Hollywood Fringe: Sixth Avenue’s Fact & Fiction

Fact & Fiction sets out to do exactly what it intends. It blurs the line between truth and fiction, sometimes The first half, a first-hand personal account of a playwright’s adventures in South America at the age of 17 slowly starts to unfold as he reads from a journal that he kept while staying there. It’s part confessional and coming out story as told by William Nedved, a young exchange student in Brazil. Mostly read directly from his journal, plays out like a stand-up comedy routine. It feels unrehearsed and honest. The second portion of the show features Adam Silver playing Adam Silver. He narrates a near-harrowing experience that takes him from Chicago to Los Angeles. Stalked by an unnerving filmmaker in Chicago, they meet up again by chance on the Redline underneath the City of Angels. Events become more and more unrealistic, while Adam reassures us that, indeed, it is a true story – so true that it almost borders on fiction.

What is interesting about Sixth Avenue’s inaugural production is that it plays with an audience’s perception of what a play should be. This is not a passive show, as one must constantly ask, “What’s going on What’s the catch?” Well, the catch is that events as they occur are never what they seem in retrospect. There is one side and then there is the other, and both are neither right nor wrong. A memory is shaped by our emotional state at the time of the event and can really change over time. In the end, we’re left with questions rather than answers. Especially when the two completely unrelated events are contradicted at one point during the show.

Nedved’s performance, while seemingly unrehearsed and uncomfortable (he is a playwright and not an actor, after all) fits in perfectly with Silver’s polished monologue. In the end, these very simple narratives seep into our consciousness and leave us lost in thought.

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Bash’d A Gay Rap Opera at Celebration Theatre

An all-rap opera would seem a bit of an odd choice for musical theatre – even a gay one. But when you consider that any number of rap incarnations date back a few centuries and that it draws closer to its political roots, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that theatre and rapping would eventually cross paths to tell this story.

Although BASH’d isn’t a new concept, it is an ideal choice for this call to arms to our gay community to stand up and take action. The action, of course, is that of gay marriage – no less a hot button issue right now, both in the U.S. and in Canada, where this piece originated.

Written by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckrow, the piece is loosely based on the escalation of hate crimes in Alberta, Canada during the gay marriage debate of 2005. You could say that it borrows from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a Romeo-on-Romeo twist.

This is a wonderful and joyous production from Celebration theatre, although it is not for those who still think theatre is a passive sporting event, and it is definitely not for those who proclaim theater’s demise whenever a younger generation finds a new voice and a new way to tell familiar stories.

Even before the show begins, DJ Jedi spins his beats to an enthusiastic audience. By the time the show starts, the crowd is in a festive mood. Feminem (Sean Bradford) and T-Bag (Chris Ferro) take the stage, Greek chorus-style, to introduce us to Jack and Dillon (played by the same actors respectively.) These characters are, indeed star cross’d lovers as they meet at a club, fall in love, eventually get married, and then face the realities of hate crimes.

Along the way, the play offers up plenty of laughs, in particular, the extremely funny bit that takes place at the clubs where T-Bag and Femimen nail (no pun intended) every gay stereotype they run into. Twink to hairy bear, no stereotype is left unscathed. Minimal props Michael O’Hara) and costumes (Naila Aladdin Sanders) is all that is needed to adorn this world.

BASH’d is well executed from start to finish. The rap is in your face and loud (as it should be) as it takes us on a humorous journey, but with some serious turns in just the right direction. Neither pandering or playing for melodrama, Bradford and Ferro take us on an honest emotional journey. The music (by Aaron Macri) is evocative of one such white rapper with those tight raps and Ferro is eerily reminiscent of Eminem.

Politically, this rap opera is just as aggressive in message as are those prominent rappers from whom they borrow. As African-America rappers have reclaimed the N-word for themselves, so too have we been commanded to take “faggot” and make it our own. It’s an extreme objective to be sure, but not one so far-fetched considering the extent to which our own civil rights have been violated.

Director/choreographer Ameenah Kaplan knows his way around the Celebration stage and employs Evan Bartoletti’s set, consisting of boxes that double as an urban landscape, to firmly plant us into this world of gay love and hetero hate. Bradford and Ferro switch seamlessly into multiple characters with little effort and inventive choreography. It goes to show that having a young and energetic cast need not be peppered with gratuitous nudity to draw in a West Hollywood crowd… At least, not anymore.

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On a bittersweet note this is Matthew A. Shepperd’s last show before stepping down as Artistic Director of Celebration. His challenge — distancing his company from the success of Naked Boys Singing!, which made Celebration West Hollywood’s go to theatre for nudie-boy plays — ends on a high note.

He set out to take this theatre in a new direction. This gutsy production is a fine example of his taking the risk of failure by challenging a proven formula, and triumphing.

Performances through July 23 at Celebration Theater, 7051 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. For tickets, go to http://www.celebrationtheatre.com/onstage.html.

Film: Interview with Andrew Rossi and Times Reporter David Carr

Follow the link below or click on image to read an exclusive interview with director Andrew Rossi and New York Times Reporter David Carr. In Rossi’s film Page One: Inside the New York Times, the director chronicles the transformation of the media industry at its time of greatest turmoil. Andrew Rossi and New York Times’ intrepid media reporter, David Carr, shed some light on the future of online journalism.

Page One: Inside The New York Times

HF: The Sum of My Parts at Elephant Studio Stage Theatre

The cool thing about the Fringe Festival here in Hollywood is that everyone who is willing to put it out there has a voice. Michael Mullen is trying to get his voice heard because his story is a little different than most stories. The Sum of My Parts is Mullen’s one-man monologue – a quest, if you will, to find his identity. You see, Mr. Mulligan believes that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. As he talks about his youth growing up in Texas under attack from homophobes in school and an ultra-religious mother, he takes us on his personal journey from Texas, to Boston, to the Southwest, and finally, to Los Angeles – a place where everyone is accepted, whether they like it or not.

Mullen’s journey to womanhood, as you will, is not an easy one. Not even after arriving in Hollywood. This is not a singular story, but The Sum of My Parts is definitely a touching one. Part confessional and part stand up comedy routine, this show captures the essence of Michael Mullen as a young performer not so much seeking an identity but seeking acceptance. His one-man show is inspired by his video “I Feel Like A Woman,” which was recognized as an official honoree at the 2010 Webby Awards for “Public Service and Activism.” He tells of playing with dolls as a kid and playing dress up in his mother’s closet. With self-effacing humor, Mullen takes jabs at himself and those who have caused him pain. The minimal set consisting of store mannequins decked out in fabulous garb provide the necessary props and costumes for him to transform himself into any character he wishes. On the small stage, Mullen is larger than life, occasionally making eye contact with the audience. His story is compelling enough and the themes are universal despite the specificity of his plight.

Is the show perfect? No. But then again, it doesn’t have to be. For sure, it is a work in progress, since Mr. Mullen looks to be far too young to have lived a full life that is rife with anecdotes and the secrets to life. When it works, he is a soul bared on stage, vulnerabilities and all. The pure honesty fills the stage and affects everyone in the audience. The Sum of My Parts works well as a monologue because it is written from an honest place as opposed to written for the stage to be interchangeably performed by any actor. That is its strength. At its worst, it is a work in progress that is not too far off the mark. With a few more years and some more self-reflection, it can only get better. Perhaps this time it will be told by a woman? It remains to be seen. In the meantime, this show is a life-affirming kick off to the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

The 2011 Hollywood Fringe Festival Coverage

I am really excited to be covering the 2nd Annual Hollywood Fringe Festival. After what has been perceived as a disastrous theatre community by skeptics here in Los Angeles as well as throughout the rest of the U.S., it is a sigh of relief that LA is finally fighting back. I firmly believe that there is a viable theatre community right in the heart of the movie world. As Neil LaBute stated in the past, theatre in Los Angeles has taken a back seat to its glitzier, wealthy cousins Film and Television.

I can only hope that the tide has turned at last. With close to 200 artistic groups and over 800 performances, workshops, exhibitions, and events throughout central Hollywood, there is certainly a lot of theatre going on.

I will be covering as much as I can cover this year. Please follow my reviews and comment if you have attended any performances. I would love to hear from those theatre goers who enjoyed a great performance.

The Old Settler at International City Theatre

With nearly the poignancy of a Tennessee Williams drama, John Henry Redwood’s “The Old Settler”, now onstage at the International City Theatre in Long Beach touches on all the aspects of a good old-fashioned love story.

The play — based in part on Redwood’s family history — tells the story of two older sisters who share a walk-up in 1940s Harlem. They live as comfortably as any black woman could live in that era in that city. Social issues of the time are certainly addressed in the play, but at the heart of it, this is a love story.

But this is no syrupy confection of fairy tale romances and happy endings; Redwood’s well-balanced play juggles comedy and serious undertones of reality into a complete drama, providing a very satisfying evening at the theatre.

Elizabeth (Veralyn Jones) is an older woman who’s never been married. In Harlem patois, she’s an “old settler,” a woman who’s reached the age of 30 without getting married and without any romantic prospects for the future.

Her sister Quilly ((Karen Malina White) isn’t faring so well, either. Though she’s been married before, her husband has run off with another woman, leaving her alone. When Elizabeth takes in a boarder of similar circumstance – a young man from South Carolina – Quilly objects openly to the arrangement.

Called merely “Husband,” the young man (Ryan Vincent Anderson) seems naïve – a good old country boy in the big city in search of a girlfriend who ran off to New York for the seductions of bright lights and endless possibility. He’s in for a rude awakening when he finds that his girl, Lou Bessie (Tarina Pouncy) has changed her name and is running around with an unsavory Harlem crowd.

Though their relationship starts out platonically, Elizabeth and Husband seem perfect for each other, even given the wide gap in ages. The relationship blooms, testing the bond between the sisters, who share a past that drove them apart once before, eight years earlier.

Jones and White are pitch-perfect as sisters, enjoying a wide range of affection for one another on stage. Jones is more reserved but playful while White takes the witty lines and owns them as if they popped right out of her head on the spot. Though Jones and White enjoy comedic turns, the real comedy comes from Anderson and Pouncy, who play backwoods naiveté perfectly.

Thanks to Caryn Desai’s tight hold on the script, the characters move about freely and unrestrainedly. Although the play takes place in the gritty world of Harlem, the set by Kurt Boetcher (complete with laundry hanging across fire escapes) has a pristine quality that never really gives us a feeling of actually being there, but then again, Redwood’s bittersweet seeks only to evoke a bygone era that, in the abstract, makes us yearn for a simpler time.

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