Bike Odyssey LA
Through June 14.
“This is your city. Welcome home.”
Sometimes traversing the large urban sprawl that is Los Angeles can feel like an odyssey in and of itself – that is why this walking-tour performance Bike Odyssey LA, which takes Homer’s Odyssey and fuses it with Los Angeles, works so well.
We are greeted by a collection of characters who take us on our journey where we meet Odysseus (Jesse Sirkus-Brown), triumphant in the Trojan War and ready to return home. After a sacrifice of kale to the gods, we are given our sailor names and begin our long journey throughout Hollywood. We literally stop traffic to cross the raging seas (aka Santa Monica Blvd.), get caught in a storm, write poetry and drink wine, battle the Cyclops (Vanessa Conlon) built out of a car and road cone, meet Circe (Bree Cardenas), a Hollywood starlet who turns some of the sailors into pigs, and tie Odysseus to a bike so he can sail past the Sirens. After entering the gates of hell by sharing a personal obstacle, we traverse into the land of the dead (where a random woman walking down the street joined us for a bit), and share stories of LA with the Venice Beach lotus-eaters before finally returning home (to the theater) where Odysseus is reunited with his wife Penelope (Linda Ravenswood).
The entire journey is an epic poem to and about Los Angeles. It’s clear that director Brian Sonia-Wallace (who also conceived the show) and his ensemble love this city through their use of history and humor. They blend gang wars, gentrification, hipsters, USC, Hollywood, the 1992 riots, immigration and more into the Greek tale, making it a truly unique story of LA in all of its complicated facets.
The bold ambition of this project is commendable; however, there is still a lot of developing, refining, and fine-tuning that needs to be done. At times the audience participation feels clunky and forced, which takes you out of the experience. It would be nice to have the participation come more organically from the story – which also needs more fleshing out. Since it is such a condensed adaptation, we never really get the expansive and exhaustive arch of Odysseus’s journey home.
Overall, the ensemble is engaging, energetic and enchanting. As we move from place to place on our journey, they create a tribal soundscape, interweaving voices – something that could be developed with more specificity to the story. There’s also some inventive and playful staging. The ensemble want to make sure that we all feel safe and comfortable on this journey together, thus the use of humor in the beginning (and throughout) works well in getting the audience primed to partake of the wine (both metaphorically and literally).
This piece was developed with cycling as part of the experience. Since the Fringe perfs are walking tours, I will definitely try their cycling shows in the post-Fringe Festival future and look forward to seeing how the project continues to develop.—Ashley Steed
Schkapf, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., Sat., June 14, 1 p.m.,
Through June 29
Those who have fond memories of this 1959 musical will likely find much to enjoy in Good People Theater Company’s production. Audiences coming to it fresh (such as myself) might miss the rush of nostalgia but should still be pleasantly entertained.
The Fantasticks is a remake of Edmond Rostand’s Les Romanesques, about next-door neighbors Matt (Matt Franta) and Luisa (Audrey Curd), whose fathers conspire to get them to fall in love, and how the world conspires to pull them apart.
Curd captures Luisa’s sense of romantic mania perfectly, and she delivers a charming version of the song “Much More.” Franta is a bit bland as Matt, but he and Curd offer a nice duet in “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.” Matt Stevens and Michael P. Wallot are both amusing in their comedic roles, and Joey D’Auria is very funny as the forgetful old actor Henry. Christopher Karbo, unfortunately, doesn’t quite bring the necessary brio to the narrator El Gallo, although his singing voice is strong.
Director Janet Miller does a lot with a little. Her staging adds a lively energy to numbers such as “Never Say No.” The decision to bring in harpist Jillian Risigari-Gai reaps musical dividends, adding to the story’s magical feeling. — Terry Morgan
Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1513?
Angels and Whiskey
The Actors Company
Through June 27
In this dense and interesting one act by Joshua Thomas, someone named John (Bruce Cervi) finds himself in a bar, with the maddening sensation of downing the very same drink over and over again. In walks a well-spoken stranger (Thomas) – the Devil as it turns out – come to enlighten John on his peculiar status as a spirit lodged in his own personal corner of Heaven. Trouble is, John feels he’s in Hell. With Lucifer doing most of the talking, they engage in a discourse about faith and the lack of it, actions and their consequences, the world as we know it and the Hereafter. After a few drinks, even Lucifer himself expresses doubts and resentments.
Thomas, who also directs, is a charismatic presence as the erudite Dark Angel, a companionable dude who’d be fun to hang with were it not for his ulterior motives. Cervi and Daniel J. Parker as a cryptic bartender do fine, but they are upstaged. It’s evident their performances and the production as a whole would benefit from a third eye.—Deborah Klugman
Dusty Bums Productions at The Actors Company, 950 N. Formosa Ave., www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1632.
Through June 27
Solo performer Kristopher Lee Bicknell focuses on the work of lesser known playwrights throughout the centuries, performing material which for one reason or another has become obscure. This conceit is part of a sly game involving co-writers directors Sean Dillon and Curtis Krick.
As a commentary of forgery and plagiarism, the piece is a walloping success: The performance itself is a bit less impressive, showcasing a developing talent rather than a mature one. When, at one point, Bicknell the performer seems to be having a breakdown, the effect is unconvincing, then annoying (enough with the artistic angst!) then confusing. Ultimately, the show unwinds like a complex exercise in an acting class, albeit a more advanced one.—Deborah Klugman
Vespertine Productions at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1768?details
Four Tree Plays
Through June 29
The quartet of short plays benefits from a versatile ensemble and some amusing writing but suffers from a somewhat random raison d’être.
Nicolas Hoover’s “Seeking Still” is the slightest of the lot, with four different types of trees using an Internet dating service. Leilani Marie Smith brings charm and vivacity as a Valley Girl-esque apple tree. “Tree Counsel” by Stina Pederson is the most dramatic offering, concerning the meeting of lonely, religious Ralph (Whit Spurgeon) and archeologist Candace (Smith) at a forest dig. Spurgeon is quietly unnerving as Ralph, creating doubts as to the character’s motives, but the story ultimately doesn’t add up to much after considerable buildup.
Brendan Weinhold and Spencer Seibert’s “Sophistree” is the most successful of the pieces, wherein a suicidal tree (Dawn Alden) tells nature activist Keith (Weinhold) that she wants to be cut down. Alden has a strong comedic presence as the blunt tree, and the play is funny until an overwrought conclusion. Jennie Fahn’s “Does it Make a Sound?” rounds out the production, a cute sketch about a squirrel’s love for a tree, and Weinhold scores as a seductive feline. — Terry Morgan
Ray Burley Productions at Schkapf, 6567 Santa Monica Blvd., https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1508?
These reviews are offered via a partnership between L.A. Weekly and Stage Raw. To maximize coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the two publications are sharing reviews and funding responsibilities. Stage Raw is an Emerge Project of the Pasadena Arts Council, with other funding coming from a combination of advertising and individual donors. For the L.A. Weekly, please visit www.laweekly.com
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