“Pick of the Vine”? Not quite ripe

Branda Lock and Lloyd Roberson II in “The Job Interview from Hell,” by Chris Irby and Sean Freeman and directed by Mirai Booth-Ong. Screenshot photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Still swimming upriver

“Pick of the Vine” streams online through March

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Little Fish Theatre, located in the arts district of downtown San Pedro, is arguably the best stage in the South Bay on account of the company’s willingness to tackle new or seldom-performed plays. Before the start of each season, the selection committee reads through a massive pile of submitted work — over 800 this year — in order to choose a handful of one-acts to present as their inaugural production. “Pick of the Vine” is just that, and this year’s current crop features seven new works.

After its March 12, 2020 performance, Little Fish went dark, and the theater has been closed ever since. However, like other theater companies across the country, it has made a stab at live streaming. “Pick of the Vice” premiered last weekend and it can be accessed (for $20) now through the last day of the month.

Cindy Shields, Kimmy Shields, and Perry Shields in “Snickerdoodle,” written by Christian Gallagher and directed by Madeleine Drake. Screenshot photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

“We want to give the audience a theater experience,” says producer Tara Donovan, “but understanding the on-screen medium means we have to visually change the image through film-like techniques. The actors were recorded together in a live-to-tape situation, but then we could edit in a few key moments for more of a cinematic effect. We consider this a bit of a hybrid of mediums, but the goal was to go beyond feeling like you were on a Zoom call.”

Donovan worked closely with film editor Sara Haddadin. Diana Mann was in charge of costume design. The six directors include Madeleine Drake, Samantha Barrios, Jennifer Bobiwash, Mirai Booth-Ong, Starina Johnson (directing two plays), and Esther Mira. For those keeping count, it’s an all-female roster so far.

Branda Lock in “Elemental,” by Brandon Cahela and directed by Samantha Barrios. Screenshot photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

“Sara Haddadin walked the actors through their lighting setups via Zoom,” Donovan continues. “She and I worked together to assist actors—over Zoom—in where to place their computers/webcams and to try to troubleshoot any technical issues so that the directors could just focus on the play itself. Sara is really the wizard behind the curtain with all of the technical elements.”

In brief, a great deal of time and effort went into setting the stage, so to speak, to best convey the actors and their material. With a running time of roughly 70 minutes, the seven one-acts are reasonably concise and to the point. The cast largely consists of company members, with some new faces thrown into the mix.

Belinda Howell and Don Schlossman in “The Aloha Life,” written by Jean Koppen and directed by Jennifer Bobiwash. Screenshot photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

The big question is, How well does all this work? Unfortunately, not very well at all, through no fault of the scripts, the actors, or the directors. The visuals are subpar and the audio varies from segment to segment. I could hear Christian Gallagher’s “Snickerdoodle” rather well, but “Elemental,” by Brandon Cahela, not so much. The acting also varies, with Margaret Schugt giving perhaps the most memorable performance, but frankly no one was helped by the constraints of the videographic medium.

To conclude, there’s really nothing like live theater and this is one company that can be counted on to deliver superb productions once they’re back onstage and we’re allowed back inside.

Pick of the Vine, through March 31, with $20 tickets, available at littlefishtheatre.org. ER

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Written by: Bondo Wyszpolski

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