"Epiphany epiphany epiphany," Ellyn Daniels chants at one point during her stand-up Fringe show, Emotional Terrorism.
The context is this: Ellyn has just run into an old high school friend from Florida here in Hollywood, and she is crashing at the friend's house after a party. The friend has to go out to an acting audition, but she tells Ellyn on the phone that she's had an epiphany, and now she sees everything in her life differently. When the friend returns, Ellyn starts her chant and then waits to hear this "epiphany." What she hears instead is some sort of half-assed New Age psychobabble. Ellyn then confesses to her friend that she may have slept with her friend's boyfriend - she was so drunk at the party she can't remember too clearly - and at first, the friend is okay with that, and then she isn't. And then she disappears as a character from the show and presumably from Ellyn's life.
A development that summed up for me one of the perils of Fringe - that is, there are SO MANY SHOWS, and in many cases, nothing seems to matter very much. That is, you pay your $12, you hang for an hour, and then you move on to the next show. Fine. But is that enough?
For many folks, yes it is. I kept hearing all around me, especially from men and women in their mid-20s, "I just love the Fringe."
And there's a lot to love, it's true. There's a lot of talent on display, and a lot of ingenuity, and a lot of variety, and a lot of fun.
The Fringe opening night party was a sweaty hoot, with plenty of photo ops for the participants and lots of Fringe-related activities, as illustrated by the two posted photos I took that night.
But an "epiphany" here or there would be nice too, wouldn't it? That is, something that lingered in your thoughts for the drive home.
So here is a rundown and a roundup and a cavalcade of experiences - something for everyone, I'm sure, and lots to think about too, at least for this Fringer. Starting out with the one person shows, which abound.
EMOTIONAL TERRORISM by Ellyn Daniels
The publicity for this show states that Ellyn Daniels "takes us on an intoxicating ride ... from sitting on the precipice of suicide to finding salvation through stand-up," but that is not an accurate description of what I saw. Not only doesn't Ellyn find "salvation through stand-up comedy," she doesn't even seem particularly funny. And we never get to see even a snippet of Ellyn's "act." What we do hear about is Ellyn's search for stardom, which she very perceptively equates with trying to get her parents' attention. "My parents talked about characters on How I Met Your Mother with much greater interest than they ever talked about me," she tells us. "If I could just get on a hit sitcom, then my parents would finally care about me that much too." But Ellyn finds it hard to get on a sitcom, just as she's found it hard to excel as a model and as a dancer before this. Pretty, blond, tall and thin, she has the physique and manner that seem suitable to dancing and modeling, but she lost patience with both because her successes were not big enough to satisfy her need for specialness. Comedy would seem like a less than ideal arena for a young woman with her attributes, as the male comics I know would descend on her like piranha. However, the best thing about her show were her self-lacerating comic asides, as when she mocked herself for "taking moral advice from a porno star" (her Hollywood roommate). So maybe Ellyn Daniels is growing into her persona of a woman who has swum with the piranha and lived to joke about it. Who knows? A word to the wise - don't obsess about fame. Worry more about how to tell a good story. Right now, the stories are strung together like a shark's tooth necklace. The best comics know how to blend the stories together and call back aspects and details. So hang in there, Ellyn, it's all part of a process, and you're well on your way.
F*CK TINDER by David Rodwin
David Rodwin is one of those storytellers who knows how to blend his stories, who frankly has a mastery over his material that most comedians and performance artists could learn a lot from. His story of a contemporary hetero man's search for love and happiness comes across as oddly brave in times such as ours, in which smart, handsome, well-educated (all of which David is) white or Jewish guys are often seen as the enemy. We learn about his move to San Franciso, his falling in love with the woman he expected to marry, and then how this oddly (again) leads him to his first visit to a sex club and to his first acid trip. David is a very charismatic performer, and he has emotionally choreographed his tale in a sophisticated way. The only thing missing for me is his personal vulnerability and angst, and the distinct and distinctly memorable point of view that masters of the form like Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian (the Hipster had the pleasure of seeing both perform several times) brought to related material. But yes, David Rodwin does deserve to be mentioned in such company, and there are very few edgy storytellers with his gifts out there right now, mining this kind of material. So catch him at this level while you still can.
UNDER THE JELLO MOLD by Jennie Fahn
Jennie Fahn is another master storyteller, though very different from David Rodwin - less hip, less edgy, more in the female Jewish comedy tradition of Joan Rivers, though very much her own person. (She actually reminded me most of Chandler Bing's girlfriend Janice on Friends.) The day I saw her perform, the A/C had gone out, and the Ruby Theatre at the Complex was packed to the brim. While producer Tom Cavanaugh distributed fans to the audience, it was still going to be a task to keep interest in her show. But Jennie had no problem with it, she had the audience laughing and hanging on every word from the start, as she weaved her tale about her deeply eccentric (to the point of actual cuckoo-ness) mother, and how Jennie dealt with her, both in life and in depth. It is very rich material, and I assume that there's an 80-90 minute version as well. Judging by her huge success here, I certainly think there's an audience for such an evening. My only advice would be to loosen up a bit and relate more to the audience, to the here and now. But maybe she does in other circumstances. When the A/C is out on a hot day in LA, the here and now may be something to keep at bay.
There is a myth going around that being a part of Fringe means that a certain degree of amateurishness is involved - wait, what? Oh yes, I spread that one myself, earlier in this article. Well, while this can be the case - and yes, I have had to walk out of a few shows that had gone off the rails - it is certainly not so here, where we are once again in the hands of a wonderful storyteller working with sublime control of her material.
CONFESSIONS OF A MULATTO LOVE-CHILD by Bellina Logan
Bellina Logan - like Jennie Fahn - has constructed a one woman show around her relationship with her deeply eccentric mother, though the two mothers are as different as Bellina is from Jennie. Bellina's mother, Avril, was an Englishwoman living in New York and attending the Actors Studio there when she met the African-American actor who soon became Bellina's father. Avril already had two older daughters, and she would regularly trek from New York to London to Los Angeles with her girls, until at some point it was just her and Bellina (and a number of cats she was very attached to). Bellina Logan is a lovely sophisticated woman with an English accent and an elegant sense of humor that gracefully brings the audience along with her on her journey, much as her mother had brought Bellina along. The anecdotes are (mostly) seamlessly interwomen, and Bellina conveys so much affection for and acceptance of her mother's often-questionable behavior, that it imbues everyone present with a sense of goodwill. She extends this warmth even to her stories about racial issues, as growing up she is often mistaken for various ethnicities. I would advise you not to miss this, but I know how difficult it is to get a ticket. All I can say is, keep trying.