Credit: Isaac Joel Cruz

As a recent transplant from New York, I was delighted to discover that LA has a vibrant creative community, more expansive than what I’d anticipated and more welcoming than any I’d experienced back home. LA’s the Wild Wild West where your credibility is determined by the work itself and how inventively you get it out there, rather than by your academic pedigree or credits with established tastemakers. Everyone wears multiple hats here; everyone is hyphenated. I can’t tell you how many filmmakers have shown me their paintings on their iPhones right in the middle of a networking event. And contrary to rumors that kept me from moving here for at least a decade, Angelinos are smart… and talented. And with the advent of what’s been called the “third golden age of television,” LA has more that share of the country’s most talented writers, directors and actors.

But don’t take my word for it… check out the Hollywood Fringe Festival, “an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community.” Now in its fifth year, the Hollywood Fringe embodies all the aforementioned attributes. Participation is completely open and uncensored, a policy that “underlines the festival’s mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body.” In addition, “by creating an environment where artists must self-produce their work, the Fringe motivates its participants to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurialism in the arts.” Like I said…

But before you accuse me of being a disloyal New York City expat, I’ll let you in on LA’s delicious secret: this town is crawling with New Yorkers! So it’s fitting I begin my reviews with fellow expat David Rodwin’s one-person show, Total Novice.

Total Novice, written and performed by The Moth StorySLAM champion, David Rodwin, is a one-person show that grows and shifts each time it’s performed, a form that matches the content. For as vulnerable as unscripted performance can make its performer, it’s nothing compared to how vulnerable David was willing to make himself on the adventure he shares with us.

In world premiere of Total Novice, David tells us how on one lonely night when he had no one with whom to celebrate the removal of his leg cast, he reaches out for companionship on Craig’s List’s “Casual Encounters,” only to score every young American male’s dream – a night with a porn star who wants to “party.” Well, she’s a crack-addicted porn star and “partying” includes scoring some crack. But who’s counting? Certainly not someone named Eddie who keeps leaving increasingly threatening voicemails on David’s phone. Is David scared? Not at all! After all, he’s a smart guy who “went to Princeton.” What follows is an increasingly dangerous chain of events that threaten to turn David’s dream into a nightmare. But in the midst of courting disaster, David and his date find true connection. Or do they? Total Novice is a romp through delusion, drugs and discovery. Happily, David avoids the inevitable “hooker with a heart of gold” trope. Instead, the show becomes an investigation of the age-old question: when do we help others and when do we protect ourselves?

David Rodwin is a natural storyteller so it’s no surprise to learn that Spalding Gray thought so too and took him under his wing. But David’s less rehearsed style, though as dramatic, is more human and therefore more touching. But don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of craft here. David’s story is a journey filled with enough laughs to disarm you and enough suspense to keep you on the edge of your seats. But it’s the storyteller’s own discoveries that really grabs you. Great choices in lighting and blocking help move this story along as well as give you pause to think and feel.

Total Novice – By David Rodwin; directed by Adriana Colón

WITH: David Rodwin

Designed by Aaron Francis. Presented by Jadelake Productions. At the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival at the Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90038. Tickets available at: 14 and 27. Running time: 75 minutes.

David Rodwin won The Moth StorySLAM and has created and toured four previous one-man shows at venues including LA’s Sacred Fools, Edinburgh and in New York at LaMaMa, Here, The Public, The Flea, Chashama, Manhattan Theatre Works, Dixon Place, New Dramatists, Mabou Mines, Roulette,  and many others. With his non-profit production company RIPFest/Raw Impressions, Inc. he produced the world premieres of 170 of ten-minute musicals and 60 short films.


PHOTO CREDIT: Isaac Joel Cruz