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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

Chimpskin

Inspired by the true story of Lucy, Chimpskin is about a chimpanzee that was raised as a human by psychoanalyst Maurice and his wife Jane Temerlin. They raised her for 11 years, and when she became too difficult to take care of, abandoned her in an African chimpanzee colony. This devised piece by the Puckwit Gang beautifuly depicts her life story through evocative movement, haunting music, and strong performances from the ensemble. Special mention is necessary for Damla Coskun as Lucy: her movements are specific and chimp-like while bringing a humanity to this creature who is eventually abandoned by her “parents.”

Director Ben Landmesser allows inventive movement to tell the story when words aren’t enough. Most effective is the use of white masks representing the wild animal (within and in the jungle). Pablo Castelblanco (who plays the son Steve and others) as the wild animal moves with such jagged precision and commitment that is both terrifying and hypnotizing. Likewise, the choreography depicting Lucy being taken away from her chimp mother at the beginning and its repetition when she’s taken from her human mother towards the end brings this emotional journey full circle. Although the middle portion could use some tightening, Landmesser and his superb ensemble have put together a powerful show that draws you in and breaks your heart. 

Los Angeles LGBT Center 1125 North McCadden Place. Running time 60 minutes. Final performance June 23. Visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4642

 

Andy: The Red-nosed Warhola

When Andy Warhol died in 1987, Ezra Buzzington (director, and godfather of the Hollywood Fringe) was inspired to create a piece based on Warhol’s writings and diaries. What he’s created is a wild exploration of a fascinating and baffling person who was rife with anxiety.

Warhol’s mother once told him, “Don’t be pushy, but let everyone know you’re around.” This mantra is evident throughout the piece.

Performed in the store window of the LA-LA Land Gallery (and surrounded by pop art), this is a perfect setting for Warhol’s words about beauty, art, sex, and consumerism. With grey hair, clad in black with dark sunglasses, Kara Emry delivers his words without emotion, leading to many humorous discoveries within the text. Buzzington cleverly incorporates two “beauties” (Krista Conti and Will McMichael), turning Warhol’s musings into trialogue. This not only highlights Warhol’s own personal contradictions and internal conflicts, but also provides a unique theatrical experience.

You may not leave the gallery with greater insight into who Andy Warhol was, but it’s a clever piece that breezes by in just 35 minutes.

La-La Land Gallery, 6450 Santa Monica Blvd. Running time 35 minutes. Two final performances June 24. Visit:  http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4782

 

Talking Blues: Two One-Acts by Cecilia Fairchild

The first of playwright and actor Cecilia Fairchild’s two one-act plays is Family Tradition. The piece centers on Joan (Claudia Elmore) – an Oklahoma native living in LA – and her relationship with her dead father whose spirit keeps haunting her. It’s a darkly poetic tale of alcohol and abuse, and how blood binds us – sometimes against our will. Darrett Sanders deftly portrays the alcoholic father Leon with such pain and anguish that it’s difficult not to sympathize with this irredeemable man. Likewise, Elmore gives a nuanced performance as Joan, the daughter who hates her father for what he’s done to her, and yet cannot cast out his spirit.

Overall the piece could be tightened, and could use to incorporate comic relief as it’s a bit too heavy to withstand for too long. Director Sam Bianchini brings a dynamic theatricality to the staging, emphasizing the play’s theme of how we can’t escape our pasts, no matter how hard we may try.

The second piece, Best of my Love, is similar in theme but different in style and tone. Childhood sweethearts who’ve been divorced for 10 years meet again at a funeral. Tyler (James Bane) was a star athlete turned alcoholic. Florence (Fairchild) realized their relationship wasn’t going anywhere and left him. A gulf of pain opens between them, and things that have gone unsaid now burst forth.

This piece lacks the theatricality and poetry of Family Tradition, and the staging is somewhat static. Numerous times the former lovers go to leave, but never fully commit to leaving. I wondered why they kept staying.

Fairchild does well to portray Florence’s frustration and headstrong personality. Bane is less believable as he’s somewhat wooden and doesn’t bring the layers of their past to life.

Los Angeles LGBT Center, 1125 North McCadden Place. Running time 90 minutes. Playing through June 25. Visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4524

 

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