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Hollywood Fringe Festival:
The Interview, The Katrina Comedy Fest and
The Experiment

Also see Sharon's reviews of A Man of No Importance and The Beating

The Interview

The Interview is everything I look for in a Fringe show. By the time it's all over, the stage is a mess, the actors are spent, the fourth wall has been shattered, and the audience feels genuinely uncomfortable. Although the play leaves many unanswered questions, and gets downright weird in places, this is definitely the sort of in-your-face theatre you aren't going to find at the Ahmanson, and the Fringe is a perfect home for it.

It begins as a dark comedy, something of an absurd torture farce. An American finds himself the subject of extraordinary rendition—outside of his country and in the hands of two other Americans who intend to torture him, if necessary, for information they desire. The two interrogators quickly fall into a good cop/bad cop routine: and every time the "good cop" leaves the room for a few minutes, the "bad cop" immediately goes crazy on the prisoner. When the "good cop" returns after a brief break to catch the "bad cop" with his gun in the prisoner's mouth, he says, "I can't leave you alone for five minutes." The two men then argue while the prisoner simply sobs.

But things soon get stranger and darker. A surreptitious dose of a hallucinogenic ultimately explains some of the more bizarre scenes, but full credit has to go to writer/director Michael Franco and his fearless cast for actually pulling this thing off. In the calm light of day, it's very easy to look at something like the "bad cop" returning onstage wearing a devil mask and just shake it off as something ridiculous. But in the context of this play—which is, at times, an assault on your eyes, ears, and mind—you genuinely don't know what this man is up to, and can easily accept the metaphor come to life.

Technical effects, including a bright flash set off simultaneous to the prisoner being hit in the head, which perfectly illustrates the searing pain of the blow, are exceptional for a Fringe production. However, some of the video projections are so subtle you sometimes aren't sure that they aren't just your eye playing tricks on you.

There are, as noted above, many unanswered questions in this play (we never know, for example, what the interrogators want from the prisoner, and if he, in fact, has that knowledge). But, in a way, it's important that we never know. The focus of The Interview isn't on the information hoped to be acquired by torture; the focus is on the torture itself, and what it does to everyone involved in the practice—including the American public, in whose interest it is sometimes conducted. And that, truly, is the most disturbing question it leaves unanswered.

Ma Chan Productions in association with The Open Fist Theater Company presents The Interview, written and directed by Michael Franco. Lights by Wyatt Bartel; Projections by J Warner; Sound by Tim Labor; Masks & Special Effects by Joe Seeley; Stage Manager Hannah Brown; Sound Op Ron Dierkes; Graphic Design by Jimmy Kieffer; Producers Michael Franco, Jessica Hanna & Amanda Weier.

Cast:
Prisoner Michael Dunn
Man 1 Joe Hulser
Man 2 Dylan Maddalena
Soldier 1 Robert Harden Jr
Soldier 2 Michelle Lema
Soldier 3 Andrew Schlesinger

The Interview continues through June 30 as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. For tickets and information, see http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1281

The Katrina Comedy Fest

From the Department of Truth is Stranger (and sometimes more dramatic) Than Fiction, L.A. is treated to a production of Rob Florence's The Katrina Comedy Fest. The play consists of five separate stories of surviving Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; each of the stories is true. Although the stories are not interwoven, their retelling is, with the speakers taking turns telling their stories, as opposed to five individual monologues. More than that, each actor sometimes takes on the role of a subsidiary character in another's story. It's a fine ensemble of Los Angeles talent, cleanly creating five unique individuals (and a few others, as necessary).

And they are amazing stories, inviting laughter and, if not actual tears, certainly a little lump in your throat. There are a few common threads running through the stories: each of our protagonists underestimated the extent of the damage, thinking that the worst was over once the storm passed; each experienced, to some degree, the incompetence of officials; and in each story, somewhere, you can find a quantity of basic human decency.

Beyond that, the tales are varied. There are stories of survival and of death, of people helping strangers and of people breaking into strangers' homes, of craziness and of kindness, of some of the rescuers doing exactly the right thing and of some of the rescued saying exactly the wrong one. It is depressing and life-affirming, and, by the time it is over, you're left with the feeling that even the most ordinary among us can have an extraordinary tale to tell.

Bayou Playhouse and Flambeaux Productions present The Katrina Comedy Fest by Rob Florence. Directed by Misty Carlisle. Video Projection Design Jeff Teeter; Stage Managers John Freeland Jr., Kathleen Jaffe, Priscilla Miranda; Publicity Ken Werther PR; House Manager Hugh A. Englehart.

Cast:
Antoinette Peggy Blow/Deidrie Henry
Rodney Travis Michael Holder
Judy Judy Jean Berns
Raymond L. Trey Wilson
Sonny Jan Munroe

The Katrina Comedy Fest runs through June 30 as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. For tickets and information, see http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1350

The Experiment

Clocking in at around 23 minutes, The Experiment isn't so much a play as a "Twilight Zone" script—except it lacks the ironic twist I would have expected. The set-up: two characters, a man and a woman, probably military, are being held prisoner in a shared cell. They've been beaten and that, combined with the ever-present sounds of prisoner abuse, has pushed the man very nearly to the edge of sanity. They both try to keep it together, until the man makes the woman admit that something he feared is, in fact, true. From there, the man tries to come to terms with what is about to happen, while the audience takes a bit longer to figure out exactly what it is.

Because the play hurtles toward its conclusion in record time, it is only after it ends that you realize everything that was wrong with it. The man tries to talk his way out of his fate much too late; you wonder why he never fought back when he could have. The sound effects, while suitably creepy, turn out to have been somewhat inaccurate. Details in the writing could be so much better—the woman describes her daughter as having blonde pigtails she wears in pink ribbons; surely something less trite would have been more effective. But the biggest problem with The Experiment is its entire premise. To the extent that The Experiment may have been inspired by a rather famous psychological experiment, the play manages to omit everything that made the real experiment significant, replacing it with a fairly straightforward scenario, which dramatically reduces the consequences.

Actors Circle Ensemble presents The Experiment by Melanie Wehrmacher. Directed by Tamiko Washington. Scenic Design Michael Spolsky; Lighting Design Jason Goussak; Costume Coordinator Patricia Cavins.

Cast:
Jones Alexa Guiffe
Williams Sean Burgos

The Experiment completed its scheduled run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.


- Sharon Perlmutter






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