Every aspect of theater is hard. Even shows that look easy, like a solo show in a black box, invariably go through years of prep work. In fact, the shows that look the easiest often have the longest development time.
It starts with the script. As a playwright, I can affirm: the script is never done. The script feels alternately brilliant and deeply unworthy until it reaches something close enough to the writer’s vision or the production deadline. Then come direction and a million decisions about staging and line readings, costumes, set and props.
Then the hardest part of all: attracting an audience.
Post-pandemic, the theater equation has gone wonky: theater-makers have pent-up creative energy, new visions of what theater should be, and new works developed during the silver-lining focused time at home and are producing them all over town. Theater-goers, on the other hand, have been slow to return. Many are still nervous about being in crowded public spaces with unmasked strangers. Others have fallen out of the habit and aren’t motivated to return. The relative lack of attention paid to theater in Los Angeles, other than the bad news, increases the slog effect for those dedicated to putting up shows.
All this is to introduce Befok (or the Desperate Attempt to Impress Iñárritu). A 2023 Hollywood Fringe Festival success story, Befok is now attempting to find its place in a crowded fall season. It’s a solo show in a black box with a writer/performer (Asta Leigh as Lola Luvv) and a director (Matt Richey) who have put in the time to create a labor of love.
Leigh and Richey brought the show to the Odyssey and staged the performance to utilize a larger space. Lola Luvv exits and enters from multiple directions and fully employs the space. However, that space feels very dark and empty with only glow tape on the floor and a handful of audience members in the seats.
Leigh gives an all-in performance as an aging (almost 40!) actress desperate to get cast in a new movie by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. Lola Luvv has moved to Los Angeles from South Africa to escape her abusive parents. She’s trying to survive in the face of every possible type of rejection and her own-worst-enemy behavior. Alternately funny and heartfelt, Befok paints a portrait of an actress on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The impact of childhood trauma permeates the play, as Lola Luvv begs for attention and makes godawful decisions. Leigh is heartbreaking as she portrays a downward spiral punctuated by brief moments of laughter and hope.
The show’s art and title work against it. Even potential audience members who have heard the name Iñárritu (he did win multiple Oscars, after all) may not grasp the concept from the convoluted poster that includes a chicken and Afrikaans (Befok: a term meaning crazy, awesome, angry, cool, or “not right in the head”). While the Fringe Festival embraces weirdness, the larger world isn’t willing to put in as much effort to determine where it wants to allocate its entertainment dollars. Befok is positioned as a comedy, when it is actually a more nuanced portrait.
Regardless of how it’s positioned, this is a show, and a character, worth seeing.
Befok (or the Desperate Attempt to Impress Iñárritu) runs through Nov. 5 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Final performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 4:00pm. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here.