Category Archives: Fringe Festival

Adieu to DC’s Theatre Scene

I’ve escaped to the bedroom while a quartet of hardworking young men pack my lamps and my pictures and drag more than a dozen bins of fabric out into the hallway of my high rise. It’s moving day here in Washington. After nearly a decade, living within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol, my husband and I are finally returning to Los Angeles.

It seemed like a good time to look back at my D.C. years as a playwright.

No, Arena Stage did not invite me to participate in their Playwrights Arena playwriting group or commission me for one of their Power Plays. No, Studio Theatre didn’t fall in love with my work. Nor did Olney or Signature or Synetic. In many ways, I felt like I’d arrived in DC about ten years too late. Like the rest of D.C., the theatre scene is very much a relationship game. And those relationships had been formed long before I got here.

But I did find other opportunities. And so could you.

Several D.C. theatres give a nod to local playwrights by selecting new ten minute plays that thematically relate to their mainstage production. My short L.A. riots play got an airing at the Jewish themed Theater J. A development group The Inkwell offers rehearsal space at Wooley Mammoth, actors, a dramaturg, and a director to work on 20 minutes of a full length play. I met my favorite D.C. director Linda Lombardi through this experience. (She was directing one of the other plays.) Another group Theater Alliance hosts what it calls the Hothouse New Play Development Series. It offers a commission, a week of rehearsal, and terrific actors for a one-night staged reading of new full-length work. My full-length L.A. Riots play WESTERN & 96th got an airing there.

That same theatre teamed up with California’s National Center for New Plays at Stanford and Planet Earth Arts to commission playwrights for an evening of ten minute work about the Anacostia River watershed. The plays got a second performance on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. My new ten minute play KENILWORTH – the story of a woman who fought the government to preserve her water lily farm – was read at that festival. And then the story grew and grew into a full length.

Unlike Los Angeles, where big corporations moved out years ago and took their arts money with them, the D.C. government sets aside a huge amount per capita for arts grants. A grant from the D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission and Planet Earth Arts made it possible to produce a staged reading of what is now called QUEEN OF THE WATER LILIES on Earth Day this spring. The cool part is that it was done in a National Park on the footprint of the house where the heroine lived most of her life, surrounded by the water lily ponds she loved.

The D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission also has an annual award for playwriting. I’ve come in second two times for D.C.’s Larry Neal Award. (First place comes with a nice check. Second place comes with a glass of wine and some cheese at the reception.)

Another commission came my way courtesy of the artistic director of one of the very fine children’s theatres here in D.C. The commission wasn’t for Adventure Theatre.  It was to create a one-person show for an organization called Pickle Pea Walks to be performed every weekend on the grounds around the White House for all those tourists who didn’t get their security clearance. My play QUENTIN is about the youngest son of Theodore Roosevelt on the night before he reports for duty in World War I. He’s hoping to reunite with his pals from the years when he lived in the White House. They don’t show up, so instead he takes tourists down memory lane to help him say goodbye to D.C. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Quentin Roosevelt’s death (his plane shot down by German fliers in World War I) and rangers from Sagamore Hill (the Roosevelt home) are coming to D.C. to see the production this July.

D.C. is also home to the fabulous summer Capital Fringe Festival. As an audience member, I’ve seen an opera based on the War of 1812, a 45 minute version of “Moby Dick,” and more political plays than even Washington could imagine. My own entry was a production of ALICE: an evening with the tart-tongued daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was famous for her bon mots (“If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me.”) and lived most of her life here in Washington. The show played to sold-out houses and was named critic’s pick by The Washington Post.

There are also odd opportunities for playwrights in this town. I was once asked to write a play in 40 minutes based on an audience suggestion. The wonderful artistic director at MetroStage – the first person in D.C. to fall in love with anything I’ve written – invited me to take over her theatre on a Monday night for a public reading of my controversial play with a character in blackface THE LUCKIEST GIRL. I was challenged to write a one minute play for a festival at Roundhouse Theatre – one of dozens being performed for one night only. I knew I wanted mine to stand out, so I wrote a naked play METAL DETECTOR. It was great fun to see the sign warning of “brief nudity” in the box office window.

I also served four years as a judge for Washington’s version of the Tony’s – the Helen Hayes Awards. This meant free tickets to some of the best – and some of the worst – evenings of theatre in America. (I’ve learned to ask: “will blood be spilled on the audience?”)

Finding community has been the most difficult part of living in D.C. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. I was lucky enough to find a writing group – Playwrights Gymnasium – and a terrific crew of writers. Unfortunately, the group has been on haitus the past several years. We’re all too busy. And frankly, all that business has left me lonesome here in D.C.

So I’m coming home.

I’m nervous about rejoining the L.A. theatre community. It’s likely that many of the literary managers reading scripts today were still in high school when I was last living in Los Angeles. Most of the artistic directors I know have retired. Or died. It will be like starting all over again. Just like it was ten years ago when I moved to Washington. But Southern California is home for me. I’m looking forward to re-introducing myself.

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Confessions of an Arab Woman

by Chris Farah

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes



WHO: Nagham Wehbe

WHAT: Confessions of an Arab Woman

WHERE: Complex Theatres

WHY: In “Confessions of an Arab Woman”, Joumana Haddad’s radical feminist book is brought to life as the Arab female identity breaks free from the shackles of a sexist, patriarchal culture. The result is a sort of choreopoem enacted by a cast embodying Jourmana’s thoughts and memories. Joumana is a no holds-barred fearless and liberated warrior and if the thought of such a woman being Arab is confusing to you, get yourself to the Complex quick. Y’alla!

HOW: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4403

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Blamed

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes



WHO: Callie Prendiville

WHAT: Blamed: An Established Fiction

WHERE: studio/stage

WHY: One of ten Fringe Scholarship winners (awarded to shows that expand and diversify the Fringe community) “Blamed” combines text with original music, dance, poetry, and puppetry to examine the role of women throughout history, mythology, and literature who are blamed for the ills of society. “Blamed” cleverly uses many different theatrical conventions to tell its stories and the result is a multi-cultural tapestry of short tales. “Blamed” was also awarded Best Drama at the 2015 San Diego Fringe.

Upon entering the small studio/stage space, the performers (13 women and a live folk music band) are already on stage. It reminded me of the Broadway show “Once” which also starts with the performers (who are also the musicians) already on stage, giving the audience a little pre-show entertainment. I liked how “Blamed” makes use of every possible inch of the small space. Choreographer Annie Lavin expertly blocks the performers movements because any errors in this fast-paced, movement-focused show could have caused quite an onstage traffic jam, but everything flows beautifully.

The show begins as the women tear pages out of a book, referencing the stories that are about to be told. Laughing at what they are reading, they know the truth about these “blamed” women and know what’s written in books is fiction. Seven stories are dramatized, including the story of Eve, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, and Little Red Riding Hood. One performer reads or tells the origin story of a well-known woman/girl who was wrongfully accused, victimized, stigmatized, or BLAMED by society as other ensemble members act, dance, sing, or use shadow puppets to illustrate the story. Slowly the audience understands how women have been marginalized throughout history and into present day. As the tag line states: “These aren’t your mother’s fairy tales.”

Some stories are told through folk/fairy tales, shadow puppetry (my favorite part), songs and, especially, dance. There is quite a bit of dancing and unfortunately there is really not enough room to truly dance, but the company does the best it can with the limited space and all the various theatrical elements merge into a cohesive work.

Most members of the ensemble get their chance to shine including playwright Callie Prendiville who is also a member of the ensemble. In an interview she states that she “fell in love with theater after discovering it was the synthesis of things” she cared about. What she cares about in “Blamed” is debunking the myth that dominant women should be feared. “I want people to question the deeper message of our storytelling, to reconsider their assumptions.” I certainly did.

“Blamed” is one of only eleven entries in the “Dance and Physical Theater” division in this year’s Fringe. I don’t usually see these kinds of shows but was glad “Blamed” made it onto my “dance card.” Hope it makes it onto yours.

HOW: http://hff17.org/4539

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Hello Again!

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes



WHO: Linden Waddell

WHAT: Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Sherman

WHERE: Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre

WHY: You don’t need to know who Allan Sherman was or recognize his Grammy-award winning comic novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter From Camp)” to wholeheartedly enjoy this cabaret-style show. The day I saw the show the audience ran the gamut from pre-teens to senior citizens and—from the roaring laughter—I sensed that the entire audience was entertained. Linden Waddell is marvelous as she interprets a handful of Sherman’s 250 song parodies, tells some of his story, and beautifully pays homage to a comedy legend who paved the way for singer-songwriters like “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Linden Waddell shares the stage with her musical director, arranger and accompanist Marjorie Poe, and the show was directed by Janet Miller. All three extremely talented women are show-biz vets and the quality of the show reveals and revels in their gifts. Linden’s delivers the songs with humor as well as great feeling for her muse. She has a great voice and stage presence and knows how to use funny props. She and Marjorie Poe do a song together that had me in stitches.

Though I am old enough to know “Hello Muddah,” I knew nothing about the man who wrote that song. Sherman was an American comedy writer and tv producer and created his hilarious parodies to entertain friends at parties. Songs like “Chopped Liver” (to the tune of “Moon River”) “There’s Nothing Like a Lox” (“There’s Nothing Like a Dame”), “Your Mother is Here to Stay” (“Our Love is Here to Stay”), and “Smog Gets in Your Eyes” ( “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”) were some of my favorites.

Sherman’s friends convinced him to record an album, which he did (though the record producers did not want to pay royalties on show tunes so they asked Sherman to look in the public domain for songs to parody) and that’s how his first album “My Son, the Folk Singer” (1962) came about and went on to become the fast-selling album up to that time.

Beloved by politicians to movie stars (JFK and Sinatra gave his albums as gifts), Sherman performed at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall; headlined in Vegas and guest-hosted the Tonight Show. He wrote novels and even took a shot at an original musical, penning book and lyrics for “The Fig Leaves are Falling” (1969). Linden sings a moving song from that show.

This enchanting 55-minute show, crafted and performed by pros, breezes by and is a true crowd pleaser. The next show is Sunday, June 18 (Father’s Day), so bring your Fadduh…AND your Muddah!

HOW: http://hff17.org/4580

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Bravo 25

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes

 

WHO: Eliza Gibson

WHAT: Bravo 25: Your A.I Therapist Will See You Now

WHERE: The Actors Company

WHY: I was taken by surprise. I did not expect what Eliza brought to the stage… Herself. This is rarely done in an age where big theatre, props and onstage business is the norm. What’s often considered low-budget theatre can be easily forgotten or dismissed: the bare stage and just how powerful it can be when paired with an actor willing to go beyond. This allows each audience member to soak in the naked presence of the actor. Onstage, Eliza creates multiple characters who seek “counseling” from A.I therapist Amber, and have come to rely upon these weekly group meetings. Each character comes to life, revealing pieces of individual battles. It’s a solo show that was thought-provoking, leaving us to remember that the human body, and the voice, is vehicle enough to take us on a storytelling journey of what it means to live in a world full of inconsistencies.

HOW: http://hff17.com/4323

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: 13th Grade

by Chris Farah

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO: Pamela Eberhardt

WHAT: 13th Grade

WHERE: Complex Theatres

WHY: A rollicking new musical chock full of 90’s references, teen hormones and punch ’em in the gut jokes, 13th grade follows the freshman class of a community college as they navigate through “like/totally/whatever/rad” love triangles. Come for the trip down memory lane, stay for the tight greek chorus harmonies of Pam, Emily and Katrina.

HOW: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4507

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Moments

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes

 

WHO: Bernadette Armstrong

WHAT: MOMENTS

WHERE: Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre

WHY: This play quietens the mind and requires you to listen. One incident in a woman’s day takes her back to a moment that she had silenced, forced herself to ignore its happening in hopes that she would forget. Yet life does not work that easily; as we know, moments can come back to haunt us. We witness a woman needing to deal – a woman in control of her life, yet in need of releasing a haunting experience she has carried alone. A piece of theatre that gives a louder voice to an issue that is usually carried in silence, as well as not discussed socially over dinner.

HOW: http://hff17.com/4364

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Fair

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes



WHO: Laurie Jones, Katie Jones, Mandy Stertz, Kimberly Van Ness

WHAT: FAIR

WHERE: Asylum @ Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre

WHY: In 1871, Laura D. Fair murdered her lover on a boat off the coast of San Francisco. Laura’s trial became less about the murder and more about judging her moral character. This ensemble play might have made an interesting judge-and- jury, real-life crime drama, with a message about the treatment of women in 1871, but that is not this play. FAIR, delivers the feminist message in an inventive and entertaining way… a play-within- a-play, executed in a hilarious melodramatic style (complete with fake mustaches) and delivers a powerful indictment of Laura D. Fair’s unfair treatment. 

FAIR opens with the cast onstage preparing for a performance of FAIR. One of the actors asks if she is playing “Susan Banthony” which is corrected to “Susan B. Anthony” by another cast member. Those clever first words set the tone for the play which jumps back and forth in time in a nimble yet cohesive way. I could tell immediately that this work had been developed over a period of time: the fast pace and furious blocking, the actors’ physical agility and focus, the quick blackouts and scene changes, the clever use of minimal props, and the writing—witty, provocative, assured and meaningful. It takes time for all these elements to coalesce into a well-made production.

And sure enough, the program states that The Wishbone Collective began this ensemble-devised play in the fall of 2014. They began “scraping together information about “twice-widowed, twice-divorced” Laura D. Fair—a woman so scandalous she was placed among the ranks of history and literature’s top-shelf femme fatales and yet [she has] somehow faded from memory.” Much of the dialogue is from a primary source—the recorded transcripts and letters printed in the “Official Report of the Trial of Laura D. Fair for the Murder of Alex. P. Crittenden”. There are five other sources listed in the program as well. Wishbone did their research.

There is never a question that Laura D. Fair is guilty of the murder. In this telling, Laura Fair’s guilt is almost beside the point “I did it. I don’t deny it” she states early on, and so Laura’s morality becomes the focus of the prosecution. The trial becomes a titillating media sensation and where much of the play’s hilarious social commentary unfolds.

The public vilification of someone who challenged society’s conventions by having many lovers and husbands is compelling. Making the trial a melodrama is a stroke of genius. The words are from actual court records but are delivered in a such a way that underscore the trial’s ridiculousness. Witnesses are called to remark on Laura’s “reputation of chastity” to which each replies some iteration of “bad” and “real bad.” She is called a “she-devil” and a “vile temptress”. The prosecutor blames the combination of “a controlling man” and the defendant’s “menstrual cycle”, stating Laura was a “victim of circumstance…and her own biology”. (That line got huge laughs.)

FAIR is a complicated tale woven into an entertaining melodramatic format. It made me laugh, it made me think, and it made me feel how unfair society still is to women in so many ways. The next person who says a woman is the way she is is because of PMS needs to read about Laura D. Fair. One more show on June 16th !!

HOW: http://hff17.org/4420

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: October Baby

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes



WHO: Brooke Baumer

WHAT: October Baby

WHERE: studio/stage

WHY: No one is more obsessed with the month of October than Brooke Baumer. The autumn palette, pumpkin bread, and (oh-my- gawd!) Halloween cause her to squeeeeeeal in delight. Brooke’s also a fanatical planner; so when she decides she wants a second child, why not give birth during her favorite month? Things go pretty well in that direction…until they don’t. A unique (and true) solo show about motherhood and letting go of things that don’t really matter.

Working LA actress Brooke Baumer jumps right into “October Baby” (which was well-received at Solofest 2017—the largest solo theater festival on the West Coast) by telling the audience how completely obsessed she is with that tenth month of the year. She brings out her favorite mustard-colored sweater and shows slides of her Halloween costumes throughout the years, but “just” loving October is not enough for Brooke. Oh no, she strives for a much bigger prize—Brooke feels she must give birth to her second child during her favorite month. How hard could that be?

Does this obstetrical goal sound a “tad” compulsive? You have no idea! Brooke admits she fixates on controlling things so why not include her pregnancy? She plots her strategy as if it were the D-Day invasion, gets her husband on board (yes, he does play a “minor” part), and the story takes off. (I won’t go into details because the twists and turns in this unique and well-told tale are worth the surprise.)

Brooke is a passionate and sharp storyteller and has a wonderful stage presence. Comedy is Brooke’s bread-and- butter (or perhaps “comedy is her candy corn”?) and I was laughing from the start. The story flows with ease and at a good pace. She kept me on the edge of my seat because her story has more change-ups than a MLB pitcher! And after the laughs come “the feels” and by the end, I had tears in my eyes…in a good way.

Solo-show diva Jessica Lynn Johnson, directs and the show moves. I loved that Brooke showed us photos and even a bit of film footage to assist her story. She even gave out Halloween candy as we left the theater! A nice touch.

HOW: http://hff17.org/4321

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Thanksgiving

by Jennifer Ashe

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO: Tiffany Cascio 

WHAT: Thanksgiving

WHERE: The Lounge Theatre

WHY: Why is it that Thanksgiving seems to bring out the best and the worst of human kind? Tiffany Cascio warns us this not-all-the-way true story is a look into her own dysfunctional family and within two minutes we know we’re in for a wild ride.

Chloe (Allison Youngberg) needs the perfect day, Needs everyone to fall in line, NEEDS her family to be normal for just this moment. But they’re being who they are and that’s messy, angry, manipulative, and all too human for Chloe who wants to protect her perfect fiancé (Gary Poux) from the truth.

Kitty Lindsay directs this strong ensemble cast through this hilarious, painful ride where the audience can see the scars left by childhood, divorce, abandonment and that no one is perfect and no one is really awful and what it means to be a family may not look like we thought it should. As Mom (Sharon Spence) copes by learning every new age path out there, Victoria (Susan Louise O’Connor) has booze and sarcasm, and Max tops them all by bringing his bestie Starr (Asia Lynn Pitts) who happens to be a stripper with a mouth like, well… a stripper. Ah, family! Still, we need it. We are forever bound to it whether we like it or not.

HOW: http://hff17.com/4549