The Hollywood Fringe Festival’s known as a home for wild, wacky takes on theatrical storytelling. But it’s also a haven for new stories that need a place to emerge.
At this year’s Fringe, I’ve already found two — both small, tender love stories.
Two women in a room, one unable to leave. Both committed to a dream, and to a love without which life would be unthinkable.
But life has a way of becoming unthinkable.
In 1930s Berlin, for a cabaret comic and a gifted writer, one wearing visible signs of imperfection (cerebral palsy), life outside the door is growing lethally dangerous. Stairs, traffic … and neighbors.
Janet Schlapkohl’s script moves swiftly, quietly, weaving this small, endangered world out of simple words. Paul David Story’s direction, precise and clean, never loses focus. And a pair of remarkable actors — twins Emily and Elizabeth Hinkler — make the unspoken love between the sisters a force of terrible beauty.
The (uncredited) set design subtly suggests the sisters’ creation of a life from scant resources, and the (also uncredited) light design focuses and gives emotional color to each scene.
This play is a deeply moving, stunning achievement, using materials that could all too easily be mishandled. My Sister is a don’t-miss gem, one of the highlights of this year’s Hollywood Fringe.
(A note on disability: Elizabeth Hinkler does not have cerebral palsy, but her carefully observed, prudent physicality conveys it with fierce dignity. Author Schlapkohl, founder of the disability-inclusive Combined Efforts Theatre at U. of Iowa, wrote the part for her.)
My Sister, by Janet Schlapkohl, directed by Paul David Story.
Presented at the Underground Theatre, 1314 N. Wilton Place.
June 20th (6:00 pm), June 21st (3:00 pm) and June 27 (8:00 pm).
Though they surround us with comfort — throw pillows, plates of cheese and crackers, drinks — the troupe presenting Soundly takes us on a ride that’s disquieting and painful.
It’s a simple tale, adapted from a Daniel Handler short story about two women sharing the last day of their friendship. The day death, wielding an incurable disease, catches up with one of them.
We meet Lila and Allison in a bar on an island in the Puget Sound, after a man warning loudly of an impending apocalypse finally leaves for San Francisco. The narrator (an older Allison) explains the two have sneaked out of the hospital where Lila’s been awaiting either the grim reaper or a month’s reprieve via organ donor.
The longtime friends reminisce, rant about men and football (it’s Super Bowl weekend), and sip “Suffering Bastards.” Gus the bartender leaves to watch the game, and Gladys, a dottily mystical crone appears. She predicts Lila’s pager will buzz — it does — the hospital has a donor. The friends rush to get there. They don’t.
Little happens, and little more is said. How, then, have we become so deeply enmeshed in the love these two women share? Why do we feel its loss so poignantly?
Partly, it’s Handler’s writing — spare, unfancy, made of things we say. Partly, it’s Jessica Salans’ adaptation and direction — simple, clear, often funny, slicing into us almost painlessly. And partly, it’s the acting — especially Devereau Chumrau as the wry yet always accessible Lila, and Leah Costello as Allison the narrator, who never wavers yet betrays the deep mark of this love upon her life.
Against their stillness, Tania Verafield (young Allison) and Jodi Harrison (Gladys) get to play more voluble and varied emotional responses, as do the two men (Karlito Sanders as Gus, and Alex Alpharaoh as the apocalyptic prophet). But all this only drives us closer to the heart of what these two friends have found, and to death’s true threat: not ceasing to be, but ceasing to love.
The Soundly company attempts very much with very little, and accomplishes it. They enact an elegy in praise of love in its simplest, rarest form — two solitudes (as Rilke said) who meet, greet and protect one another. And who must, in this world, part.
I doubt you’ll find a better hour of theatre at the Fringe.
Soundly, by Daniel Handler, adapted and directed by Jessica Salans.
Presented at the Asylum Lab, 1078Lillian Way.
June 22 (5:30pm), June 23 (10pm) and June 28 (2:30pm).
Tickets: Sold out, but try at the door.