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Theater Review (LA): ‘The Conduct of Life’ and ‘The Best of 25 Plays Per Hour’ at the Hollywood Fringe

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The Conduct of Life
The Vagrancy
Theatre Asylum Lab

Cuban-American avant-garde playwright Maria Irene Fornés was a leading figure of the Off-Off-Broadway movement of the 1960s, and she certainly had firsthand experience when it comes to poverty and suffering. Her Obie Award-winning 1985 piece, The Conduct of Life, contains all the trademarks found in her work: feminism, class commentary, violence, and nihilism.

The Conduct of Life

Robert Homer Mollohan and Emily Yetter

The production currently being staged by the Vagrancy Theatre Company at the Fringe is well-realized, with an explosive central performance by Robert Homer Mollohan, but it’s hindered by the playwright’s deliberately oblique language.

Orlando (Mollohan) is an upwardly-mobile lieutenant commander in the army who holds his entire household in terror with his animalistic tendencies. His wife, Leticia (Karina Wolfe), admits to her servant and would-be confidante Olimpia (Belinda Gosbee) that although she is horrified by her husband’s cruelty, she admires his passions, which include romantic music and the full moon.

Speaking of lycanthropy, it seems that Orlando also has a gift for torture, and it’s this wolfish instinct that the army has taken full advantage of, as he’s risen to the top of his rank.

And he takes his work home — he has a young girl, Nena (Emily Yetter), chained up in the basement for his sadomasochistic pleasure. As others in the household learn of his terrible secret, no one will speak of it for fear of incurring Orlando’s wrath.

This description sounds like it would make for a compelling plot, and indeed the physicality is startling, but the characters are given to delivering extensive, abstract monologues that become enervating. After a shocking opening scene in which Orlando ravages Nena, Olimpia spends five minutes explaining her morning breakfast ritual to Leticia, and it’s just numbing.

Later, Nena describes to Olimpia in painful detail her childhood of poverty and neglect. Then, Orlando’s fellow officer Alejo (Jeremy Mascia), who is a silent observer until about twenty minutes into the play, suddenly confesses to Leticia his profound impotence and lack of emotion. It all starts to feel like a spoof of a Bergman film, exacerbated by the fact that the rhythm of the dialogue gives the impression that it was translated from another language.

The company certainly can’t be faulted for its balls-out production. I’d just like to see it tackle something less frustratingly oblique. The Conduct of Life’s final show is Saturday, June 28 at 9:00 p.m., at Theatre Asylum Lab, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. Tickets can be purchased online here.

The Best of 25 Plays Per Hour
Theatre Unleashed
Theatre Asylum Lab

25_playsWith a time limit like this, you just know you’re in for a show in which the actors madly dash around the stage, inhabiting multiple characters and making lightning-fast costume changes. And that’s exactly what happens. What’s not expected, however, is the extremely high quality of the material, well-written by multiple scribes and delivered by a charismatic cast.

The show consists mostly of uproarious comedy vignettes, with a few well-observed poignant pieces thrown in for good measure. Highlights include a continuing sketch by Jim Blanchette in which a recently-transplanted West Hollywoodite (Lee Pollero) is trying to come out to his parents over the phone but keeps punching in the wrong number. And in Jacob Smith’s three-parter, when a cannibalistic serial killer (Heather Luke) brings a victim (Jim Martyka) home to devour, he distracts her from her task in Scheherezade style by joining in the singing of sitcom themes.

Another hilarious vignette is Pollero’s brilliant “More Like Viet-Gay,” in which a soldier (Ben Atkinson) and a gay porn star (Jacob Smith), describe being “in action,” and their words fit together in unison.

Given the two-minutes-or-so time limit of each piece, directors Corey Lynn Howe and Courtney Sara Bell work wonders, bringing each snippet to life with simple but evocative wardrobe changes and character transitions. And the troupe of talented actors really bring it. The Best of 25 Plays Per Hour plays one more time, —  June 27th at 11:55 p.m., at Theatre Asylum Lab, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. Finish your Friday night with a bang by grabbing your tickets here.

 

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.