If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent at least some time wondering about your childhood stuff, and what became of it. What ever happened to that stuffed animal you used to sleep with every night? Or that night light that you used to not be able to sleep without? When did you stop needing that? At the time, these childhood totems were more important to you than anything. Now your only connection to them are the idle moments in which you find yourself casually wondering: Where did that thing end up, anyway?
Fallen Stars at the Charity Sale, a new, interactive, improv-based show at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, provides an answer to that question. Adapted from a live-action roleplaying event, Fallen Stars invites audience members to pursue the question of “where did that thing end up” by peeking into the animated lives of old objects (many of which are represented by a member of the show’s ensemble cast) that are now languishing at a charity sale. Guests are even given the option to purchase said items with “money” provided upon entry. The interesting twist, however, is that this action has consequences: while the currency is fake, the transactions are not. Anything the audience member purchases during the show actually goes home with them permanently. If that item happens to be represented by an actor, the audience member takes the item and the actor disappears from the stage.
The ability to have an impact on the life and feelings of the sentient objects on stage is undoubtedly a big part of makes this show so interesting. As the items go home with the audience each night and new ones are replenished via donations, the show is constantly changing and providing a unique experience. Members of the ensemble cast are given new items to embody for every show, and the rest is up to them. For my own experience, I watched a conversation between a plush monkey, an old textbook, a decorative bird statue, a pair of skis, and a pogo stick, just to give you an idea of the range of items these actors must embody.
There is very little to find in the cast that is not praiseworthy here; each performer does a miraculous job of creating backstories, personalities, and emotional cores for their respective object. There is also a remarkable diversity in each character choice: Luke King brings remarkable pathos as the plush monkey from Nigeria hoping desperately to reconnect with his childhood companion, while Shelby Monaghan’s pogo stick is all nerves, terrified of being purchased at all. Some characters are cynical, some heartbroken, and some—like Shoshanna Green’s bird statue—simply know exactly when to interject with a perfectly-timed bit of comic relief. These characters may have been created moments before the show, or even created during the course of the show, but from start to finish they feel real and lived-in, as if they’ve been around for generations.
Unfortunately, it is clear that Fallen Stars at the Charity Sale, like many ambitious projects, still has quite a few kinks to work out in terms of mechanics. All theater depends on the engagement of its audience to a certain degree, and never is it more paramount than in the immersive/interactive realm. The integration of these elements, however, often feels more stymying to the progress of the play than anything else. When customers walk on stage to purchase an item, the performers freeze in place and remain silent, a touch that creates minute-long gaps in the narrative where all an audience member has for entertainment is the sight of someone quite literally shopping around at a charity sale. To the production’s credit, the audience member is escorted onstage by the character of the crotchety, alcoholic caretaker (performed hilariously by Brandie June Chernow), whose cutting comedic remarks break the silence and provide some entertainment. Still, I found myself much more interested in getting back to the dialogue of the characters than in the suspense created by what an audience member might or might not purchase.
Similarly, the show’s mechanic detracts from its own greatest strength by having the “purchase” of a character item result in the permanent loss of that character from the stage. The unfortunate and ironic implication of this mechanic then is that characters which are extremely compelling—especially those that effectively elicit sympathy for not being wanted from the audience—disappear from the play, gradually weakening it as it goes along. Indeed, in my experience, every performer had vanished from the stage by the end of the show, making the de facto “finale” of the play simply watching a fellow audience member shop around for several minutes with fake money before buying the last character, after which the caretaker unceremoniously closes up shop.
Improvisation is a high-stakes risk in the world of theater, as is audience interactivity. Fallen Stars at the Charity Sale greatly succeeds at the former, while unfortunately faltering in the area of the latter. The good news of course is that show mechanics are always adjustable, especially when they are built upon a strong core concept and expert ensemble like this show is. If Fallen Stars finds a life beyond Fringe, I would certainly like to see it again someday, to see what entirely new objects and experience awaits me.
While Hollywood Fringe Festival is now over, you can read reviews of Fallen Stars through the Fringe Festival’s official website.
For even more Fringe Festival recommendations, check out Haunting’s interviews with the creators of upcoming 2017 Fringe shows like Narcissus and Echo and Dark Arts, reviews of shows like The Rise and Fall of Dracula, Normal, Fire & Light, Narcissus and Echo, Dead Air, and Easy Targets or a full listing of notable experiences on our events page.