You can tell a lot about a person by their sense of humor, or lack thereof. When “Doug” messaged me on Tinder and I mentioned I was only in town for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, he must have smelled easy prey. Little did he know he would find himself scowling through The Last Croissant, a hilarious treat from The Attic Collective that went entirely over his head for reasons I still can’t fathom.
More a series of short, tightly constructed and flawlessly timed sketches, Croissant follows a group of camping couples as they test the boundaries of their relationships and the patience of the park’s overzealous guardian, Ranger Dave, played by a brilliant Conor Murphy. The decision to cast male campers as female and vice versa provides an amusingly subversive twist, especially in the case of Julia Finch’s longsuffering Frederick and Luke Medina’s desperately needy Imogen. Even in the most absurd situations, their performances remain so deeply rooted in the truth of their characters that the play becomes less a parody of clichéd gender roles than a sincere exploration of how men and women see each other.
Which isn’t to say they’re not funny. They absolutely are. And if Doug didn’t laugh, it may be that they were truthful enough to make him uncomfortable.
But none of the actors lived more truthfully to more hilarious effect than Murphy. My favorite moment was when, as a “matter of principle,” Ranger Dave rebukes writer/actor Veronica Tijoe’s October for baking him cookies in the ranger station, then has the nerve to ask for them anyway. When she refuses “as a matter of principle,” his eyes light up. “I understand,” he says. In lesser hands, that would be just another punchline. But Murphy’s delivery contains so much more. It reveals the character’s love of law as the highest good, preferable even to cookies. It shows that what motivates Ranger Dave is not a small man’s need to lord it over others, but an almost fanatical idealism. A strong choice for an actor to make. Though as usual, one is never quite sure who to credit—the actor or the play’s abundantly talented director, Rosie Glen-Lambert.
The show also features a lavish set designed by Lex Gernon and some surreal and imaginative touches, like origami cranes dropping persistently and inexplicably from the sky, Kat Devoe-Peterson as a giant used teabag, and Brandon Blum as a talking bear on the trail of the titular croissant–all of which was completely lost on Doug.
My only problem was with the show’s pacing. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect this of the actors, but I wished the frenetic pacing and overlapping dialogues of the first act could have lasted into the second. Or that some of that energy had been shifted to the second half. Granted, energy wanes as day turns to night. But personally I prefer a song that ends with a bang to one that fades out.
Which brings me to the date part of Playdate. Doug struck me as the kind of LA guy who is more comfortable chatting up girls in a club, where his tan can do most of the talking. Maybe it was mean of me to make him sit through a fringe play, only to excuse myself after a single, awkward drink at The Plunge, a newly opened bar by the Broadwater Mainstage. But hey, he knew what he was getting into. And it’s not like I dragged him to Equus.