Findings at the Fringe (2): A Pair of “Meta” Comedies

Comedies abound at the Fringe. Perhaps it’s the fast, foolish pace of the thing … or the hectic 15-minute load-in for each show … or maybe actors just wanna have fun.

My laugh tour started with clowning and satire, two of the oldest comic forms — in shows that make fun of the very media in which they are working.  Er, playing.

THE HALFWITS’ LAST HURRAH

Benji Kaufman, Charlotte Chanler, Don Colliver, Helene Udy, Dave Honigman

Benji Kaufman, Charlotte Chanler, Don Colliver, Helene Udy, Dave Honigman

Four Clowns is virtually the Hollywood Fringe’s resident company, appearing (and winning awards) almost every year since it began.  This year the Clowns make light of — clown troupes.

Tall and suave, yet tasteless and inept, Butterbeans Arbuckle (Don Colliver) has collected and trained a troupe from society’s cast-offs. While they sing his praises and perform boisterous feats, half  mastery and half mishap, the clowns are assailed by a ghost from the impresario’s past — the wee, white-clad Real McCoy (Jolene Kim).

This arch intruder and her henchmen interrupt the act, take the stage tossing money like confetti, then proceed to take Arbuckle’s minions captive and kill them.  Just when all seems lost (and dead clowns litter the stage), the most hapless of heroines saves the day.

It’s light and amusing, a fond satire that does not look too deeply. Oh, there’s a bit of snark about McCoy planning to buy the theatre we’re in and turn it into a corner mall (the very fate that awaits the imperiled Asylum-Lillian-Elephant complex). And, as ever, the sweet fools are up against the worldly wickeds.

But the proof is in the performances — from Benji Kaufman’s pre-show teasing to Hélène Udy’s stilt-walking plate spinner, from Jennifer Carroll and Dave Honigman as the elastic, sarcastic and dirty Inderdorf twins to Elizabeth Godley as the mute, innocent yet knowing Nimrod. (And Wayne H. Holland III’s virtuoso piano.)

Each performer has mastered skills and displays them, even through interruptions and mayhem. But each also creates and maintains a character, and stumbles through an arc.  These are clowns who know how to strut their stuff while telling a story about people.

One cavil: “Halfwit” takes me out of the play and kills playfulness.  We trust our clowns to mock our pretensions, not our disabilities.  As Fringe 2014’s stars, Beau & Aero, proved so amply, brilliant clowning has no need of cruelty.
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The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah, by Jamie Franta and Don Colliver, directed by David Anthony Anis.
Presented by Four Clowns at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way.

June 18th (7:00 pm), June 20 (11:55 pm), June 23 (8:30 pm) and June 26 (10:30pm).

Tickets:  <www.fourclowns.org> or (323)455-4585.

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BEST OF ALBUQUERQUE FRINGE 2025

gary the duck

And now a Fringe show about … Fringe shows!

Even though it’s a sendup of a Fringe awards show, and gives Albuquerque a few pokes in the ribs, this one’s really about the shows that appear at a Fringe — or anywhere. It’s a satire on theatre.
And that’s a chancy proposition, as “in jokes” that leave half the audience cold can quickly chill the house.

But not to worry. Writers Jacob Smith and Jim Blanchette pitch to the widest imaginable strike zone — from Sophocles to Gilbert & Sullivan, from Shakespeare to reality TV, and everything in between.
Every one of their sketches (“excerpts” from the winning shows) lands as satire, and draws laughs; more than once, the players have to stop and wait for the house to quiet down.

Most of the numbers gleefully mix sources and styles, stirring a Hans Christian Andersen tale into full-rhymed Shakespeare, or inviting the Duggar family to perform “Sound of Music.” And every one of the performers leaps energetically from role to role, style to style.

Lauren Flans co-hosts the awards as an almost sober arts doyen, while animating several other characters (including a duck). Heather Lake flies fearlessly between parts, and co-author Blanchette brings energy and wit to his many turns as narrator and character.

Best of Albuquerque 2025 (or “BabyQ 25”, as the kids are calling it) takes place in the future, so we might expect a dire warning or two. But this is comedy, and it’s funnier to imagine that, alas, nothing has changed.
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Best of Albuquerque Fringe 2025, by Jacob Smith and Jim Blanchette, directed by Corey Lynn Howe.
Presented by Village Idiom Productions, at the Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.

June 20 (11:30 pm), June 24 (8:30 pm), and June 28 (4:00 pm).

Tickets: <www.hff15.org/2189>