Previews have begun for shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which officially opens Thursday, June 9. Already Santa Monical Blvd.’s Theatre Row is coming to life, with new and quickly changing signage, racks of costumes, boxes of props and lines of patrons.
It’s easy to buy tickets for Fringe shows: just go to the website and search shows, then buy tickets from your chosen show’s dedicated page. The hard part is choosing from among the 230 offerings. Here are three recommendations.
Thom Pain (Based On Nothing)
Thom Pain (Based On Nothing), by existential playwright Will Eno, is 70 minutes of curveballs impeccably performed by Johnny Patrick Yoder, standing alone in a suit on an empty stage. The show doesn’t feel too long and yet it isn’t short. It never feels short and yet it isn’t too long. Sometimes it feels less safe than parking next to a tent on Cahuenga. But after all, safety is not for the true theatergoer, who must be open to the jarring and in-your-face and confusing yet satisfying. This is all of those. Subtle sound effects and use of music add to the off-kilter experience.
Thom Pain debuted off-Broadway in 2005 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist that year. It may be the way people would talk if they never had to concern themselves with the other person in a conversation. It consistently breaks the fourth wall to ask, “Are you afraid, being face to face with the modern world?” And then it answers: “Whatever.” It contains silences that are both answers and more questions. Its sole character describes childhood damage, Mother Nature’s sick sense of humor, failed romantic relationships. Yet you leave feeling upbeat. That’s impressive.
If you like to be wowed by words, see this, as well as another Will Eno play, The Realistic Joneses, running through June 12 at Pacific Resident Theatre. It’s a play and a production that are definitely worth seeing.
Sunday Night at Jane’s
Sunday Night at Jane’s is an original show with a clever concept starring an ensemble of five characters, including the playwright. It takes place on a surprisingly complex set, with costumes and clever special effects. And besides having a real message, it has moments that are raucously funny. (I found myself laughing so hard in one place I was afraid I’d have to leave—and the stranger next to me was similarly struggling.)
The show brings together four exes for a dinner party that isn’t, since the hostess, Jane, doesn’t show up. The exes, from high school, college and beyond, are left to glean insights about Jane from their predecessors and successors. As such, Sunday Night at Jane’s paints a portrait of romantic life in the 2020s. Spoiler alert: It’s gender fluid. Besides feeling completely modern, it’s totally in touch with the eternal truths of relationships.
There is much to ponder in the show. One character says, “Childhood crushes are placeholders we use to construct who we are.” This feels true; after all, childhood is the foundation for adulthood, by which time we are supposed to have learned what we really need in a partner.
Under the direction of Joe Garrity, the actors are uniformly terrific. Writer Emily Powers is Jane, seen in clever flashbacks with each of her former lovers. There’s Sam (Mariana Aroxa), Ben (Roy Gutierrez), Carey (Bryanna Smith) and Craig (David Nordstrand), who brings his disgruntled wife Heather (Audrey Wooster). The interactions are fabulous and the lessons worth learning for all concerned.
Call Me Elizabeth
Writer/performer Kayla Boye is appearing in an evocative solo performance about Elizabeth Taylor. We asked Boye for the story behind the show.
What is your connection to Elizabeth Taylor? What drew you to her, and to creating this show?
Like so many, I have long maintained a love of Old Hollywood, and a fascination with Elizabeth Taylor, who is the epitome of movie stardom. But how does a star develop into a legend, and how does that legacy sustain itself? Elizabeth’s life was captivating because it was so full — so lived. Her story could really be several shows, as her life had several acts. Call Me Elizabeth focuses on the formative years of her life, up until 1961.
When and how did you develop the show?
I began writing the show five years ago, actually as a backstage project while performing in another production. I had recently seen a series of fantastic solo shows and was seeking a subject matter that I could faithfully tribute. Throughout my research, which involved extensive examination of biographies, published interviews, and her body of work, I also had the pleasure of speaking with her sixth husband, the late Senator John Warner, who provided wonderful insights into her compassionate character and sense of humor.
How do you get into character before you perform as Elizabeth Taylor?
Solo shows are very challenging, as it is just you and the audience. I try to allow a few hours of quiet time before each performance to focus my mind on the text and the journey ahead, as Elizabeth the character experiences a full range of emotions throughout the piece, accompanied by moments of stark reflection and active realization. I also watch clips of her recorded interviews and films from that time period, to set my voice in the proper placement.
What else do you hope to do with the show?
After Hollywood Fringe, I will be taking the show to my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and then to Chicago, for brief engagements later this summer. Ultimately, I hope to tour the production regionally and bring it to New York for a full production.
What’s something about Elizabeth Taylor that you think people should know?
Elizabeth Taylor was one of the first celebrities to merge her private and public personas to elevate awareness for the HIV/AIDS crisis, when it could have been career suicide. She used her voice for good, not because it was a popular thing to do, but because it was the right thing to do. I hope that this piece reminds audiences that the work continues, and that we should each speak up if we see injustices occurring.
Thom Pain (Based On Nothing) is at the Broadwater Second Stage, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. Performances are set for June 11 at 7:30pm, June 16 at 8:00pm, June 22 at 5:00pm and June 25 at 12:30pm. Running time is 70 minutes. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online here.
Sunday Night at Jane’s is playing on Sundays (nice touch) in the Dorie Theatre at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Show times are 7:15 on June 12 at and June 19. Running time is 70 minutes. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online here.
Call Me Elizabeth is at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave. at Vista. Shows are scheduled for June 9 at 7:30pm, June 11 at 2:00pm and June 12 at 5:45pm. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online here.