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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 Kansas Collection

Immersive theatre is best when you go in blind, so if you’ve already experienced chapters 1 (The Key) and 2 (The Axe) of The Kansas Collection by LA-based immersive company The Speakeasy Society, or if you’re on the fence, then read on.

I’m sure I looked like a fish out of water — I couldn’t stop grinning. Which isn’t exactly the typical face someone makes when being recruited into a militia. I entered a colourful tent on the edge of a town in Kansas, where I learned that Dorothy left Oz long ago and that the Scarecrow is the new king. But there’s mutiny afoot with the rise of a group called the Patchwork Rebellion. Everyone is searching for the Patchwork Girl (aka Dorothy) and it’s up to you to decide who you believe and where your allegiance lies.

Lead writer Chris Porter and Director Julianne Just have taken the beloved characters from L. Frank Baum’s children’s novels and created a rich, dark world for adults. Throughout, the actors are superb, making you feel fully immersed in the world.

There are different experiences based on how you respond. As for myself, I made a pledge to the Scarecrow King. Or did I? On my journey I met the Wizard of Oz (who sat self-medicating with a flask) and was given a secret message. I was then rounded up with three others by General Jinjur where we were informed of the Revolt, led by former good witch Glinda (who is a BAMF). They, too, want Dorothy.

If immersive theatre makes you nervous, Speakeasy Society has created an alternative reality experience that is digestible for the uninitiated. Yes, you do need to actively participate, but the world they’ve created is easily accessible as long as you’re game.

Chapters 1 and 2 are already sold out. However, you can get up to speed with leaflets at Chapter 3 (The Door) which is on later this month and early July. For more information visit: http://speakeasysociety.com/upcoming-the-key-

 

SPACE or The Number of Nothing

A rescue ship has been dispatched to the edges of the solar system in search of the missing ship Cressida. After going through an emergency simulation, the rescue ship Troilus’ AI AUTi begins to go awry, and communication to Earth goes down. Writers Lucas Dean Peterson and Ethan Leaverton have created a unique sci-fi story which delves into isolation and paranoia. That being said, more work is needed on the script. There are multiple underdeveloped characters and a superfluous love story. The most interesting part of the story is the ship’s technician Colby (played by Leaverton, who carries the play) and his interaction with the AI (voiced by Ashley Gong). The surprise ending is superb, but the play has plenty of missed opportunities leading up to it.

This is a play (and group of young artists) that have great potential. Darrin Bush’s video design is a highlight. Although Nicklaus von Nolde’s direction is efficient, I longed for more nuanced and thematic transitions as the play’s pace suffered from excessive blackouts. I hope Peterson and Leaverton continue to develop the script. They might also consider a production with a more mature cast (as it’s hard to suspend belief that these young people would be sent on a rescue mission).

Asylum @ McCadden Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place. Runtime 60 minutes. Plays till June 25, http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4457

 

There’s No Place Like

Having moved from London back to LA on the day my UK visa expired, I couldn’t help but empathize with Hannah (Lilac Yosiphon, who also wrote the play), an Israeli woman who once taught music but now works as a barmaid in London while “in-between visas.” In walks Jordan (Sam Elwin, who wrote the music), a 21-year-old British man who, after losing his job, wonders if he should move back home. “Home is where the pub is,” says Hannah. She wants to make London her home, even if governmental red tape makes it difficult for her. Their connection is immediate and sincere as they both open up about their lives and hopes. The play then jumps forward ten years. Jordan has moved on and built a life, while Hannah seems to be in stasis. Her once giggly charm has been worn down with life’s disappointments.

This is a simple and charming story that’s all too relevant in Brexit Britain and, here, in “Build a Wall”/“Travel Ban” America. Because of its simplicity and pub setting, this would have been perfect if staged at a pub or bar (Three Clubs for example). Yosiphon is captivating as the younger Hannah and impressively transforms into an older Hannah whose optimism has dwindled. Likewise, Elwin delights as the young and curious Jordan, and although he’s not quite as believable ten years older he does bring an endearing naivete.

There’s only one performance left here in Los Angeles, then the company is traveling down to the San Diego Fringe.  Asylum @ Underground Theatre, 1312 N. Wilton Place. Final performance June 22, visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4758

 

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