Hollywood Fringe 2019
With fully-committed performances from its immensely talented cast, The Death of Sam Mobean is the type of piece that will leave you thinking well after its quick 50-minute run time.
The Death of Sam Mobean is the type of show that is difficult to speak about without spoiling its satisfying finish, but its cyclical nature is teased by the play’s promo materials: “1) Sam Mobean will die. 2) Sam Mobean is dead. 3) Long live Sam Mobean.” For (initially) unknown reasons, cast members slip into each other’s personae in a daisy-chain on scenes, echoing familiar phrases and embodying each other’s mannerisms. It’s deeply enjoyable to watch this talented ensemble tradeoff, with Schoen Hodges in particular flaunting his chameleon-like abilities to take on different dialects, voices and physicality.
In particular, I was deeply impressed with how this production made use of the Broadwater’s incredibly limited studio stage. The lighting in this space is notoriously difficult to work with, but Mobean did wonders with what they had, making creative use of colored washes with highly effective practical additions of a flexible desk lamp (amazing to get some “natural” light on faces in this space) and an LED projector that transformed the space into a star-spangled dreamscape for Heather Schmidt’s haunting and gorgeous vocal solo. They also creatively used chalk on the black walls, allowing the actors to create their scenery anew in different moments. This was something I’ve never seen done in the space, and was strikingly impactful.
As much as the show leans into a sense of mystery and impending doom (I mean, “Death” is in the title), it’s not taking itself too seriously, and keeps the story moving with sprinklings of levity throughout. Schmidt and Hodges are particularly hilarious in their church scene, while Eric Curtis Johnson is terrific as a bizarrely nonplussed executioner/counselor. And Alli Miller and Schmidt provide one of the strangest and most entertaining court scenes I’ve ever witnessed, packed with nonsensical legalese they deliver with utter confidence, speed and flawlessness. Yet overall, the show thrives because of the strength of the ensemble– each holds their own and pass off roles with finesse, whether in an intense scene as a married couple or a drunken revelry as a group of Catholic schoolgirls with their drunken boyfriends. As a side note, the cast, while all different, happen to be united by all possessing bright blue eyes. This happy accident lends an additional connection that reinforces the storytelling in a very satisfying way.
The Death of Sam Mobean is a theatrical kaleidoscope, its actors shifting and tumbling into different constellations throughout, yet never escaping this one fixed space. At only 50 minutes, it’s a gratifying and complete journey within the hour. A definitely worthwhile choice to fit into your Fringe viewing schedule.