Findings at the Fringe (3): Some Ambitious Efforts

You come to the Fringe to try things.

You learn from what works, and from what doesn’t.  I saw a couple of shows that made ambitious leaps … and landed not quite where they hoped.

INSIDE THE MIND OF ME

mind of me

A guy’s in a coma … his friends come to visit (upstage), and the drama of his inner life, from actual memories to archetypal figures, plays out while he sleeps (downstage & everywhere else).

There’s a good concept here, and some good theatrical instincts. And the troupe from NoHo’s Theatre Unleashed brings boundless energy and creativity, and performs with clarity — each of the dozen characters is etched and maintained. It’s an intriguing hour and half.

It could be an exciting hour.  But the pace is uneven, and the later scenes feel repetitious — signs the director isn’t looking for places to cut and tighten.  Turns out (surprise) playwright Wade F. Wilson is directing; the writer’s always the last to see excess and slash it.

The show is rich with resources. Inventive costuming and makeup choices (Did the actors design their own? If so, bravi!), a spare but effective set (Corey Lynn Howe), and a wealth of acting talent.

Graydon Schlicter, as the devilish Circus, and Kire Horton as Angel arrest our attention whenever they appear, each adding nice layers of complexity beyond mere “good vs. evil” battling for a soul. Marty Hrejsa (Grandpa Stan) and Eric Anthony (best friend Chris) change every scene they enter. And Hollie Sokol (the succubus Loveless), Erin Braswell (the supernally still Death), and Aili Jay (the shape- shifting Nurse/Ghoul), create dark demigods — yet suggest a human empathy trapped within.

The next step is to take all these resources — including the dancer- like Michael Marcel, whose Me has, alas, almost nothing to do — and rework the script. (Perhaps dropping the conceit of naming the protagonist “Me.”) Inside the Mind can easily become swifter, clearer, less polemical and more theatrical. I want to see it truly deliver what’s already bursting out at its seams.
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Inside the Mind of Me, written and directed by Wade F. Wilson.
Presnted by Theatre Unleashed, at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd.

June 19 (11:30 pm), June 27 (2:30 pm).

Tickets: <www.hff15.org/2097>

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FUCK YOU, JASON!

Lesli Harad

Lesli Harad

The pre-show works.  In fact, it’s a delight.

Charming impresario Benny Lumpkins Jr. invites any woman in the audience who’s been short-shrifted to take the stage and tell her tale, naming the feckless malefactor. The audience will then join her in shouting, “Fuck You, [insert name here]!”  This produces moments of catharsis and laughter, melting the crowd into a community.

The show itself, not so much.

There’s some good thinking behind this piece. As adapter/author, Lumpkins plays with Euripides’ text in promising ways. He folds it, so we begin by hearing Jason’s denunciation of Medea (which neatly outlines the plot) — by the end, when we hear it again, it’s filled with meaning from our experience of the story. Lumpkins also spices the modern translations he draws on by adding street language (most notably the title, which becomes a choral refrain).

And there’s some good dramaturgy. Lumpkins keeps the violence offstage (ob-scene, as the Greeks called it), letting witnesses recount the horrid bits, so it’s their human reactions (not the gore itself) that moves us.  He also makes effective use of the chorus — including the nice device of having them strike poses from Classic friezes.

The real problem is the acting.

Lesli Harad (as Medea) achieves moments of reality, surprising us at times with what she finds and where she reaches for it.  Otherwise, this cast is made of actors saying (or shouting) the character’s lines.  They speak (and even shout) clearly, and indicate emotion — but none of the actors has begun to transform into the person from whom the lines emerge.

And when there’s a pervasive problem with the acting, it isn’t the actors.  It’s the director.

For all his intelligence in conceiving the play, and for all his personal charm, Mr. Lumpkins has yet to show his skill as a director of actors. In rehearsal, the director must create a safe space where each actor can reach inside, find the character in their own hidden potentials, and start releasing it into the role. It’s a delicate, time-consuming process, and clearly didn’t happen in this case.

But the Fringe is for learning.

Please, Mr. Lumpkins, take this text and your staging ideas and keep working. Take these actors, too — I’ve no reason to believe any of them can’t do the job (and I know Harad can). I like the modern Medea you’re aiming for, and it deserves to be brought to life.
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Fuck You, Jason! (or Medea by Euripides), adapted and directed by Benny Lee Harris Lumpkins Jr.
Presented by Poor Man Theatre Company, at the Elephant Space, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.

June 19 (7:00 pm), June 21 (7:00 pm), June 25 (11:55 pm) and June 28 (2:30 pm).

Tickets: <www.hff15.org/2250>