Theater Review by Ethlie Ann Vare
HOLLYWOOD, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/18/23 – The Fringe Festival is back in full form this year, with 268 productions running in venues large and small around Hollywood from June 8-25, so you have time to run out and catch a few before it ends. I popped in to see the latest offering from the NEO Ensemble Theatre, marking its 25th year as a local institution. It’s also the farewell production by the group’s beloved longtime co-directors, Michael Caldwell and Rachel Winfree, so call it a celebration of the Hollywood theatrical community.
Fringe, as you may know, is an annual open-access event that showcases self-produced performances in venues from churches to restaurants to actual theaters. Inspired by Scotland’s famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Hollywood Fringe gives 100% of revenue back to the creative community and has raised almost $4 million since its 2010 inception. Because the performances are non-curated, you never know quite what you’re going to get. Because this is Hollywood, what you get is usually pretty darn good.
Inappropriate! is a collection of seven short plays — more like sketch comedy, really — written by six different playwrights and performed by a dozen actors taking multiple roles. The breezy hour-long show played to a sizable (especially for a 6pm set!) and enthusiastic crowd in the comfy back room of Vine Street watering hole The Three Clubs. It skewered some sacred cows and some easy targets, with subjects ranging from a porn-loving preacher to a drunken substitute teacher, a doomsday prepper to a girl who farts loudly and often. It has “adult content” warnings all over it, but by 2023 standards it’s pretty much PG-13.
Some of the best sketches turned out to be side eyed looks in a funhouse mirror: the self-deluded, self-absorbed wannabes that sometimes populate… well, fringe festivals. My favorite was Howard’s End (credited as “not E.M. Forster,” but in fact written by Caldwell and Winfree), set at the funeral for a local thespian best known for his Civil War re-enactment of “uninjured bystander consoling young widow.” One can imagine the glee of a playwright getting to poke fun at that cohort, although Laura Huntt Foti insists “I love getting a chance to work with the actors.” Her piece The Pharmacy, about the CVS prescription window encounter from hell, had some of the evening’s funniest moments. (Date of birth? Out loud? Are you kidding?)
Kudos also to David St. James, as an aspiring niche actor (his niche: “wooden and awkward”), monologist Maura Swanson, and scenery-chewing — in all the best ways — AnnaLisa Erickson.
“You can sit in a room by yourself and write for years and never have the fulfillment of seeing your stuff onstage,” says Foti, which is why the Fringe Fest is so important to the creative community. There are now over 300 fringe festivals in over 50 countries. Go to one. Thank me later.
The Three Clubs
1123 Vine Street
Hollywood CA 90038
June 21 7pm, June 23 9pm
Playwrights: Michael Caldwell, Laura Huntt Foti, Beth Polsky, David St. James, Maura Swanson, Rom Watson and Rachel Winfree.
Featured actors: Michael Caldwell, Ewan Chung, Alex DeRita, Jessica Dowdeswell, AnnaLisa Erickson, Dee Freeman, Debra Kay Lee, Alexis C. Martino, Beth Nintzel, David St. James, Rachael Sizgorich, Maura Swanson, Jerry Weil and Rachel Winfree