By Anthony Byrnes
It’s June – which for Los Angeles intimate theater means it’s time for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Now, if you’ve never done the fringe, it’s a bit like doing a tasting menu with a drunk chef. Everything happens quickly, some things are brilliant, some experiments are catastrophes, and almost everything goes better with a wine pairing.
The idea behind the Hollywood Fringe, like most Fringe festivals, is quantity and compression. It’s a lot of small shows (many less than an hour), playing out over a couple of miles of Hollywood, and scheduled so you can see 2 or 3 shows in the same day. The fun of the fringe is, like that tasting menu, not the single remarkable thing but the variety of things one after another. To really get that experience, you need to make a day of it – or at least a full evening – and see at least 3 shows.
Now picking those shows can be a bit of a chore. There’s the sheer quantity of shows and variety of times — and the Fringe program is something of graphic design nightmare – offering little more clarity than an ancient white pages.
So how do you pick? First a couple of my personal rules.
Never see two solo shows back to back – unless you’re a licensed therapist. Ditto clown shows. Try to have a backup bar plan for every show and don’t be afraid to leave something terrible. Fake a coughing fit if you must – but life is short and fringe shows are cheap.
In short – it’s a bit like putting together a cheese plate. A little stinky is okay – but too much and the whole thing’s a mess. Start with something that catches your fancy and build around that. Let time slots be your guide.
I’d suggest you start with the Burglars of Hamm. They are a longtime LA company with just the right balance of sophistication and snark for a fringe festival.
Their show “Easy Targets” plays on how unbelievably self-indulgent and absurd some solo shows can be and turns it into the theatrical equivalent of a carnival dunk tank. The one hour show has four monologues that all suck in their own way but are performed by talented actors who are in on the joke and relish poking fun at every overused trope. The fun comes with the socks. For a quarter you can buy a balled up pair of socks that you can then throw at the performers like a rotten tomato. Aristotle spoke of theater being built around catharsis – I’m not sure sweat socks is what he had in mind – but I think he would have enjoyed flinging a sock or two at these performances.
Their other show is actually far more serious. They’ve unearthed an unperformed script from the great Lars Matsun – a playwright who really more than Strindberg has defined the last century of drama. Okay, not really but go along with the idea – it pays off. It’s called “RESA FANTASTIKT MYSTISK" and it’s the antidote for every overly wrought directorial nightmare you’ve ever sat through. Even if you’re not going in for the fringe experience – this is a show worth laughing with.
The Hollywood Fringe plays throughout Hollywood through June 24th.