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Get Your Bard On (HFF15 Dispatch #3)

on Tuesday, Jun. 23rd

Our coverage of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival continues.

Somehow my Fringe this year has become increasingly haunted by The Bard of Avon.

This is not a difficult proposition. Fringe theatre festivals are often hotbeds of reinterpretations of Shakespeare. For starters the plays are in the pubic domain, so you don’t have the good folks at Samuel French breathing down your neck. Since just about everyone knows the broad details of Shakespeare’s work it’s possible to riff on Will while leaving out the details. Which is perfect for the hour-or-so length of Fringe shows.

Yet the crop of Shakespearean inspired works at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival doesn’t limit itself to anything approaching a conventional reimagining. I’ve already discussed Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Shakespeare(ish) in a previous piece, and written about Capital W’s Hamlet-Mobile. Since then I’ve had more time inside the Hamlet-Mobile van, and I’ve taken in two more shows that draw inspiration from the English language’s most famous poet.

The first show we’ll touch on is Loves Labour Won, an ensemble piece from writer-performer Ryan J-W Smith that is a bawdy tribute to Shakespearean love stories. Smith has produced this show, an original piece of comedy in iambic pentameter, at the Edinburgh Fringe. On the evening I saw it he packed the small house of the Acme Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd. with an enthusiastic crowd who ran along with both his nimble ensemble and Smith’s own charismatic antics.

Save for a dated, and now slightly out-of-place, anti-Bush rant dropped in the middle of the piece the show is a light entertainment executed well. To be fair, the anti-Bush rant was performed with fine gusto… it’s just. Well, it’s 2015, mate. Sure, the problems still abound but the names on the desks have changed.

Still: I got a bit of a thrill hearing Smith’s verse, a reminder that the old forms still hold up under new hands. A good time, to be sure.

Another good time? Michael Shaw Fisher’s Shakespeare’s Last Night Out (Or What? You, Will??), a solo show from the creator of Hollywood Fringe favorites Exorcistic and Doomsday Cabaret. Until now each of Fisher’s productions was getting bigger and bigger, and beginning to run up against the edges of just what is possible to produce inside the bounds of a Fringe show.

Here Fisher rolls it back: it’s just him as Shakespeare, drinking away his pain and recounting his life story, and a two person band in the lounge space inside the Three Clubs bar. As it turns out, this is the perfect venue for Fisher. (Here’s the part where I disclose that he’s a life-long friend, but he’ll be the first tell you that I’ve never been shy about telling him what I think he needs to work on—or what he’d hitting out of the park.)

This is the best storytelling of Fisher’s career at the Fringe, with his vigorous defense of the Bard’s authorship running right alongside a rather heartfelt reflection on balancing the need for connection with an ambitious hunger for relevance and prestige via the stage. Not every song lands a bullseye—Fisher’s lyrics in Exorcistic remain a manic high point—but his charismatic performance as Shakespeare wins in every minute of this cabaret style show.

I pray to the Muses above that Fisher keeps this piece in rotation and hones it the razor-sharp dagger that it so clearly wants to be.

Let’s wrap this triptych of Bard-inspired plays with a return jaunt to Hamlet-Mobile. When last we left me, I hadn’t even stepped foot inside the van. Now, some five mini-plays later-I’ve seen all but one of writer-director Lauren Ludwig’s little gems.

Wow. I just… wow. I don’t really want to say more than that at the moment. There’s one piece left for me to see, and after that I’m going to dive in deep. Just keep your eyes glued to the @hamletmobile Twitter account, because I don’t think the Fringe is going to be the last stop for this tiny juggernaut.

The 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival runs through the 28th of June.

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