NOTE: Although the final curtain has descended on the Hollywood Fringe Festival for 2014, most of the productions are just starting their theatrical lives here, so here are my last couple of reviews.
The Last Temptation of Paula Deen
Fell Swoop Playwrights
A classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen, The Last Temptation of Paula Deen credits ten different writers, and it certainly shows. While the germ of a comedic idea is firmly there, the impact is diluted by too much speechifyin’ from various parties with different ideas.
Meant to be a satirical portrait of the rise and fall — and rise again — of America’s favorite artery-clogging Southern belle, Last Temptation starts out humorously enough, with a young Paula tricking another girl out of her ham sandwich on the playground, and then accusing the family’s African-American housekeeper of whomping her for no reason. But as more and more characters are introduced, the production becomes crowded with scenes written from multiple points of view, and they just don’t all fit together. We lose focus of the trajectories…and there’s way too much shouting.
That said, Harris is a pretty hilarious Deen, with her trademark gigantic white wig and tendency to break into weepy hysterics. Edward Alvarado is also amusing as he inhabits such characters as Paula’s thick-as-molasses first husband, Jimmy, and her dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks brother Bubba. Karama Danquah also provides solid work in such roles as Paula’s childhood friend and strict housekeeper.
But the members of the Butter Family — Brother (Wayne Scott), Betty (Tamika Katon-Donegal) and Baby (Tiffanee Hall) — are never made completely clear. Beginning as celestial beings (or figments of the imagination?) who’ve come to guide Paula on her path to culinary celebrity, they’re understandable enough, but when they take off on tangents of their own, with their own Paula-less agendas, the piece becomes puzzling and unfunny.
It also goes on too long. Having made its point about 60 minutes in, it continues for another 15. More information about the group can be found on its website.
God of Abraham
Theatricians Theater Group
Theatre Asylum Lab
Another hot-button issue — religion — is sent up in this cerebral sketch show created and performed by UCSB alumni. Not content to present mere Borscht-belt blackouts on religious themes, this talented group incorporates music, puppetry and multimedia into a unique theatrical experience that’s both humorous and — dare I say it? — occasionally deep.
The show starts with a 1970s self-help guru welcoming us to the Human Improvement Conference. Then, a bunraku-style puppet reenactment of the story of Abraham and Isaac is told, and it’s astounding. The life of Jesus is presented as a song-and-dance number, and threaded throughout are episodes of a Scientology audit that get increasingly weirder as they go along. And yes — Moses does his magic act.
Director Charlie Faith plays a ukelele-strumming Muhammad in a Warner Bros. cartoon spoof. But then we’re slammed in the gut with a very dark piece that serves as a reminder of the violence and death that religious fanaticism provokes.
A mixture of the surreal and the silly, not everything works in God of Abraham — but the pieces that do are quite memorable. More information about the group can be found on its website.
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