The Las Vegas Fringe Festival ran from June 3 to 12. Contributor Jason Harris took in two shows during the countercultural theater program.
Local Celebrity isn’t so much a play as it is a series of monologues. According to co-writer and director Lalayna Abner, who made a speech after the performance to clarify even though it says so in the program, this piece is still being workshopped and is not a final product.
The overarching focus is how people deal with fame. What comes after people achieve stardom? The program states that the people here are “young, famous and of color”, but certainly, this was not a “color” specific piece. Sure there is an Asian socialite Paris Hilton take-off, Miko Ramada, and a black rapper, but it was never clear through the writing that many of these characters (paparazzi, production assistant, SAG actor, super agent) had to be “of color”. That seemed for more of a forced theme than one that was organic.
For the most part, monologues didn’t show any depth. The older starlet needs to make the industry notice her again. The production assistant has access to drugs. The agent wants his client to think with his head and not his dick. Really, the only thing I learned was that most black leading men have to marry black women to maintain their credibility with the female African-American audience. If the focus had been about what race means to fame and how those two intersect throughout the scope of a career, that could have been fascinating.
Performances varied, but what was most disappointing, was the lack of diversity in so many of the monologues. Many of the actors had similar cadences and rhythms and very few tried to find different levels, instead working only in one solitary mood, even if their piece called for different nuances. Victor Smith as the SAG actor and Ty Wayne Wheatt as the paparazzi, however, both excelled.
Sing to Me Through Open Windows
Sing To Me Through Open Windows is the tale of an dying illusionist who is spending the last days of his life in his remote home, waiting for his final curtain to fall. Ottoman the Great, played by Breon Jenay, loses more of his faculties while his live-in help, an assistant named Loveless played by Dave Surratt, dresses like a clown — white makeup and all — as he serves his master’s needs.
The Arthur Kopit-written play takes place in Ottoman’s large bedroom. He is visited by a boy whom he once found in the woods, stranded and bewildered. The boy now visits him on the anniversary of this day every year, cherishing each moment with the entertainer and hoping to see just one more trick. The kid, now finishing middle school, is written as an idiot who doesn’t seem to realize it’s almost time for Ottoman to take his final bow. He constantly asks for more interaction with his hero and is seemingly disappointed when he doesn’t get it.
Truly, this piece belongs to Jenay, who as a young woman in her 20s, is about as far outside the box a choice to play the elder Ottoman as can be. It’s a brave piece of casting that makes sense for a Fringe Festival and she captures the character well, making you believe his mind is failing and no matter what, there is no more comfort for him in the earthly world. Had she slowed down some of her physicality, it would have added that extra touch taking the character that much closer to the void.
Jason Harris is a local stand-up comedian.