Our last day of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) was also musical free. The day brought us a sandwich: two excellent shows (Transition and Bachelorette by Leslye Headland) with something barely palatable (Khant Hotel) in the middle.
Unlike our two previous Trump-related outings (Zombie Clown Trump and Trump in Space), Transition (non-HFF website), written by Ray Richmond (FB), is a somewhat serious voice of protest. It was written by a journalist fed up with the results of the November election. He sensed that there was both dramatic and comedic potential that explored the first closed door meeting between President Obama and President-Elect Trump after the election, especially given the personal history between the two men. The result was a semi-serious two-person show that actually opened well before the Fringe (back in March 2017), and that reminds me of one of my favorite TV shows that was resurrected as a staged reading series, Meeting of Minds, or an excellent theological exploration called Discord: The Gospel According to Jefferson, Darwin, and Tolstoy (JDT Project). There was, however, one yuuuge difference between Meeting of Minds and the JDT Project and Transition: in the first two, there was more than one intellectual in the room. In Transition, there is one intellectual and a narcissistic businessman.
The discussion in Transition is wide ranging, and attempts to cover many of the serious topics that a President-Elect would need to deal with, from the Middle East to Healthcare to the role of a President to proper national security to …. you get the idea. President Obama diligently wants to brief Trump on all these issues so he will be prepared. Trump, however, wishes there was more gold in the White House. He wants to rearrange the walls to make the rooms larger, more like Mar-A-Lago. He is more interested in trotting out campaign rhetoric and right-wing talking lines. The only way President Obama can get him to listen at all is to play into his game and to his ego, until the President has enough. It is really a great telling example of the different in temperament between the two men. Although I too am dismayed that such a man was taking over the office of President, I found this fascinating in a “What have we done?” kind of way.
The two lead actors — Joshua Wolf Coleman (FB) as President Obama and Harry S. Murphy (FB) as President-Elect Trump — may not look 100% like the persons they are portraying. But they are close enough, and they have the mannerisms and the voice down sufficiently to be believable as them. As the play goes on, your disbelief is suspended and they become the two men. It is a remarkable portrayal. Trevor Alkazian (FB) provides a supporting role as Randall, the White House intern/assistant.
This is a play that I strongly recommend that people see — whether in the Fringe incarnation or subsequent public or private productions. The message it conveys about the man this country elected in 2017 is chilling in an absurdist way, because, indeed, absurdity is in the Oval Office. For anyone that loves Meeting of Minds, for anyone that loved JDT, for anyone that loves great political dialogue — this is the play for you.
At the conclusion of the play, the rapper Dylan presents an original rap song, “The Divide”, that summarizes where this country is today — divided.
Transition was directed by Lee Costello (FB), who kept the pace quick and the characters believable. This was supported by Kate Bergh (FB)’s costumes and Fritz Davis‘s videos. Shelia Dorn designed Mr. Trump’s wig. Other production credits: David B. Marling (FB) – Sound Design; Kiff Scholl (FB) – Graphic Design; Erica Lawrence (FB) – Stage Manager; Danny Crisp (FB) – Running Crew. Transition was originally produced by Racquel Lehrman (FB) and Theatre Planners.
Our second play, Khant Hotel, had such potential. The description of the show had a lot of promise: “Taking a vacation and staying at a hotel should be a luxury experience. Trying to maximize profit, Ka Hotels have taken a page from the airlines’ customer service handbook. This is the story of Livia’s stay at a Ka hotel. The poor treatment she receives leads her to seek the hotel’s owner, Mary. Persuaded to change the way the hotel operates, Mary breaks away from Ka Hotels. Mary’s new Khant Hotel treats Livia better. Her stay is more enjoyable, until it’s over.”
The promise of this show was dashed, however, from the beginning where there was a scene about a meek female engineer who must pass the “Pro E” exam in 24 hours, with no preparation, or lose her job. Unfortunately for the author (who was also the writer, director, and lead actress), Lindsey Blackman, both my wife and I are engineers, we know about the process of becoming a Professional Engineer, and we know numerous female engineers — none of whom are as meek and as milquetoast as the character portrayed on stage. Further, we are both of the belief that female engineers must be portrayed as a noble calling™, something that encourages other women to come into the field. This portrayal did none of that. The most galling aspect, however, is that the author, seemingly has an engineering degree and should have known better. In fact, her day job was once as an engineer and she should have known what PEs are like. Hint: Try talking to some of the wonderful folks at the Society of Women Engineers. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the folks behind the sponsoring organization for the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security)
But that wasn’t the only problem with this show. The premise itself was simplistic and problematical. The notion was that hotels would start charging like airlines for every little service: fee for a key, fee for the elevator, fee for the stairs, three in a cramped room, unexpected bumping for higher priority passengers. A reasonable extrapolation, but the execution was poor. Furthermore, the production was poor. There was far too much on the stage, far too much rearrangement — so much so, that actors were bumping into props all the time. Sight lines were blocked by props and stage pieces. This production really needs a lot of work.
The actors did the best with the material they had. In addition to Lindsey Blackman in the lead, the acting team consisted of Jill Czarnowski (FB), Jennifer Wilson, John Siscel (FB), Jessica Dowdeswell (FB★, FB), Thang, Alex Dorcean (FB), Robin Stepanek (FB) and Cody Shampine. I’d give you character names, but the only form of “program” was a postcard with a picture of the actors. Hint: If one of the purposes of Fringe is to get seen and get exposure, than it is critical to respect your actors by providing their information to audience members.
The production was directed by Lindsey Blackman. The Fringe page gives no other credits, such as stage manager.
Sunday’s production was the last performance of Khant Hotel. About the only thing good that I can say about the piece is that it wasn’t at the level of Robot Monster – The Musical. There was at least a reasonable idea in Khant Hotel, however poorly executed. In the right hands, that seed of an idea could have been turned into something much more humorous and realistic. Alas, poor Robot Monster didn’t even have that.
Our final Fringe production was Bachelorette, written by Leslye Headland. This was another show where we were drawn in by the Fringe description: “Ten years out of high school, Regan, Gena and Katie convene in the luxurious bridal suite of their old friend, Becky, the night before her wedding in New York City. Fueled by jealousy and resentment, the girls embark on a night of debauchery that goes from playfully wasted to devastatingly destructive. Their old fears, unfulfilled desires and deep bonds with each other transform a prenuptial bender into a night they’ll never forget. A wicked black comedy about female friendship and growing up in an age of excess.”
As the production started, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. There were a bunch of beautiful (at least in looks) women, downing liquor, trashing personal property of a friend, snorting coke, smoking pot, popping pills…. while at the same time insulting their “fat” friend who was about to get married to a very rich man. In fact, much of the play was setting up the conflict between these women, and demonstrating how pointless and meaningless their lives had become. There was really nothing important between them; even their friendships were discarded when it wasn’t convenient.
Yet, when I was just about to write the play off and just enjoy the eye candy, it suddenly acquired a remarkable meaning and depth — in fact, a depth that made this one of the best things I saw during Fringe. At the end, the true friendships were discovered, inner strengths were found, and destructive personalities were exposed for what they are. The characters who were made fun of for the bulk of the play or dismissed turned out to be the real people, and the popular folks from high school days — well, they got their comeuppance.
This play formed an interesting trilogy with the other plays with similar themes — The ABCs and Reasons to be Pretty — demonstrating what true beauty is, what true strength is. It isn’t always what society views as conventional; it isn’t always the popular image of what is beautiful. It is the inner strength, the inner confidence, the whole person. It is a beauty that the lead in Khant Hotel should have possessed, but didn’t.
The performances in this were top-notch. Our popular drug-using girls were played by Skyler Patton (FB) as Gena, Julia Coulter (FB) as Regan, and Amy Huckabay (FB) as Katie. Their dates were Steven Cohen/FB as Joe and Jalil Houssain (FB) as Jeff. The bride-to-be, Becky, was played by Amie Hobson (FB). I especially enjoyed the performances of Coulter, Huckabay, and Cohen; they were just remarkable.
The production was directed by Matt Chupack (FB), with co direction by Skyler Patton (FB). Costumes were by Mallory Evelyn (FB). Lighting and sound design was by Stacey Abrams, who was also likely the stage manager. Bachelorette was produced by Skyler Patton (FB) and Julia Coulter (FB).
Unlike most Fringe shows, you haven’t missed this show. It was chosen to be part of the Fringe Encore series, and will have two more performances in July. Information should be available on the show’s ticketing page.
And that’s it — that’s Fringe 2017. We saw a total of 17 shows over the month of June. What was the best? I think it was a toss up between the last plays: Bachelorette, The ABCs, Reasons to be Pretty, and Transition. Also strong were the two reviews, Slightly Off Broadway and Hello Again. My wife’s favorite was Conversations ’bout the Girls. All in all, a good Fringe.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July brings Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB). August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.
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