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FRINGE FESTIVAL : THE FRINGE: MORE OF A MISS THAN A HIT : Stage : Not an Artistic Event, Just a PR Gesture

October 07, 1987|DON SHIRLEY | The monthlong Fringe Festival, a mammoth undertaking that in effect was the local component of the Los Angeles Festival, ended Sunday after presenting 450 events (roughly half were theatrical productions) by 500 artists at 210 sites. Was the Festival a hit or a miss? Eight critics who covered the Fringe answer that question. and

After attending a series of sodden Fringe theater events, I've got Fringe-around-the-collar.

Judging from the theater programming, the Fringe was a public relations gesture rather than an artistic endeavor. Its primary purpose was to give local artists and would-be artists the impression that they were somehow part of the Los Angeles Festival.

Perhaps this was therapeutic for the participants (although a few dissenters complained that Fringe status wasn't good enough). But I don't see what audiences gained from it.

Many of the Fringe productions would have opened regardless of the Fringe--if not in September, then some other time. Some other time, such as August, might have served the shows better, in terms of attracting local publicity. In fact, many of the best Fringe shows opened before the Fringe. The Fringe label was tacked on to the Odyssey's "Kvetch," even though it opened in 1986.

Of the Fringe shows I reviewed (other than those that opened months ago), only three were fairly unusual as well as reasonably successful. Two of these, "Slow Love" and "Bloody Poetry," would have opened here with or without the Fringe, according to people affiliated with the productions ("Slow Love" opened July 30).

That leaves Robert Ellenstein's six-actor "Hamlet" as the only show I reviewed that was mounted specifically for the Fringe and also was noteworthy enough to stand apart from the kinds of shows that open every week in Los Angeles.

It's not surprising that "Hamlet" seemed like a true festival event--its director is the father of Jan Ellenstein, the Fringe's associate director. Clearly the Ellensteins intended to do something special.

That festival feeling might have been stronger if more of the shows, no matter how "special," had played at odd times or days or in venues that were within walking distance of each other. A more logically arranged and cross-referenced Fringe catalogue might have helped.

But as Hamlet himself said, the play's the thing--and most of the plays I saw were predictable (including the very funny "976-Groundlings") and/or awful. Festival fare they weren't.

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