Among the many benefits of a consolidated festival like Hollywood Fringe is the ability to cram attendance at several shows into one night. Even if you have a specific subgenre you are interested in — say, one-woman shows — the scheduling gods often align to facilitate an evening full to overflowing with theater. Below is one intrepid critic’s mind-expanding odyssey.
Thursday, June 16
Los Angeles public transportation proves much more efficient than I could have imagined and I arrive early at Theatre Asylum for my first show, Rock in My Pocket. As soon as I collect my ticket, I’m approached by a woman in a skin-tight blue onesie and a misshapen paper-mache head. She is all the more disturbing for being mute. I’ve yet to see a single show at the Hollywood Fringe and I’m already feeling haunted by things unusual and female.
A strikingly beautiful woman with long, dark hair and bright blue eyes takes the stage and announces that there are technical difficulties and the show will start shortly. After she exits, I notice an identical woman sitting in the row in front of me. I think hard on whether I’d dropped acid earlier in the afternoon. A quick peruse of the program eases my mind: Rock’s star Alix Angelis has an identical twin.
Rock in My Pocket begins. Posed as a deconstruction of Virginia Woolf’s emotional journey between her first attempt to take her life and her eventual self-drowning, the show uses suicide as the source for an inventive series of riffs — most of them comic — and cleverly incorporates video and even a game. Angelis, in the guise of several different women, totally commits to each incarnation of “crazy bitch.” The inherent tension underlying the topic adds resonance to small moments, including her lovely rendition of “Sitting on Top of the World.” And she creates a couple of truly lyrical moments — I think of her swoon while bathed in red light as Woolf after receiving a passionate note from her lesbian lover. Still, while entertaining in snippets, the whole work doesn’t quite gel. It’s a great platform for Angelis’s talent but a little shallow as an exploration of Woolf or suicide.
On the three-block walk to the Complex, I am followed by a passionate man who seems perturbed at just about everything. He yells random profanities at passersby human, animal, and inanimate. It is not until he is close enough to smell that I am sure he is not associated with the Fringe in any way.
Evolution of a Kiss begins. Cynthia Brinkman has a warm voice and welcoming manner. Having trained with The Groundlings and at UCB, she breaks the fourth wall easily without losing focus on the charming through-line of her show. In a trio of straightforward but rich scenes, she relates the stories of three first kisses: her grandmother’s in 1930s Mexico, her mother’s in 1960 and her own in modern-day San Diego. Watching her explore the often-hysterical complications of teenage indiscretion, I find it impossible not to fall in love with her. Her delivery conveys all the earnest honesty of young love. This will be the best show I see all night.
I run out to the corner quickie mart for Gatorade and Pop-Tarts. Dinner of champions! A fellow store patron buying a 40 says, “Crazy night, huh?” You have no idea, fella.
Maude Klochendler, an actress of French-Israeli heritage, really wants to be loved. In Rollerblading in Gaza, she relates her experience as a war room operator in Israel, a showgirl in France, and an aspiring soap opera actress in New York. Though consistently admired for her extroversion and energy, her manner — insistent, strident, loud — prevents her from making lasting connections. She finds herself wishing in vain for a two-night stand. Unfortunately, on stage as in life, Klochendler is unrelenting to a fault. Even with a few clever lines — “I spoke truth to power…or at least I wrote it on bathroom walls so they’d have to read it when they peed” — her performance is ultimately tiresome.
I check in at the box office for a ticket for my fourth show. I’m told the theater is down two doors and up the stairs. What? Are there like a dozen performance spaces around here? I’m told, with an undertone of “Well, duh,” that yes in fact there are.
Actress Janet Chamberlain putters around a series of long tables set out with all sorts of ingredients and cooking gear. At center stage, steam rises from a kettle on a small tabletop stove. She interacts cheerfully with the crowd as her character, Anneli Olafson, praising one patron’s Teletubbies T-shirt in her Midwestern accent. The feeling is more living room than theater.
“Okay, I think we can get started,” Olafson says and her assembly of Smorgasbord: A Cooking Show begins. Over the next hour plus, she will create an actual meal with goulash, fruit salad, and fudge, dispensing cooking tips that double as recommendations for life (Point #7: Be Flexible). But Olafson has some unburdening to do and, between stirring and chopping, an image of a fairly disturbing childhood growing up in Minnesota with five siblings emerges. Chamberlain stops short of parody in her plainspoken-ness and creates some poignant moments, particularly in her depiction of Anneli’s relationship with her little sister. As theater, the piece never provides a full accounting of Anneli — what she has done since leaving her family, for instance. But the deficiencies are soothed by the meal that is shared with the audience at the show’s end. The fudge, in particular, is delicious.
I stumble into the night, stuffed to overflowing with food and theater. I walk to the bus stop, watching pockets of hipster-looking folks greeting each other and talking. The vibrancy in the streets is delightful.
Riding the 704 back downtown, it occurs to me that each of the four one-woman shows I saw was directed by a man. This fact derails any notion I had that the seeming abundance of these kinds of shows is emblematic of women taking control of their stories and their artistic expression. What else it might connote will have to be considered after some sleep.
I bolt awake after a dream about a woman roller-skating around a kitchen wearing a blue bodysuit. I vow to catch some nice show about the apocalypse tomorrow.