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Theatre Review (LA): Three from the LA Fringe Festival

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The summer of 2010 marks the debut of Hollywood Fringe and the first ever Fringe Festival here. Using more than 20 theatrical spaces in Los Angeles, most centered in Hollywood itself, the festival's idea is that patrons can wander from theatre to theatre to see things all day since events are scheduled about four deep at each venue. If you miss a show at one space it may very well turn up again at a different time and space. The Fringe Festival features dance, theatre, comedy, local groups, touring companies, and international artists, plus a few troupes that travel the “fringe festival circuit." I had the chance to see three excellent one-person shows in the course of one day.

The first show was called The Event, written by John Clancy, directed by Ian Forester, and performed by the inimitable Paul Dillon. Dillon had considerable presence and does a brilliant job despite a very loud party that was going on next door. He performed without missing a beat. The premise is simple. The actor acts as a narrator to describe the events, emotions, and thoughts that are going through the performer’s head as well as the brain of his audience and his tech person. In the process the play also looks at events and situations outside itself to examine questions like "what is reality?" and "what is illusion?" The play is fascinating and often hilarious.

The second play, The Packer, comes all the way from New Zealand and has been touring for several years now (remember those professional Fringe types I mentioned). Honestly, because of the thick accent I didn't understand a lot of what was said, but actor Jay Ryan is masterful at switching characters and accents, giving all his characters specific body types and speech patterns. It was an incredible performance. Ryan plays Shane, a factory packer who is living with his gin-soaked mother and hanging with a drug-crazed "wigger" mate while he pursues his ex and a new neighbor of a different ethnic group looked down on by his family and his friends. All the while Shane dreams of becoming a hip-hop artist. The writer was Dianna Fuemana and the director was Jeremy Lindsey Taylor. Bravos, all around. Everything was clear despite the language problem, thanks to the combined efforts of actor, director, and playwright.

The third show I saw was simply called Burton and featured an actor who is the spitting image of Richard Burton in face and voice. It relates various episodes in Burton's life and the people in it. We hear his opinion of several greats he knew, including a rather unflattering portrait of Elizabeth Taylor. I wished the piece had more direction and focus. The wonderful Welsh actorr Rhodri Miles is limited to using only a bottle and a glass. Yes, Burton was a notorious drinker, but it would have been nice to see the story fleshed out a bit more and not centered so much on drink. We do learn that Burton had a passion for soccer and not so much for acting. His allegiance was to a small patch of land (Pontrhydy fen) more than to any other person or place. He was haunted by his relationship with his family, especially his brother. His was a sad and rather angst-filled life but Miles brings him to us in a way we haven't seen.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival ran at various venues from June 17th to June 27th. We are lucky to have this as part of our cultural mix. I'm already looking forward to next year.

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