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After seeing dozens of shows each week of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Ashley Steed shares her top picks in a series called “Fringe Raw”.

by Ashley Steed

The Amitycode

Considering I just read a headline about sex robots becoming common aspects of life in less than 10 years, this play seems especially on-topic. Pete (Devin Crittenden, who writes and stars) purchases the latest sex robot from Japan and reprograms her (the robot identifies as a she) to love him. Crittenden is convincing as Pete: heartbroken, nerdy, and very impressed by his own invention. We see his hubris begin to take hold as he continues tweaking Exa, his robotic girlfriend whose sole purpose is to love him unconditionally. Morgan Matthews as the robot Exa is a marvel in this show — her voice and mannerisms never give way to human emotions, and her eyes stay mechanical as she blinks and processes the information around her all while staying focused on Pete and fulfilling his every need.

Overall this is a tightly written script that allows for dynamic development of Pete’s character in just 70 minutes. Director Nick Cimiluca keeps the pace up by using projections and loud electronic dance music to help give the transitions life. Not only is this a funny and charming play, it’s one that touches on deeper issues of love and morality. As robots and AI become more ubiquitous, this story may become even more relevant. Can The Amitycode serve as a cautionary tale? Perhaps. But knowing the human condition, we’ll probably just wipe clean and reboot our systems over and over again.

Asylum @ Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre 5636 Melrose Ave; http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4548; through June 25; running time: 70 minutes

 

In the Valley of the Shadow

Inspired by the tragic shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Katherine Cortez crafts a delicate and heart-wrenching story about identity, love and, yes, hate. The characters move seamlessly between flashbacks and the present under Elina de Santos’s sharp and fluid direction. We follow Rafi (Dylan Arnold), a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. Having been raised by ultra-conservative Christian parents, he was taught to believe homosexuality is a sin. Now, he’s fallen in love with Enrique (Ethan Rains) who has brought him to the nightclub he works at to meet his “family”. As the horrifying shooting took place, Rafi and Enrique are in opposite parts of the club.

We sit with Rafi at the police station as he nervously checks his phone and waits to hear if Enrique survived. The entire ensemble bring this tightly woven play into fully-lived depth. Perhaps the play’s greatest strength is its humour and humanity, which allows you to process the play from a place of compassion rather than from fear and anger. Which is indicative of the title — from Psalms 23:4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” May we all fear no evil.

Met Theatre 1089 N. Oxford Ave, http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4749; through June 24. Running time:  75 minutes.

 

Fire and Light

This immersive piece (with Fire at the Stephanie Feury Studio and Light at The Underground) pulls us into poetic worlds that explore love, memory, loss, and connection. I participated in the VIP experience, which offers a party bus to transport you between theaters.

Fire begins joyously. Lovers twirl and buzz around each other, seducing each other when, suddenly, they’re torn apart. Pain and despair fill the tiny room.

Light is particularly more successful in creating a unique and captivating environment. We’re brought into a tiny fort made of sheets, and huddle around a large chest. A man and woman make us tea. It’s clear that she longs for him. We sip. It is deeply touching in the simplest of ways.

Because immersive theatre is dependent upon your own experience, that’s all I’ll say. My only advice is to let it wash over you. I’m still thinking about the poetic words, the glances, the silences, the movements. The performers all deserve recognition for their unflinching commitment to their roles. Although the text is poetic, so much was said in their silences. And for intimate theatre like this, there’s no hiding.

As a side note: I believe it’s important to discuss immersive performance etiquette. We had one audience member throughout Fire making loud comments to the point of distraction. Remember when participating in a piece like this that it is a shared experience. Thus, please refrain from making unnecessary comments. You’re not being witty, or clever, or entertaining. You’re being selfish and negatively impacting others experience of the piece.

Asylum @ Underground Theatre and Stephanie Feury Studio; http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4724; Running time: 20 minutes for each piece

 

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