Noah J Nelson on Saturday, Jun. 13th
The 2015 Hollywood Fringe is in full swing.
Sometimes the best show you’re going to see on a given night at the Fringe is the one you didn’t plan on.
A little background the regulars can skip: the Hollywood Fringe Festival is the annual, un-curated, theatre festival that takes place in and around Hollywood’s Theatre Row. Performers and troops from around the Southland, across the country, and even from overseas make their way here to spend three weeks in June making and seeing theatre. It’s quite the party. Occasionally we even dip into the sublime.
I headed out to the Fringe on Friday to check out IamI, a piece that was promising to explore the concept of death through movement, multimedia projections and a ‘new theatrical technique called “The Destruction Method.’” Here’s how the company Alternative Art Styles, describes the method:
The philosophy of Destruction is centered on the purity of Nothingness, and the writing technique is characterized by seemingly unrelated actions sporadically interrupting the natural flow of individual scenes. The Destruction process in staging requires the actors to make bold, seemingly inconsistent physical choices that create friction between the actor, the movement, and the text.
Now I’ve been to my fair share of weird art things, and I’ve seen body suits used with projectors to create some stunning imagery, even if it comes off as trying to carry more meaning than it is capable of, but “The Destruction Method” isn’t that.
It’s just good old-fashioned incoherence.
The shame is that there’s clearly an animating force—an intelligent mind—working—on this piece. If IamI had been staged as a pure movement piece it could have been stirring. Every time the actors open their mouths, however, the clash between anti-narrative and an actor’s need to have a storyline to follow became tragically apparent.
As it stands, IamI is a successful experiment in measuring just how long an hour is.
I’m sure that the creators of IamI might even be quite happy to have someone functioning in the role of a critic “not get it.” The need to blow the mind of aging theatre degree holders is the birthright of every CalArts student, after all. Yet let me share this bit of hard earned knowledge:
The world is a chaotic and senseless place. While narrative experimenters like William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin may have made great poetic work out of cut-ups in the past, not everyone is meant to follow in their footsteps. Nihilism and existential bleakness aren’t edgy anymore: they live right in the heart of our always-on culture. Holding the mirror up to nature, even if that mirror is strapped onto the face of one of your actors, just isn’t good enough anymore.
Instead of reading as a bold, anti-narrative statement IamI just comes off as half-baked world building with a side of late night buzzed dorm philosophizing by some really smart people who could make something worthwhile if they took the time to finish their thoughts.
Oof. I’m not usually that harsh. Sometimes though… sometimes you need to follow up a exercise in formalistic pretension with a cynically sharp tooth out to bite the hand that feeds it.
I had no intention of seeing The 7th Annual One-Man Show World Championships, mostly for the reason that I didn’t know it existed. Fringe is vast, and I’ll cop to not plunging through the Comedy section of the catalog since I’m usually on the look out for the weird stuff. Luckily Caitlin Rucker, a fixture of Fringe, was outside the Theatre Asylum space as I was standing in line for IamI and she invited me to the show.
If you’ve been to Fringe over the past few years you’ve probably run into Rucker. Sometimes it seems like she’s the board op or stage manager for every show. In the case of The 7th Annual One-Man Show World Championships she’s directing, working with writer/performer Jim Hanna. Hanna is another Fringe fixture, having been a highlight in the large productions that the Orgamsico Theatre Company usually produces. (Don’t worry, we’ll get outside baseball in the next paragraph.) The point is that even with all these factors going for it I didn’t know about the show until an hour before. That’s Fringe in a nutshell.
I am so, so glad Rucker stopped to pitch me the show.
If you’ve ever sat through a hideous, overwrought solo show then 7th Annual is for you. Heck, if you like solo shows then you’re versed enough in the language to get the humor. Hanna is merciless with the genre, and there’s definitely a reading of this work that would see Hanna mocking the contents of some of the “journeys” that the characters go through. The central idea here, however, is to mock the way in which solo shows tend to be formulaic and turn all brands of personal tragedy into universal stories. Even when they shouldn’t be.
The entire cast is spot-on, running with archetypes of solo performers and just nailing their bits. Maybe it all helped to have an enthusiastic audience who was willing to buy into the fiction that we were there to watch the championships, which actually made some of the pre-programmed audio cues redundant. Maybe I just needed to laugh after checking the time about 600 times during the previous show and counting the number of projected stars on the ceiling.
All I know is that I haven’t laughed that hard and long in a while, and I certainly haven’t cried from laughing at a Fringe show in ages.
The other thing I know is that I want Hanna to write more and Rucker to direct more. Whatever these two have going on next I’ll be there.
Finally a quick note on something I’ll be writing more about: Hamlet-Mobile. The troupe putting on pop-up riffs and redactions from Hamlet put on some street performances yesterday, and if the quality of those were any indication as to what’s going on in the van? Oh, man. It’s even better than I was hoping for.