The Fringe community is fading back into Southern California and beyond. Most of the plays have ended their runs and the Broadwater Plunge bar at the Broadwater Theatre complex is no longer packed to capacity. This is encore season, with select shows invited back for extra performances. And even though June gloom has finally given way to sunny skies, there’s a tinge of Autumn in the air, the sense of an ending.
Against this backdrop, I took in four more shows. Although they’re now over, all still bear memorializing.
Two of the Encores were well-crafted and involving solo shows by women with complicated lives and unique perspectives. I found myself wanting to hug each of the performers after hearing their stories. (I had already hugged Homeless Romantic Tony Bartolone after his show, and had decided to try and control myself a little better.)
Lebanese Debutante traces the teen years of Syrian-American Catholic girl Christine Farah. She’s an only child in the 1990s living in Newport Beach with her father. Where’s her mother? Well, it’s complicated.
Farah has lofty goals: supermodel or sex worker. Her bible is by the Mayflower Madam, which she quotes from, sprawled across her bed in her Catholic school plaid miniskirt. That crazy book is only one of what feels like dozens of cultural touchpoints of the time, including the John Robert Powers Modeling School, Jean Naté and countless terrible songs, TV shows and movies. (Okay, a few good ones, too. But no one ever called out the ‘90s for its cultural achievements.)
The heart of the story is the debutante ball of the title, held by the St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Finding a dress! Finding a date! The expectations meeting the reality! It’s deliciously awkward and painful, raw and hilarious. Amanda Sitko directs.
Alexandra Ryan’s Will the Real Me Please Stand Up has more pain and less hilarity. As she says at the beginning, she covers “complicated themes, like grief and, you know, life.”
Ryan’s theme is her confusion over the advice to be herself. She can’t figure out who she is because she’s too busy being who everyone else wants her to be. She has to be sparkly with her rage-aholic dad, building a laughter safety shield that doesn’t always hold up. She becomes addicted to getting people to laugh to avoid abandonment mirroring her parents’ divorce when she was three.
Ryan creates two different personalities she can hide inside to protect herself. And that’s before she is struck by the lightning of loss, like a tree split in two. Even then, she manages to find humor, such as noting what not to say to someone undergoing intense grief:
“Why the sad face?”
“I feel so sorry for you.”
“My sister has cancer and talking to you reminded me I have to call her.”
Solo show doyenne Juliette Jeffers directs this melding of pathos, self-discovery and near-comedy. It’s a lot to take in, beautifully packaged.
Soundtrip won several Fringe awards, including Best Immersive & Games. And it is indeed immersive, involving the audience and technology in nontraditional ways. It feels more gimmicky than groundbreaking, though.
There are three stories, each told by two audience members being fed their lines through headphones. All audience members also wear headphones, and can choose to hear the lines being fed, stage directions, and/or the lines coming out of the newly appointed actors’ mouths. Adjusting the headphones among three selections controls what’s heard.
The stories, by Soundtrip company members Katy Dore (“Reunion”), Ali Imran Zaidi (“Whisperer”) and Bailey Williams & Alex Hanno (“The Showcase”) allow for a range of experiences and are well-served by the format.
It was impressive to see how audience members with no familiarity with the lines took to them so well. Even though they were merely repeating what they heard, they added emotion, expression, and movement that was all their own. It might be that being in Hollywood–and the Hollywood Fringe–meant an audience peppered with actors inclined to volunteer for this experiment. They embrace their roles, even dancing as if they’d been training for this since childhood.
Just as restaurants offer a flight of wine, Andy Wasif offers A Flight of Comedy, a curated collection of short films and stand-up routines. The “flight” metaphor is mixed by a series of announcements from “your pilot” that interweave these segments.
The videos are clever, with themes ranging from road rage to aging (“Adult Puberty”) to TV theme songs. The stand-up is observational rather than laugh-out-loud, and Wasif has a tendency to beat his subjects into submission. He’s endearing, though, acknowledging that we live in a crazy world and all need to respect and love each other more. Point taken, Andy.