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Fringe Festival Reviews: Let’s Get Personal

It’s the final weekend of Hollywood Fringe. The Buzz reviewed three shows – Keeper, Odyssey: Race and Racism and Winona — which plumb pain to emerge triumphant.

It’s the final weekend of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and your last chance to see a Fringe show until it all comes rolling back again next June. (Keep your eyes open for Fringe Encore performances in July, specially selected by discerning judges.)

Fringe exists on a foundation of personal stories, true-life experiences that the event’s writers, performers and writer/performers have been bursting to share. Major topics include coming of age, gender identity and navigating family, romantic, health and societal nightmares. This batch of shows plumbs pain to emerge triumphant.


When Michelle Murphy fearlessly bounds onstage in a tank top and bike shorts, she’s entering third grade and headed for camp. A ball of hyperactive energy on par with Gilda Radner hosting the Judy Miller Show, she welcomes other campers and shares her tips as a seasoned veteran.

Michelle can’t understand why the other children on the bus are crying. Camp is Michelle’s favorite place in the world, a sanctuary. Home is where the pain is, along with a new dad and new baby brother. (Not that the old dad was pain-free…)

Murphy digs down into the deepest pit of her childhood memories to present a humorously harrowing portrait of a time she seems to have successfully processed. She reminds her audience why the word “honesty” is so often preceded by the word “brutal.” The truth is twisted, with abandonment, bullying, and unhealthy crutches. But once exposed to the moving spotlight that tries to keep up at her Fringe show, it, the examined truth of her path to adulthood, loses its power over her.

Solo show impresario Juliette Jeffers directs, and keeps the show tight and authentic.

Keeper is donating 100% of Fringe ticket sales to support Upstander Kids, an anti-bullying summer camp in Los Angeles.

Odyssey: Race and Racism

Playwright Levy Lee Simon is a warrior. It’s a role he had thrust on him by a world of cutting comments and unmistakable racism. Simon fights back with this compelling show, in which he shares his family’s story and his own.

Half storytelling and half an awesome spoken word piece, Odyssey, Race and Racism, also directed by Juliette Jeffers, memorializes a long and difficult, but ultimately triumphant journey—an odyssey, indeed. It starts in “Harlem USA” in the 1960s and ‘70s, during Simon’s childhood, with trips to Lee County, South Carolina, where his grandparents remain. Hearing his grandfather called “boy” by a shopkeeper sparks tales dating back into the 19th century of sharecropping, bootlegging and preaching.

Simon shares the wrenching stories of two people he knew who were killed by the police. The losses, especially of his friend Michael, remain open wounds. His encounters with racism in the workplace are chilling and, as he notes, just as damaging as what his mother endured in the Jim Crow South.

In his extensive and riveting spoken word section of the show, Simon tells the audience, “I am song and dance and tribal rhythms, a heartbeat of life, know me…I am a Black man, see me.”


Ebony Rattle and Joseph Robinson in Winona

Its own blurb calls Winona  “a sixty-minute naked shopping trolley ride through an abandoned car park decorated with bandaids on the knees and elbows from previous wounds.” It’s hard for a reviewer to come up with a more apt description than that. Confusing yet moving, awkward yet seamless, Winona both attracts and repels.

Australian duo Ebony Rattle and Joseph Robinson, both dressed in black, move around the stage with passion and chemistry. As if in a dream, they swing between knowing where they are and trying to figure out whether they even know each other. It’s a surreal world of shifting power and mood given nuance by sound designer Angelita Biscotti.

A portrayal of living with neurodiversity, Winona confronts insecurities and the inability to bond in a way that is jarring and unsettling, yet ultimately reassuring.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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