What’s a little murder to spice up your evening?
Normally Sunday nights are quiet, but on this particular Sunday, the Actors Company parking lot is filled with people coming and going. The Hollywood Fringe Festival is in full swing, and the residents of Los Angeles trot back and forth between studios.
I am here to see Hot Combs, Homegirls, and Homicides by Nina Childs Productions. Once inside the large black box theater, I am instantly immersed as actresses meandered in the aisles, barking like baseball vendors, offering programs and passing out small bites of cotton candy. I grab some eagerly, excited at the promise of sugar. The flat floor stage is filled with proscenium chairs and a projected image of a full stadium. Already, an actress is sitting before us, reading idly. Utilizing the whole space, the vendors shout out the rules of the theater with a snap of their gum and a twist of their ball caps.
I look down, and my cotton candy treat is already gone. I was starving. I nearly ate the baggie. I make no apologies.
Hot Combs, Homegirls, and Homicides is skit-based, with an all-female cast inhabiting various roles and changing costumes to support each scene. Cleverly, every actress wears the same black, long legged unitard, which is easily accessorized with multiple costume bits, allowing for quick, efficient scene changes. It was wonderful to see the practical efficiency of this design choice. It may sound odd to applaud a thing as trivial as this, but it created a very crisp transition from the previous skit to the next, despite numerous props, costumes and accessories. I appreciated it.
While the skits themselves cover various themes (some villainous, some devious, and some downright murderous), the chemistry of the actresses cannot be overstated. At this shows core, these women worked very well together. This play’s structure wouldn’t work without that chemistry. The heart and soul of Hot Combs, Homegirls & Homicides is the cast’s complete dedication to the energy of the room.
The performance featured six skits in 45 minutes. Out of six, three, were particularly strong. Even if the structure of a skit wasn’t hitting the mark, I still found myself laughing. The actresses’ harmony was that influential.
First up was ‘C*A*K*E’, which relied on audience participation and was overflowing with delicious sass. The skit focused on a public speaker that transformed into a true bitch when the cameras were off. When the team (including the audience) went to sing Happy Birthday, treats were handed out to celebrate. I (with my fat girl soul) was ecstatic and was eager to chow-but to my delight and terror, they were vegan treats: cardboard squares! When the skit reached its end, a life or death decision, the audience was polled for some moral guidance.
All in attendance were very amoral. It was deeply satisfying.
Next was ‘Working Girls’ which flirted with audience participation and wasn’t entirely immersive, but was quick witted, fast paced and hilarious. The alternating, aggressively delivered monologues about scamming and living the high-life due to said scams were very entertaining. It worked entirely because of the two actresses’ exchanges, which nearly seemed ad-libbed. I was absolutely charmed with its feisty execution.
The final skit, ‘Rosemary’s Grandbaby’ could have carried its own show. It was a very well timed, darkly humorous and an excellent closing note for this production. In this skit character are subjected to the eternal boredom that is purgatory, with all the flair that is the Department of Motor Vehicles. Regardless if someone is a demon or victims, everyone is stuck where they don’t want to be. Complete with hilarious stories and lively banter, this finale could be explored into full production.
Throughout the show, the audience participation waned and the immersion tapered off. It started strong and utilized much of the surrounding environment, but unfortunately during some lower energy moments, Hot Combs, Homegirls & Homicides disengages from the audience. The weaker stories, such as Paper Dolls, Savannah & The Big Mouth (which too flirted with immersion but lacked the energy of ‘Working Girls’) and Beauty and the Bitch, pulled back. This resulted in energy that felt less, both in quality and quantity, than the stronger pieces.
The skits alternated between immersive and passive in a way that seems intentional, but this production could certainly find ways to engage the audience in every skit. It would just need further planning and forethought. However, Hot Combs, Homegirls and Homicides is a solid production that offers a unique, poppy liveliness to its audiences. The switches between strong and supporting material kept the show moving at a healthy, amusing pace.
Certainly, this is an excellent launching point. Although this incarnation may not live beyond Fringe 2017, many ideas showcased here could inspire entire productions. This is a future girls’ night out for sure! A finger should be kept on the pulse of Nina Childs Productions because this is a live one.
Tickets for Hot Combs, Homegirls and Homicides are available 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, and Easy Targets or a full listing of notable experiences on our events page.