(Left to right) Michael Scott Allen, Taylor Coffman, Guy Birtshistle and Nina Silver star in 'D is for Dog.' (photo by Kris Bicknell)

The Hollywood Fringe Festival, an annual celebration of independently produced emerging arts across all genres, is premiering new music, film, theatre and other performance events in multiple conventional and unorthodox venues from June 14 through June 24. More can be found at www.HollywoodFringe.org.

On Sunday, I attended a Fringe Festival production, “Altarcations.” Written by KPCC’s morning news anchor, Steve Julian, it’s a serious take on victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. But as Julian writes in his introductory notes, “It’s not anti-Catholic. It is anti-abuse and anti-cover up,” the key themes treated in his play.

Looking at the seats from the theatre’s center aisle, you might actually think they’re pews, especially as you’re being bathed in low lighting and church organ music.

Father Bart (Robert Keasler) is in quiet crisis. His protégé, naïve and holy Tommy (Drew Hellenthal) is studying to be a priest. Advising Tommy on the art of hearing confession, he says, “Listen with your heart.” But his heart is lusting for Tommy.

Bishop Michael (Travis Michael Holder), who left the city long ago, is back in town to root out abuse by clergy under his jurisdiction. “Some in this calling have fallen and taken innocents along with them,” he says in a sermon. He’s in charge of the investigation.

Tommy, while attending seminary, is living with Rachel (Dylan Jones) who had a life-altering, guilt-inducing relationship with Bishop Michael when he was still in seminary and living next door to her. Now that he’s back, Bishop Michael has been calling Rachel non-stop, for reasons she cannot fathom. Alarmed by these calls, she goes to church to confess her hatred for someone who abused her 20 years ago, and Father Bart hears her confession, not knowing who she’s talking about.

Over drinks, the Bishop’s frank sexual talk, admitting his own lusts for women and getting Father Bart to open up about his longing for boys, is emblematic of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude that Julian is writing about here (“You haven’t embezzled, have you? Because that’s a real problem,” he says). “Live with your lust,” says Bishop Michael, “or seek forgiveness if you can’t stop yourself. Absolution brings us to understand, not change, who we are.”

The complex and tangled web of these four lives plays out in dramatically well-constructed short scenes that build to a surprising twist and conclusion.

“Altarcations” is a serious, admirably written one-act play with a good story arc.

The performances, while heartfelt, felt a bit halting on the day I saw it, with some Pinter-esque “pregnant pauses” that may not have been intentional.

However, it’s worth your time; only four performances remain, Fridays at 5 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m. at Actors Circle Theatre, through June 24. For more information, visit www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/920.

Dog gets an ‘E’

Another Fringe Festival offering comes from Rogue Artists Ensemble. As stage productions go, the darkly comic sci-fi show “D is for Dog” definitely gets an “E” for “effort.”

The stunning set design in turquoise and canary yellow immediately conveys the sense of a time when life was perfect, in a 1950s-TV-family kind of way. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers and their children Dick and Jane inhabit this flawless place, where the sun shines outside the kitchen window ‘til the moon comes up at night, when father comes home to tell the children a story before they go to bed.

Are the actors playing to an invisible camera? There seems to be a script the family is following as the daily routine is repeated verbatim, including commercials for Maxwell House Coffee, Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup and Betty Crocker cake mix.

Before Mr. Rogers leaves for his job at “The Corporation,” everyone takes a pill … and there are many more pills to come all day long, pills they take to maintain their reality, which may not be so real after all.

“D is for Dog” started life at a festival of new plays at South Coast Repertory in 2004, but was completely reworked for its second appearance in Los Angeles last year, to rave reviews across the spectrum.

It’s produced by the award-winning Rogue Artists Ensemble, a collective of multi-disciplinary artists and designers — rather than actors, writers or directors — who work in a style they call “hyper-theater,” mixing storytelling, music, dance, masks, puppetry, special effects, digital technology and more, created collaboratively.

In “D is for Dog,” the stagecraft is superb, as is the choreography and the acting.

I walked out knowing that I’d seen something unique, and admiring it physically, but still not understanding what the play was actually about. Many of its themes are long-standing iterations of ideas better expressed in other, more intellectual incarnations. The play advances no new ideas and feels like a jumble of thoughts that never fully justify or reconcile themselves.

Still, you won’t find a production like it anywhere. Rogue Artists Ensemble’s “D is for Dog” plays at the Hudson Mainstage (nice theater with its own café!), through Aug. 4. Visit www.rogueartists.org.

Summer Solstice DIY music

Make Music Los Angeles is patterned on France’s Fete de la Musique, a national musical holiday inaugurated in 1982. It’s about people getting together in their neighborhoods for do-it-yourself musical concerts in venues such as community gardens, plazas, schools, courtyards and parks.

In Santa Monica, performances will take place on Thursday, June 21, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., at Reed Park and Annenberg Community Beach House.

Musicians can perform without a permit at Douglas, Palisades, Clover and Virginia Avenue parks and the beach. Performance permits are required for The Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade and the Downtown transit mall after 12 p.m. Some restrictions apply. For more information, visit MakeMusicLA.org.

Find out more from Dorsay Dujon, (323) 377-7444; www.MakeMusicLA.org.

To perform at Reed Park, contact Allison Ostrovsky at (310) 458-8350 or allison.ostrovsky@smgov.net. Find the Reed Park line-up at www.smgov.net/arts.

To perform at Annenberg Community Beach House contact Nan Friedman at (310) 458-4904 or nan.friedman@smgov.net. Find the line-up at beachhouse.smgov.net.

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.