Reviewed by Bill Raden
How’s this for a thought experiment: If a show plays in a theater and no one bothers to see it, does it make a sound? Or better yet, in the case of Kink, playwright Bryna Chandler’s decidedly brittle and under-produced one-act comedy about the emotionally liberating aspects of bondage and domination, is that even necessarily a bad thing?
The play, an import from Reno, NV, where it officially premiered last year, comes to the Hollywood Fringe as a quintessential neophyte suitcase production. Which is to say, a production by an out-of-town director (Karen Chandler) and actors with little more than the costumes on their backs, no set to speak of, virtually no lighting or sound design, no printed programs and none of the festival networking behind it that might have delivered something even more essential for a comedy — an audience. (Apart from this critic, the performance under review was attended by a single friend of the cast’s.)
Richard (Anthony Mendoza) and Kate (Michon Chandler) are neighbors that have silently passed each other in their NYC high-rise apartment building for three years when chance and a power outage trap them together in the building’s elevator. Kate goes into a hyperventilating panic that improbably results in her stripping away Richard’s trench coat to reveal him bare-chested in a harness and leather pants.
Richard, it seems, is a sexual submissive on his way to a fetish ball, and for the next hour proselytizes to the scandalized and rather unworldly, school-marmish woman on the joys of “love without restraint.” And for a while, playwright Bryna Chandler’s epigrammatic one-liners and several rather nicely written monologue meditations on appetite and sensuality almost manage to sell the contrived situation. But rather than commit to the voyage of self-discovery that it belabors, the play invokes a surprise, albeit facile resolution that negates everything that came before it.
Creative Dream Collaboration at Actors Company; 916 N.Formosa Ave., W. Hlywd.; closed. www.Hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2079
The Dogs of War, or, That’s What Friends Are For
Reviewed by Bill Raden
Through June 28
Perhaps the last time that a neo-romanticist verse drama found both popular success and critical acclaim was Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand’s reactionary riposte to the Ibsenite naturalism and gloomy problem plays that defined the “new theater” of the Belle Époque. Since then, and particularly in the English language theater, verse dramas have been the almost exclusive domain of small poetry presses and literary journals.
So it is not without a certain degree of chutzpah that poet, composer and playwright-director James Domine debuts The Dogs of War, or, That’s What Friends Are For, his ambitious, two-act revenge tragicomedy written in both blank and rhyming verse. To Domine’s credit, the gesture is more than a mere act of exhibitionist virtuosity.
Where Cyrano was nostalgically looking backward at a French classical tradition, Domine employs it more as a linguistic means to set the stage for a dystopian future. Like the Nadstat slang spoken by the droogs in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, the verse suggests the estranged post-apocalyptic milieu of the play’s rival street gangs and corrupt criminal justice system that frames the action.
The plot is vaguely suggestive of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy by way of 1950s film noir. Femme fatale Nicole (Rebecca Honett), consumed with revenge after being spurned by gang leader Tyrone (Joe Van Auken), plots with the Merlin-like Malverde (in a fine comic performance by Matt DeHaven) to bring the street warrior down. Tyrone’s Achilles’ heel is his faith in the loyalty of his gang members, which he buys with generous loans of money. But when Nicole frames Tyrone for the murder of Valdez (Rahul Rai), a corrupt cop allied to the gang, the leader quickly learns the dubious value of such friendships.
As a poet, Domine displays a compelling lyricism and musicality that is ably delivered by an unusually strong cast (including standouts Tyler Guillory, Brandee Steger, Antonette Bracks and Collin Lee Ellis). As a director, he turns in a brisk and handsome-looking production, featuring Huntington Domine’s effective lights and some un-credited but nicely evocative ‘90s goth costuming. As a dramatist, however, Domine still needs to master the nuts and bolts of basic plotting and the ageless virtues of judicious cutting.
Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; through June 28. www.Hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2117