hollywood Fringe Festival: Before the Red Trees Come, Diary of a Sociopathic Freakazoid, Lolera, Making Love Over There, The Last Five Years, Leprechauns and Lies and The Collector and an extra review of Cycles:
~by Brian Sonia-Wallace
Before the Red Trees Come is a fairly straightforward silent clowning/vaudeville piece that follows a character in broad strokes through the three stages of life—childhood, adulthood, and old age. The play mostly revolves around a repeated scene on a bench in a park, in which three of the four actors trade the roles associated with the three life stages. The actors are all great physical performers and the gags had the audience laughing all the way through.
Of course I have gripes. The ‘child’ character consistently annoyed me, whoever played him, as his childishness was merely caricaturized rather than realized with any of the depth actual children have. And I think this problem extended to the whole show, and maybe even the entire genre of clowning: for a show about life, life itself, I didn’t feel like I learned anything. I watched some very funny jokes about eating and money and even finding God, but there was none of the mystery or ambiguity that life itself has. Before the Red Trees Come was wonderfully crafted and skilfully executed, but I didn’t feel the mystery or heart that it title promises.
by Tracey Paleo~
Diary of a Sociopathic Freakazoid as written and directed by Richard Crawford is supposed to be a relentless exploration of the mind of a sociopath and the consequences of his freakish actions over the course of a week in his Manhattan apartment. As for myself, I would more likely describe it as the heinous and pathetic behavior of the most selfish, self-serving, self-centered person anyone could ever imagine.
There is absolutely nothing likable about the main character played by Mr. Crawford himself. Childish, envious and resentful of anyone else’s joy, or sanity for that matter, there are no bounds to how he wrecks the lives of others. As a sociopath, he absolutely lives up to the dictionary definition which reads: a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.
But there are other factors that wreak havoc in this play. Unintelligible dialog from other cast members, actors that were largely off the mark inside a story that often made no sense to the audience, a set that looked like a typical classroom rag pile, and the irritating, melodramatic music that continuously attempted to lead the audience to one emotion or another – unsuccessfully. In fact, although I often naggingly thought it was a comedy, I was pretty sure that I was supposed to take this all seriously. And that was difficult to do.
The one absolute save for this entire production was the thankfully lovely performance by Ruthie Stephens who plays the sister to the head case, reeling the production in and giving it a center as was true to her actual character, until, of course, her own brother screws her in the worst way.
Definitely a theatre production more on the experimental side. Self-described as “relentless” basically captures the essence of this show.
by Brian Sonia-Wallace~
We all knew this piece was coming—how could it not? Lolpera marries the highbrow classical culture of Opera with the internet meme of lolcats (pictures of cats with funny misspelled captions). It’s a fantastic idea, so ridiculous that it just might work, as the show crafts a narrative using only the words strangers have photoshopped onto cats on the internet. The captioned pictures are projected alongside the songs like surtitles in an Opera would be, and the story moves between several cases of frustrated love and the epic showdown between good and evil. And for the first thirty minutes or so it’s uproarious and exciting, but then it goes on…and on…
This piece would be brilliant as a student one-act showcasing a novel idea, but it ends up being overambitious. The writers feel the need to cram every story trope possible into the two-hour run time, leaving the audience with a jumbled mess of characters and subplots. The actors are in it wholeheartedly, but none of them can really sing or dance, which starts to be a problem as the hours drag on and the laughter at the wonderful ridiculousness of the whole affair starts to die down. Lolpera starts as a good joke, but is ruined as it drags on to the point where it’s just beating a dead lolcat.
by Brian Sonia-Wallace~
YES! This is what I’m talking about. This is Fringe. Finally. The play I’ve been waiting for, the one with the scene entirely in Russian and the unexpected dance break and the ending where the stage is a mess and everything is soaked in water. Making Love Over There is honest-to-goodness experimental theatre, shrugging off narrative to play with pace and tempo and theme, leading the audience on an rollercoaster ride in which expectations are built and shattered again and again. The performers put everything on the table, and the two actors are running, physically running, through almost the entire high-octane hour.
This is also intelligent theatre, that feels no obligation to make things clear for the audience but never forgets us, instead inviting us to figure it all out for ourselves. The theme is love, but the experience isn’t that of watching a love story but of being in love—all noise and confusion and tenderness and desperate awkwardness. If you want to know why Fringe Festivals exist, it’s to incubate projects like this, projects that you won’t see on big stages but that represent what is exciting and alive in theatre today.
by Brian Sonia-Wallace~
The Last Five Years is something of a Fringe ritual—every major Fringe festival has a production or two of this beautiful musical. And for good reason. The music is gorgeous, the cast is only two people, and the story is universal and told in a novel way. It plays with time, following a relationship from start to finish from the man’s point of view and backward, from the breakup to first meeting, from the woman’s perspective. Those who do not know this show, even those who don’t usually like musicals, would do well to watch it.
This production is fair but not stellar. The staging is effective, but uses stage blocks that make the piece feel like a rehearsal. The lead actress carries her songs and earns some great unexpected laughs. The male actor’s voice is not quite right for the part, and he needs to put his damn cell phone down. He never quite reached the level of charisma to make us fall in love with his character despite his flaws. And if the audience can’t love a character, how can we believe that another character will?
by Brian Sonia-Wallace~
I’m not a big fan of solo performance, but I thought I’d give this one a shot. Chad Kukahiko is an charismatic guy, and the show does best when he just lets himself be conversational, from sitting in the audience to asking us to write the biggest lie we’d ever heard and give them to him. I wish he’d played more with this, as there was a lot of humanity and connection in the interaction. Equally a talented musician, Mr. Kukahiko’s songwriting and Stomp! chops were on display several times, as were his advanced nerd credentials. It’s not too often when a music lesson turns into a lesson on the laws of thermodynamics turns into a dynamic rhythm performance.
The heart of Leprechauns and Lies, though, is the performer’s family and own life crises. While stories about these are told engagingly enough, they seemed a little stereotypical for a play like this, and the piece dragged when the light-hearted and almost philosophical conversation with the audience turned into a dramatic monologue about existential crisis. Leprechauns and Lies is at its best before it starts to take itself seriously, when it’s just a very intelligent actor taking an audience on a journey of what excites him, even sometimes infuriates or scares him, in life.
by Brian Sonia-Wallace~
Running at a lightning fast 30 minutes, The Collector is by far too short a time to spend in the meticulously crafted world Animal Cracker Conspiracy have created. And create they do! It’s the most complex Fringe show I saw, with five plus sets, projection (live and recorded) and a motley cast of characters ranging from a monkey to a bird woman, all expertly puppeteer by two players on three large tables. The players never speak, and the entire story is told through the action of the puppets and a musical score that slices through the piece like a cold wind. The story is a Kafka-esque fable about a debt collector’s journey.
This is certainly not a kid’s puppet show, though there is nothing children could not see. As much a living art installation as a theatrical experience, I was happy that the performers invited the audience onstage afterward to take an up-close look at the tiny sets and puppets. Everything was so intricate that even in the small house I found I missed bits during the show, despite live projection of the puppet action to make it more visible. The Collector didn’t particularly move me, but it was successful in creating an immersive and beautiful world.
[Editor's Note: this is an extra review of Cycles, a show which we have already covered.]
by Tracey Paleo~
They didn’t know they had a girl in the front row of the stage who was actually from the North End of Boston, born on Harris Street, raised on Henchmen and who had played for many years at the actual doorstep of 37 Clark Street where the backstory of this play, whose actual history is quite different from the presented theatrical scenario, takes place. According to the writer, I was the best audience to experience this play. But in my opinion, probably the toughest.
Suffice it to say, I giggled a lot at the beginning listening to the actors work through the difficult and very non-typical accent that is absolutely distinguished from the nuances of other Bostonians. We don’t “paak the ca” in the same way as they do in Southie or anywhere else not directly connected to the downtown area. The speed in our dialogs is because we are actually speaking Italian or Siclian, but in English. And there is an unmistakeable brutal rawness in the people mixed with urban intelligence and often emotional stupidity.
However, once past the holes of hearing (the brilliant) Alan Rosenberg’s at first more New York sounding accent and Dominic Rains’s warm up in getting into his tough guy, what resounded in Cycles was an authenticity that, knowing first-hand, is usually difficult to come by. Mr. Rains looks like a genuine North End guy in so many ways which, when he finally stepped fully into the body language of his character, packed a whallop much heavier than the fist he so effortlessly uses on the wall instead of his adversary’s face. Mr. Rains is an undeniable talent whose dedication to this role in particular is enriched with bona fide skill in its portrayal.
The writing, directing and efforts by all are a resounding, “excellent.”