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Hollywood Fringe Festival: Not Afraid to Get Edgy

The Annie Sprinkle Project, Breed or Bust, and Cock are three shows on stage this week as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.


Abortion. Sexuality. Addiction. Body image. Dozens of Hollywood Fringe Festival shows cover edgy topics. Fringe creators are eager to put it all out there.

Whether a personal story or a biography, fact or fiction, the truth usually shines through at Fringe. It might make you cringe or cry, but it will likely also make you laugh, since Fringers have a great collective sense of humor.

As Fringe closes out the first week of its three-week run, the collection of plays, musicals, solo shows and the hard-to-define reveals itself to contain numerous gems. Check out the many options here and read the reviews to help you make some choices.

Here are some shows to consider:


The Annie Sprinkle Project


There aren’t a lot of sex legends, but Annie Sprinkle is one worth learning about. And The Annie Sprinkle Project is just the jam-packed tell-all to bring you up to speed. Writer/performer Sophia LaPaglia embodies the former sex worker, porn star, stripper, performance artist, feminist and PhD sexologist. As if that weren’t enough, she also plays numerous Sprinkle colleagues, with whom she met on Zoom during the pandemic.

Sprinkle has captivated LaPaglia for years. She’s studied and interviewed her, and now she’s wrapped her up in a big Fringe bow. She also weaves audio, video and a fascinating array of props and costumes into The Annie Sprinkle Project. It’s a fast-paced and surprisingly deep and nuanced portrait of a singular woman.

There is graphic sexual content, including photos of some of Sprinkle’s lovers from across the sexual spectrum, and vintage footage from Sprinkle’s 1989-1996 show Post Porn Modernist. AIDS is a recurring presence. You may be shocked, but you’ll also experience a writer and actress in top form. LaPaglia is charming and straightforward throughout, finding the humor and sexual wisdom in Sprinkle’s life story.

The Annie Sprinkle Project has one remaining show, Saturday, June 25 at 7:00pm, where Annie Sprinkle herself will be in attendance. That show can be seen in person or streamed. It’s at The Complex Theatre and Studios (The Dorie Theatre), 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Running time is one hour. Tickets are $12.




Ah, relationships. Long-term or new, they have their pas de deux, sometimes even a pas de trois. Disagreements. Power plays. Cheating. It’s complicated.

Factor in sexual confusion—Am I straight, gay or something in between?—and the complications multiply. So it is in Cock, Mike Bartlett’s 2011 play. John (Mathew Dunlop), the only named character, and his boyfriend (Sean Hemeon) are going through a rough patch. Hemeon perfectly captures a partner frustrated with waffling. When John can’t give him straight answers about what he wants, he does everything but quote Yoda at him: “There is no try, there is only do!”

Immediately after the opening fight, John ends up sleeping with a woman, his first. To his surprise, he likes the experience, and the woman (the indisputably appealing Annika Chavez). The remainder of the play is about John’s inability to choose between man and woman, his familiar gay identity or the possibility of what he calls a “normal” life of marriage and children. His boyfriend’s father (a fiercely paternal Dennis Delsing) steps in to take his son’s side in one of the most awkward dinners ever staged.

A beautifully written show, Cock is both visceral in its depiction of romantic sturm und drang and laugh-out-loud funny. Director Taubert Nadalini leans toward the frantic, as actors flail around the stage; a scene representing sex between John and his new paramour is a highlight but some of the action is overwrought. A 2014 staging by Rogue Machine, under the direction of Cameron Watson, was tighter. But this production is strong, and a Fringe highlight.

Cock is scheduled to be performed in the Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, 1125 North McCadden Place. Showtimes are Tuesday, June 14 at 7:00, Wed., June 15 at 9:00pm, Sunday, June 19 at 8:00pm, Wed., June 22 at 6:00pm and Saturday, June 25 at 2:00pm. Running time is 90 minutes. Tickets are $10-25.


Breed or Bust


You don’t (typically) have pregnancy without sex, and sometimes you don’t have sex without pregnancy. When there’s unhappiness about a mismatch between the two, it can be wrenching, as the solo show Breed or Bust shows. Writer/performer Joyful Raven doesn’t hold back when sharing her tales of reproductive choices. We spoke to Raven about her development process.

Obviously this show is very personal. What inspired you to create it and share it publicly?

From my experience performing and coaching solo performances, I have noticed a profound storytelling principle: the more personal the more universal. Somehow the more truthful we are with our own tale, the more relatable?! And I might have some kind of mental disorder that forces me to share my truth on stage! Ha.

But in all seriousness, abortion and stories about our reproductive choices are often swept under the rug and locked away in shame closets. The issue gets so politicized and polarized that we forget about the actual lived experience of what it means to be in a body with a uterus. It was my goal not to preach, but to bring nuance and humor to a very touchy subject! To make it human.

I see that  Breed or Bust originated a few months back in San Francisco, at Playground Solo Performance Festival. Has it changed in any way since then?

The beauty of solo theater is that it is a living, breathing piece of art and can be adjusted for the moment. Between now and when my show opened in San Francisco in February, the Supreme Court leak about overturning Roe vs. Wade occurred. That fact has made some of the existing elements in the show pack a greater punch, and simultaneously forced me to add new lines that address this shifting political landscape.

Also, there was an element that I wanted to get into the show but initially didn’t know how. I wanted to explore how female pleasure is often left out of the conversation about our reproductive lives. But it wasn’t until I had performed the show a few times that the idea of how to do this occurred to me. I have now found a really fun way to work that subject in. It is one of the most playful and ridiculous parts of the show.

You teach classes to and coach storytellers. How did that  background affect you when you were putting together Breed or Bust? Did you find certain lessons or exercises particularly relevant?

I have learned so much through teaching and coaching storytelling. It has made my craft much stronger. It serves as an awesome feedback loop. The lessons I am learning in real time as a performer are on the tip of my tongue for my students. I am fighting the same creative battles. Having the same breakthroughs. And my students teach me so much.

If I have learned anything from coaching hundreds of people through the wilds of the creative process, it is that we all have the same insecurities. The same nefarious weeds are growing in all of our creative gardens. No one is free of their inner critique. So the object is not the get rid of it but to recognize it for what it is: a force that wants us to play safe and stay in our comfort zone. And in seeing it clearly, we can begin to build tools of resilience. To stop believing that voice and instead forge ahead so that we can hear the whispers of muse. It is important to remember that making art takes a tremendous amount of courage. And the more personal your art the more courage it takes! And somehow we need to be reminded of this over and over again.

What role do you think humor plays in working through difficult times, and how did that philosophy affect the creation of your show?

Oh my goodness, this is a big one. I think humor is everything when it comes to working with difficult themes. I was raised by comedic theater artists, and was taught early on about the disarming effect of humor to tackle difficult subjects. I have bitten off a very challenging task trying to bring humor to the oh so touchy subject of human reproduction and abortion. But I think the humor is what makes the subject palatable for the audience. Comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin and I like riding that edge. It is s scary, exhilarating ride.

Breed or Bust has only one remaining performance, Sunday, June 19 at 8:45pm at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue. Running time is one hour. Tickets are $12.

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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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