Eight Artists Reflect on 2019, Inspired for 2020

Fueled by the force that is the Hollywood Fringe Festival, creatives brought a banquet of quality smaller theatre and performance art to 2019 to Los Angeles, with many projects growing beyond its borders and seeking destinations in other mediums.

From local producers, east coast transplants, and across-the-pond ex-pats; from solo introspective, post-apocalyptic satire, and the cutting edge, to dance, aerial and burlesqueeight artists reflect on their personal accomplishments and challenges in 2019, as well as on the inspired work of their peers, and share their plans and hopes for more to come in 2020.

Interviewed are Creative Director and Executive Producer,  Lea Walker, at Aeriform Arts, Writer and Producer, Jonathan Tipton Meyers, at We Are Traffic: A Rideshare Adventure, Director and Producer, Roe Moore,  at PiePie Productions, Writer and Director, Matt Ritchey, at M3 and Storycrafting, Actress and Executive Producer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, at The Always Working Reading Series, Writer and Producer, Steven Vlasak, Actress and Variety Performer, Cat LaCohie, Vixen DeVille, and Writer and Filmmaker, Matthew Robinson, at Red Flag Media Productions.

What have been some highlights in 2019 for you personally and your career?

L. Walker –“One of the professional highlights for me this past year was producing Aeriform Artists Media Cirque du Giselle. To be able to present a uniquely executed, extremely well-received performance piece in a festival where there are 400 plus shows was an amazing experience. One of Aeriform Arts main values is inclusivity and we've managed to grow our production arm while honoring those values. We are pleased to have worked with Women’s Health Magazine and Hearst Media coaching and coordinating aerial shoots for magazine covers with both Julianne Hough and Para-Olympian Amy Purdy, as well as work with Yvie Oddly, winner of 'Drag Race' Season 11 for RuPaul's World Of Wonder Productions. Personally, my most important accomplishment for the year was being able to create a better work-life balance, allowing me to truly enjoy what I do.”

Jonathan Tipton Meyers - Photo by Cooper Bates

J. T. Meyers – “Personal highlights from this year began with performing a selection from my solo show 'We Are Traffic: A Solo Rideshare Adventure' on KPCC's Unheard LA. Then turning that solo show into a half-hour television pilot alongside a one-hour dramedy, 'BLERD' about a young black engineer who lands his dream job at a private sector Space Company, then discovers a conspiracy that might destroy it. I also co-created alongside fellow storyteller Katya Duft, a live storytelling show about rideshare called 'Ride or Die' to bring together passengers and drivers. I've met some beautiful artists who inspire me and 5,000+ people in this city trying to get from one place to another and they've inspired me to bring their stories to the world.”

R. Moore – “2019 has been a true treat. Career-wise, I had the opportunity to direct many great theatrical productions including Los Angeles Brisk Festival's award-winning production of 'RECESS' written by Kara Emily Krantz and starring Kyle Secor and Hailey Winslow. I also got to direct my first musical for the Hollywood Fringe Festival [HFF], 'Jamba Juice: The Musical.' Other productions include 2Cents Theatre INKFest's 'East Stanton Station' and OC-Centric New Plays Festival 'Still Moving' written by Ben Susskind...On the theatre side, I worked as the associate director on many great television shows this year, including my fourth year on CW's Masters of Illusion and the Hollywood Christmas Parade. My favorite shows to work on were the CW variety show 'The Big Stage' and the upcoming Disney+/Jim Henson talk show Earth to Ned, where alien Ned comes to invade Earth but finds himself enamored by human culture [and] abducts various celebrities to understand how Earth and humans operate. For Henson fans, they will be delightfully impressed with this show. Personally, I completed two half marathons this year: New York and Las Vegas. I'm very much looking forward to doing many more in 2020. I had the pleasure of being a Producers Guild of America Mentor in their Power of Diversity Workshop.”

M. Ritchey – “2019 has been one of my favorite years. I’ve had some tragedy and some pitfalls to be sure, but overall, I love the trajectory of this past year. Personally, I started to trust my instincts more and be okay with people not “getting” me or my choices. I’ve been more open to possibility and did a lot of leaping into things that scared me, mostly to very positive results–many of them being in my career. I did a lot of acting this year: I wrote and performed a one-man show (with two people in it) called 'Blackboxing' at the [HFF 2019] where I tried to shove as much of 'me' onto the stage as I could - and it was overwhelmingly accepted. That led to me shooting a music video for the song 'Smellay Lahk A Turkay' with For Love of Parody Productions which was fantastic. (It was written for my aunt Julee back in 1995 who passed away a few weeks after the music video debuted, just after her birthday.) I did a 48-hour project with my company, M3, and stepped into two 'last-minute' shows in October and December, I made big strides with my writing partner on a screenplay, I saw and reviewed a ton of L.A. theater, made some great new friends, and was featured on a playing card and poster thanks to Matt Kamimura and 'Matt: The Gathering.' And I got to work with Sebastian Munoz and Force of Nature Productions directing my play 'Romeo and Juliet In Hell.' Amazing year.”

Jenelle Lynn Randall

J. L. Randall – “Well the past few years have been rough with no rep–my manager died...in the past month I’ve gotten a manager, booked a few voice-over gigs, and met the love of my life so 2019 turned out okay. But I have to say 'the' most important thing I accomplished was my Eartha Kitt show that I wrote, EP'd and starred in this past June at [HFF 2019], 'I Wanna Be Evil: The Eartha Kitt Story.' We opened with three sold-out houses, got rave reviews, and offers to bring the show to other theatres. That was very taxing–as it was my first fringe and I did everything except direct myself–but it was very rewarding. I also did a truncated version of my [HFF 2019] show for Feinstein’s At Vitello's in L.A. in September, where that show also has rave reviews on Broadway World.”

S. Vlasak – “This year started with a bang for me with my 'Nights at the Algonquin Round Table' receiving a run in January at the Carriage House Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky. Every show sold out, and I flew there to be part of the fun–joining in talkbacks after some shows. The director, Bob Singleton, and the entire cast all did a fantastic job with my Dorothy Parker-centered Roaring Twenties comedy. Of course, [also] 'Disrobed: Why So Clothes-Minded?' was the focus and highlight of 2019 for me. This unique 'naked cast and audience' theatrical experience, produced and directed by Brian Knudson, sold out its debut Fringe Festival run and extensions, won some awards, and has now settled into a once a month residency at Matt Quinn’s Studio C Theatre in Hollywood.”

C. LaCohie – “This year has been insane both personally and career-wise. I had premiered my solo show 'Vixen DeVille Revealed' in L.A. back in 2018, and at the beginning of 2019 I set my goal to take the show on the road. I toured the show to four cities in three different states and won three awards, including 'Best One Person Performance,' 'Best Solo Performance,' and 'Best Out Of Town Show.' On returning to L.A. I then entered into a deal to have the show taped as a one hour TV special, which we are working on releasing in [2020.] Finally, I had also set a goal to link the show to a charitable cause and 2019 saw the launch of my book 'Vixen's Unleashed' and later a calendar version of the book, proceeds of which go to support the Vixen's Unleashed Scholarship Program - information on both the book and scholarship are available.”

M. Robinson – “A highlight for my year personally has been learning to play golf. It's fun because every time you play is a chance to get better. With my career winning best comedy for 'Olivia Wilde Does Not Survive the Apocalypse' at [HFF 2019] was such a rewarding experience. I was so proud of the cast and crew and getting recognition like that was unbelievable.”

What were your top five favorite shows, productions, or performances this past year?

L. Walker – “My five favorite productions this year are a hodgepodge of mediums and styles - circus, music, dance, and film are huge parts of my world. In no particular order, my five favorites this year were: Bauhaus at The Palladium, 'Disrobed: Why So Clothes-Minded?' by Steven Vlasak, [documentary] 'Industrial Accident: The Story Of Wax Trax! Records' with concert by Ministry, 'O' Cirque du Soleil, and 'Tarantina.'

J. T. Meyers – “[My] top five favorite shows this year were relatively small in scale, but gigantic in spirit and heart: Kate Radford's glowing multi-media show 'Drought,' Makha Mthembu's powerful time bomb 'No Child Left Behind,' Mitchell Bishop's mind-bending adventurous, gloriously insane 'Pit of Goblins,' John Leguizamo's profound 'Latin History for Morons,' and 'August Wilson's Jitney'–which needs no additional kudos, it was just brilliant.”

R. Moore – “Based off creative approach, there are two [shows] that really come to mind. During the Brisk Festival, Gerald B. Fillmore's play 'Join the Club' was an insanely hilarious view of an immigrant finding their way to America. When it comes to drama, 'Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies' directed by Allison Bergman for the OC-Centric New Plays Festival was not only relevant to the cultural issues where we're seeing inequality but an insightful look at mental health issues. On the East Coast...'Slava's Snowshow' looks like an unassuming clown performance until you find yourself covered in fake snow while clowns climb through the audience. The show ends with ginormous balls for the audience to pass around, as well as more snow! Because of a personal connection, I have to share I enjoyed 'Say Something, Bunny!' The show deciphers wires recorded from the early 1950s of a family and discovers the voices in the recording has to not only New York roots, but has insights to the early days of musicals on Broadway. I say this is a personal connection because one of the characters in the recording was a Moore and a possible relation to my family lineage!...My list wouldn't be complete if I didn't include at least one dance performance. And for that, I have to say 'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.' Matthew Bourne's reimagining of the story is very timely and the talent performed is incredible. The production value is extraordinary and the use of lighting, graphics, and production design is great."

Matt Ritchey

M. Ritchey – “I saw a terrific amount of theatre this year, either by personal choice or as a reviewer, and my obvious stand-outs list was 15 strong. But the five that broke convention and were the most intellectually, artistically, and visually stimulating for me were: 'Growing Gills to Drown In The Desert' at Loft Ensemble. A heady, funny, emotional, and existential look into who we are as individuals, a society, and the meanings of theater and life. 'The Magic Flute' at LA Opera. I’ve been wanting to see this show – Mozart’s classic directed as a live 1920’s film with projections and characters pulled from classic silent films – for years. A good friend got me an amazing seat and I was just as blown away as I had hoped to be. 'Butcher Holler Here We Come,' A Economy Production at [HFF 2019]. Not only was this story (based on real events of a coal mine collapsing and burying five men) incredibly well-written, directed, and acted, but it was done in complete darkness in a room at Thymele Arts with only the use of practical headlamps. The action took place all around the audience, making it completely immersive but with no burden on the audience to have to 'do' anything. It was frightening, exciting, engrossing, and other words ending in '-ing.' 'The Death of Sam Mobean,' Orgasmico Theatre Company at [HFF 2019.] Not only did Michael Shaw Fisher’s mind-bender of a play (reminiscent of 'Invitation to a Beheading' and more than one Kafka novel) move me in the brainpan and tickle my funny bone, but it featured Schoen Hodges in what I consider the best male performance at [HFF 2019]. 'Supportive White Parents' at Second City. Centered around an Asian girl who wishes on a shooting star for supportive white parents and 'magically' gets her wish. [The play] features brilliant cross-cultural stereotypes, sharp writing, fantastic music, a talented cast, and the mandatory 'lesson'–Joy Regullano’s show was my favorite new musical of 2019. Immediately following this list is 'Mr. Yunioshi,' my favorite one-man show, and 'Boeing Boeing,' the most sharply directed and acted piece I saw.” – Matt Ritchey

J. L. Randall – “Well I saw three August Wilson shows - one produced by a friend at the Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood, 'August Wilson's Two Trains Running,' 'August Wilson's Jitney' at the Mark Taper Forum, and 'August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean' directed by a good friend, Gregg Daniel at A Noise Within in Pasadena. I saw an outstanding production of 'Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill' starring dear friend Deidrie Henry at the Garry Marshall Theatre. I also saw 'Lights Out: Nat 'King' Cole' at the Geffen."

S. Vlasak – “I got to see a lot of live theatre in 2019, but It’s the shows that were somehow next level in structure and style that most stand out. ' Cirque du Giselle' an acrobatic show from Aeriform Arts, as part of [HFF 2019], was every bit as visual and breathtaking as something from Cirque du Soleil. Actually, I liked it better, with its world-class performers, a strong narrative, and fantastic costumes evoking visitors from the afterlife. My other 2019 highlights, all reviewed on Better Lemons, and all with distinctive and innovative staging, were Greg Crafts/Theatre Unleashed’s 'Tattered Capes,' LA Opera’s 'The Magic Flute,' Sacred Fool’s 'Waiting for Waiting for Godot,' and another love letter to actors, Matt Ritchey’s 'Blackboxing.'"

C. LaCohie – “In no particular order. Three of my favorite shows come from [HFF 2019.] 'Yes. No. Maybe.' by Raymond-Kym Suttle, which has some stunning acting talent and beautiful provocative writing. 'Cirque Du Giselle' an exquisitely skilled aerial ballet adaptation presented by circus school Aeriform Arts. 'Crack Whore, Bulimic, Girl-next-door' written by Marnie Olsen and directed by Jennifer Chun (which was, in fact, my second time seeing the show after seeing it at a different venue in 2018) was once again an outstanding roller coaster of a ride through heart-wrenching vulnerable storytelling, expertly peppered with genuine laugh-out-loud moments of light relief. Every cast member took this show to another level and I probably cried even more than the first time around. Honorable mention goes to 'Blue Man Group' which I saw at the Pantages - another second for me this year...I'm going to include 'Foodies and Boobies Burlesque Brunch' in my top five (an ongoing burlesque brunch show at El Cid.) I've been meaning to see this show for a while and then was cast to perform with them in November!!! I couldn't wait to get off the stage to watch the rest of the show. The performers they brought in were some of my favorite burlesquers in town, so prolific, entertaining and oozing charisma. The whole show was just put together so well, the whole cast having such a blast on stage, the audience just can't help but be swept away with the atmosphere. As a burlesque performer of 15 years, YES, I've seen a lot of burlesque. Done badly, you want to kill yourself. Done right, it's like you died and went to heaven. Producer Ginger Lee Belle is doing all kinds of other-worldly brilliance!”

Matthew Robinson - Photo by Matt Kamimura

M. Robinson – "I've seen so many amazing shows, so apologies in advance if you feel I overlooked your show. I will definitely wake up in the dead of night realizing I forgot an awesome production. These are listed in no particular order: 'Lights Out: Nat 'King' Cole,' 'We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915 is a 2012,' 'When Colossus Falls' at Acting Out INKFest, 'Meet me in Mizery,' and 'Pockets.' There are so many I am thinking of but I've written this list 12 different ways.”

What is your favorite food and/or holiday tradition for the New Year?

L. Walker – “I've given up on 'resolutions.' As I’ve grown older and wiser I’ve realized that looking backward isn't the best way to live your life–I like to look forward. I like to start the New Year out at the beach surfing and setting my intentions for the year, the beach is one of the places I feel the calmest at.”

J. T. Meyers – “I have no New Year's traditions, but it's such a good idea that I will start one: A Hollywood Hike to humble myself under the big blue sky.”

Roe Moore

R. Moore – “When it comes to New Year's traditions, there are two musts: watching 'New Years Eve Rockin' Party' (with that Ryan Seacrest guy) and an overflowing cup of Welch's sparkling cider. Watching the ball drop in NYC is something I always make sure I do. Goal making is a big part of what I do not just at New Year's but throughout the year. My approach has morphed over the years as I've gone from aspiring to now being in the thick of my career journey. I now look at goal setting as a course correction and aligning my energy with opportunities and networking to continue in the direction I've started. What is different at New Year's is I look at any unfinished business I may have on my plate, critically look at what did work and didn't work in the past year, and examine what will be best for the new year. I don't quite do dream boards, but I do post my goals around my bedroom as reminders. There's a lot that can pull your focus in Los Angeles, so it's key for me to say, 'Is this going to be helpful for me or is there something better for me to use my time?'"

M. Ritchey – "I had two holiday traditions at Christmas with my family, one of which has sadly gone away – the annual Snakespoon. (I won’t go into it, but if you’re interested, check it out here.) But through the year, members of my family keep an eye out online or in stores for entries into the Ugly Ornament Contest. It’s exactly what it sounds like: we buy the ugliest ornaments we find during the year and then present them on Christmas Day to one another. We vote as a family and one ornament reigns victorious. Check ‘em out.”

J. L. Randall – “I make sure I go back east, Maryland, to visit my mother for the holidays...on December 30, 2019, she turned 80, so I’m very excited for her party.”

Steven Vlasak

S. Vlasak – “Holiday traditions? I come from a big family, and we do tend to round everyone up, so I do enjoy those Christmas cookies and Italian food! And it’s LA, so…Tamales! Family and friends are the best! As for New Year’s, I just dust off last year’s resolutions and determine to do them again. No, really.”

C. LaCohie – “Food! I go home to the UK every year for the holidays and I can't get enough of that black pudding! Nom Nom...Every new year I come up with a word for the new year, rather than resolutions. I stole this from Bonnie Gillespie–who I'm sure stole it from someone else–but it's something I encourage my students to do also. The way I use it is it's a word that you will filter all your decision making through for the rest of the year. In 2016 my word was 'go' as in 'go to things'–make a conscious effort to accept invitations. If I was tired at night. and not sure whether to attend, I would 'go.' 2017, the word was 'create,' which meant whenever I was given the opportunity to create something, I would. I would choose that option over making money, overspending time doing general upkeep–unlike the previous year, if it was a toss-up between going to some event and finishing up some costume–I would stay at home and create. 2018 was 'finish,' as in finish off unfinished projects, but also put a 'finish' a polish or embellish already completed things. I finished creating my solo show, I finished a lot of unfinished burlesque act ideas. I painted my grotty looking living room. Last year was 'risk.' If making a decision, the only reason against it was it was too risky– risky financially, risky that I might fail–well, I went and did it!! I really think this is why I've actually accomplished so much this year, I just kept taking the risks. I haven't figured out my word for 2020 but I will meditate on it on New Year's Day and put it first and foremost in my Freedom Mastery Calendar–another other of my New Year traditions. I go through the whole process of goal setting as set out in the front of the calendar. If you haven't heard of Freedom Mastery check it out."

M. Robinson – “For New Year's Eve, my family loves to make black-eyed peas usually in a stew.”

What can we expect in the New Year from you personally? What creative endeavors or projects are coming up?

Lea Walker

L. Walker – “This year my company Aeriform Artists Media is in the design stage of a Social Circus production. These traveling performances will utilize circus as a medium for exploring, exchanging ideas, championing and bringing awareness to the societal experiences of various marginalized groups. Our goal this year is to find ways to expand creatively and grow organically.”

J. T. Meyers – “In this new year, you can expect a full production mounting of 'We Are Traffic,' hopefully, followed by a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe. In addition, I'll be pitching both TV pilots and finishing a screenplay, 'All My Friends,' about the 2003 blackout in NYC.”

R. Moore – "In the new year, I am partnering with playwright Kara Emily Krantz to bring her play 'inValidated' to the 2020 [HFF.] 'inValidated' is a two-time O'Neill semi-finalist and currently a 2020 National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist. I am also looking forward to see what the seeds I planted in 2019 may create, including shadowing fantastic directors on network shows. Who knows...there may also be a resurgence of the 2018 [HFF] favorite 'Buzz'd Out!' finally making it to a television near you! No matter what happens, I am looking forward to creative and 'awespiring' 2020!”

M. Ritchey – “I just began my Storycrafting service where I work with actors, writers, or anyone with a story to tell and help guide the process – theater, film, novel, short story, etc. Deadlines are always important so I have some people working toward [HFF] shows in June. Storycrafting: I’m working with a friend to create a Summer Theater Program, continuing to work with Director’s Lab West, and looking for a company to produce my sure-fire hit comedy 'Shpider.' Guaranteed hit. Seriously. Call me. Happy Holidays.”

J. L. Randall – "I am entering National Alliance for Musical Theatre in NYC, so I’m excited, and anticipating my Eartha show 'I Wanna Be Evil: The Eartha Kitt Story' being accepted into that festival. I'm also looking for a producing theatre that will help me develop my show further for the NY market. The plan is Off-Broadway, then Broadway. I’m ambitious and hopeful, but anything is possible.”

S. Vlasak – "For 2020–Yes, the Roaring Twenties are back! There are additional productions brewing around the country for 'Nights at the Algonquin Round Table.’ And although it’s too soon to make any announcements, the premise is also being developed as a TV series. 'Disrobed' may be found on the first Saturday of every month [starting March 2020] for those whose bucket list includes 'attending the theatre in my birthday suit.' And I’ve written a darkly humorous and (not very) naked look at the culture of celebrity, 'Beautiful Monsterz,' which I hope to present this June for the [HFF.] And, of course, I’m looking forward to attending and being transported by all the new works from L.A.'s innovative writers, actors and directors, and to logging in a few more hours hanging out with them at the Broadwater Plunge.”

Cat LaCohie

C. LaCohie – “Other than getting the solo show turned into a TV show (which, as I pass it over to the producers is now out of my hands) I will be looking to take the show out of town again towards the end of the new year coupled with showcases of the scholarship winners. Plans for that are on hold the next couple of months as I'm planning my wedding taking place in May (Eeek!) In March, I'll be going out of my comfort zone with the Vixen DeVille Coaching as I'm exhibiting and speaking at this year's 'The Best You Expo,' the largest personal development gathering on the planet. I'm currently writing my 20-minute TEDTalk-style speech and all of the self-doubt is, of course, creeping in! Come check out the Best You Expo March 20 and 21, 2020 at LA Convention Center."

M. Robinson – “I am working on a new play, 'Glamour,' for the [HFF.] And have a few more plays in development–one about paramedics, and another about astronauts in deep space. I am hoping that I can continue to create interesting stories, and I am super excited for the projects my friends are working on. I feel 2020 is going to be a strong year for a ton of folks!”


I am posting this photo of these two girls, one of whom happens to be my daughter at age five or so (on the right), because it is the purest expression I know of the beauty of human beings, and after seeing Chimpskin and then Slashed! in the Fringe, I needed something to remind me that we are not all bad.  Seriously, I felt such despair for our species after seeing those two shows, especially Chimpskin - which is a beautiful performance piece, but leaves so little room for hope that a colleague seated next to me was moved to exclaim, "Ugh! I hate humans."  A common sentiment these days and one that often comes to mind while driving on the 405 or pretty much anywhere in LA.  That's why it's important to have these reference points, these touchstones, that remind us of how loveable we can be.  For me it's this photo.  For you, something else.  Or you're welcome to borrow this image, if it helps to keep the demons away.  We can see the consequences of not having anything in the daily destruction all over the world.


I have spent a crazy amount of time putting together schedules for attending Fringe shows, but this is a less than perfect system, to say the least.  For one, some shows respond immediately to a request, while others never seem to get the message.  For another, there are so many shows - 375! - and so many that I would like to see, but there are inevitable time overlaps, and - and then one show ends at 6:30 at the Underground on Wilton, while another begins at 6:30 at the Complex on Wilcox and Santa Monica, but unless I use a transporter, I'm not going to get there and find parking until 6:45, by which time they will not allow me to enter.  NOTE TO BEN HILL: Next year, every reviewer should get issued a Fringe-authorized transporter, which henceforth shall be called a Fringesporter. Don't be cheap, we're worth it!  Because we've invested hours and hours trying to figure out your vercochte system.

OCTOBER BABY by Brooke Baumer

There is no denying that Brooke Baumer has a remarkable and deeply moving story to tell.  A practicing Catholic and admitted control freak, Brooke loves the month of October so much that she is determined to have her second child be an October-born baby.  She determines the optimal time for her and her husband to have sex toward this end, and it works!  She gets pregnant with an expecting date of October 16 - perfect, right?  No, not perfect enough for Brooke, since this is the year 2010, she is informed by a relative that if her child is born just 6 days earlier, it will be born on 10-10-10.  And so an obsession is born.  But suddenly everything starts going wrong with the pregnancy, just as Brooke finds out that her first child has autism.  She is devestated that her plans have gone so awry, and asks God for an answer: "Why have I done wrong? Why are you punishing me?"  Yes, it's a genuinely great story, but I question whether Brooke is indeed the best one to tell it.  She makes several questionable writing decisions which undercut her story's power, such as when she had us view her pregnancy sex in her In-Laws' home through the lens of the furniture on which they are making love and the surrounding rocking chair and armchair.  I mean, why does the creaky bed have a southern accent?  At least I think it was southern, because Brooke's acting ability is very limited, and her mimicking of her OBGYN often sounds a lot like her mimicking of her husband.  Nevertheless, she does have a great story to tell, and in the end we do get very wrapped up in the fate of her family.

DIVORCE: The Hip-Hop Musical by Conor Hanney

This somewhat awkward but always amusing musical doesn't endeavor to find humor in adult divorce.  Instead, it tells the story of two fourth-graders (played by actors in their 20s) who decide to break up, which causes their toys to experience heartbreak and disillusion.  The show still has a ways to go - it runs only 55 minutes, and even within that brief length, does a lot of spinning its wheels and repeating its better moments.  If it can take all that energy and wit it begins with and spin that into a full-length narrative that keeps developing the characters (sometimes it lacks at present), then it will really have something.  From a talented cast, Callie Ott and Brianna McClellan stand out.

DOG SEES GOD: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal

This parody of the famous Peanuts comic strip has been around for 10 years and is being performed all over the country and the world, but this is my first encounter with it.  It features the familiar comic strip characters of Charlie Brown (here called CB), Pigpen (here called Matt) and Beethoven, and re-imagines them in a darkly comic scenario that ensues after the death of Snoopy.  Some of the dark humor seems dated - especially its depiction of gay characters and gay-ness as being exiled to the fringes of the community; though of course there are still many places in which this is sadly the case.  This production, directed by Jonah Platt, features teenage actors who are just graduating from high school, and they are all excellent.  More than that, they work together wonderfully as a company, and all seem deeply invested in the material, which abjures happy endings and concludes with a shocking tragedy.  I was glad for the chance to encounter this play done so well by young actors with so much commitment.


The Urban Theatre Movement also uses dark humor to make their points, but these are anything but comic book characters.  The actors who bring these short plays to life are white, black, Latino and Jewish - the emphasis is on ethnic identity in the urban jungle of our cities.  Drugs, sex and guns are the subjects that dominate, and there are also interludes from an African-American narrator who tells parables with tragic twists.  Yet of the four plays presented, only the final one, Replica by Paul Tully, really emerged as a strong and memorable piece of writing, a play rather than a skit.  This involved a small-time drug dealer played with paranoid humor by Spencer Weitzel in a performance that had echoes for me of Al Pacino in Panic in Needle Park.  He is selling such high-grade Meth that his friend Paul (played by the author, Tully) begs for a chance to peddle it in his neighborhood and make a big score. The pitch-black comedy that unfolds has some elegant and unexpected twists and turns, but it still struck me as minor-league Stephen Adley Guirgis.  Lo and behold, when I got home I noticed that the play's program featured an endorsement from Mr Guirgis himself, who called the group "excellent. I love them."  They are very good, and are certainly worthy of our support.  But the bar has been raised so high on "the urban unrest" that surrounds us and the deepening crises of inner-city dwellers, that we need better and sharper plays than the first three presented here.


Just realized that I forgot to include this very funny show in my original tour, so I'm squeezing it in now.  While a parody of Beckett's Waiting for Godot that will appeal to all theater geeks, it's also a hoot for the general public in its spin around the recordings of U2, notable both for their great musicianship and their sometimes pretentious self-seriousness.  All the actors are wonderful, and the final twist that comes with the arrival of the longed-for pizza takes it to another level.  Do the bandmates finally find what they're looking for?  Catch the last show on Saturday at 7 to find out!

WE ARE TRAFFIC: a rideshare adventure by Jonathan Lipton Meyers

And we have a winner, folks!  In the Twisted Hipster's constant search for Epiphanies, I have found the man whose entire show turns out to be an epiphany, one that elevates him at the end of this "ride" onto a plane (so to speak) of boundless optimism.  Jonathan Lipton Meyers has given us a ride very much worth taking, as he has all the qualities one looks for in both an Uber driver and the star of his own one-man show: he's a great storyteller, and he genuinely seems to love what he's doing.  While Jonathan freely admits that he has not accomplished many of the goals he set himself when coming out to Los Angeles, he has, I believe, learned something more valuable: who he is and what his strengths are, both as a performer and a person.  Because what comes across in the hour-long "ride" is how much Jonathan is like us - how imperfect and vulnerable he is, and yet how resilient and unflappable too. There's no room for self-pity or self-aggrandizement in Jonathan's vehicle, and it is the absence of these that makes it great to be riding with him.  Well, okay, I can't speak for everyone, but he certainly made me feel that way, and I felt closer to everyone else because of the warm embrace of his fellowship.  Jonathan has found an entire philosophy in the act of picking up strangers and giving them rides.  He is truly an Uber-philosopher for our times, Lyfting us up through his acceptance of himself and what his life has become.  If I'm going to put on my grumpy critic's face at all, it would just be to wonder if his epiphany at the end is entirely earned, if it might be a bit general and a bit show-bizzy - that is, giving the audience (or the riders) what he knows we want to hear.  But maybe that's my problem - maybe I'm just suspicious of finding the very epiphany I've been looking for.  Kudos to Matt Ritchey for his excellent directing work, as he has certainly coached Jonathan well in how to maintain the rhythm and flow of his "ride" until that final moment when we reach our destination - one that I hope each of you will get to experience too someday soon.

And now we have come back to Chimpskin and Slashed! The Musical and the end of OUR ride.

CHIMPSKIN  uses choreograph movement and stage imagery to tell the story of Lucy, a chimp taken from the wild and taught human language as part of a scientific experiment.  It is gracefully performed and quite heart-rending.

SLASHED! THE MUSICAL is a takeoff on the horror genre in which campers are slashed to bits by a ghostly killer for having sex or otherwise engaging in taboo activities.  By any standard, this is neither inventive nor does it add anything to the many examples of the genre.  It's a knockoff of a knockoff of a knockoff.  Nevertheless the full house of devotees I saw it with screamed and shouted and cheered whenever a body was hacked up and purposely fake-looking body parts were tossed into the audience.  The songs were depressingly witless, and only Fayna Sanchez as the crazy lady who knows the truth (but can't get anyone to listen) manages to rise above the blood and guts and add some style and wit.

Which bring us back to my private epiphany, this picture of innocence.  But now it looks kind of creepy, doesn't it?  I mean, depends on how look at it, but.... damn!  Kind of creepy.  How did that happen?