Pledge, Paul Shoulberg’s edgy, entertaining Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017 slice-of-frat-life comedy is back, and fully designed for a post-Fringe run. Now all Shoulberg has to do is expand his 65-minute one-act into a full-length play and it could well see life after its four weeks at the Dorie.

Pretty Little Liars’ Brendan Robinson stars as Midwestern university journalism major Sherman, enlisted by fraternity president Cam (Alex Dyon) to write the eulogy of their just-deceased frat brother Todd, no easy task since about the only thing anyone can recall about the suicidee is that a) he had red hair and b) having hanged himself in the closet, promptly shat himself.

Still, who better to pen Cam’s speech than aspiring novelist Sherman, who can hardly respond in anything but the affirmative when posed the all-important question, “Do you have my back?”

 Figuring less prominently are Mark (Kevin Clough), more excited about showing off his Men’s Physique bod in a cool new double-breasted suit than he is torn up about his frat bro’s demise, and eighteen-year-old pledge Nate (Elijah Nelson of Crazy Ex Girlfriend and The Thundermans fame), who’s soon to discover what hazing is all about.

Popping by from time to time is Cam’s 30something Uncle Brent (Artie O’Daly), who despite wife, kids and Lexis on the homefront seems incapable of leaving frat life behind (and is not at all pleased to learn that the furthest pranks go these days is having a would-be bro parade around in diapers, a far cry from days gone by when a pledge would have found a pickle shoved up his ass as punishment for pooping his pants).

 And then there’s Cam’s gorgeous ex-girlfriend Bailey (Switched At Birth’s Vanessa Marano), who took a semester off a while back, switched majors, got a place off campus, and now reappears two years later to reawaken flames in a clearly still-crushing Sherman.

Told Animal House-style, there’d be nothing to set Pledge and its cast of characters apart from the countless fraternity movies and TV series that have preceded it, but playwright Shoulberg takes these young men (and the young woman at least two of them have loved or lusted after) as more than just the butt of crude jokes.

Take Sherman, whose only reason for pledging was to make up for not having gotten into an East Coast school despite his dad’s connections, and now sees no way of escape.

Or Cam, a big shot today but just wait till he’s in his uncle’s shoes and see if he, like Brent, finds himself unable to move beyond frat life.

Or Mark, faced with a health challenge that would test a man twice his age.

Or Bailey, who try as she might may never live down her life’s most shameful moment.

 Director Stan Zimmerman elicits all-around terrific work from his up-and-coming young cast, Robinson giving Sherman gravitas and depth, Dyon proving positively electrifying as Cam, Marano revealing the pain beneath Bailey’s confident exterior, and O’Daly nailing Brent’s unwillingness to grow up and be a man.

Though given less to do, Clough’s hunky Mark and Nelson’s baby-faced Nate shine as well, and if playwright Shoulberg can find ways to expand their roles (and perhaps add another character or two to the mix), he might just have a full-length play on his hands.

 Danielle Filosa’s detailed set (one that manages to squeeze the frat house, Bailey’s apartment, and a campus bar onto the Dorie’s two-level matchbox stage), Miranda Richard’s expert lighting, Zimmerman’s between-scenes song choices, and some just-right costumes make this Pledge much more than just a Fringe Festival extension.

Pledge is produced for Pop-Up Playhouse by Michael Blaja and Theatre Asylum/Combined Artform. Flannery Maney is assistant director. Richard is stage manager.

Casting is by Julie Gale. Taylor Bracken, Samuel Erdahl, Andrew Fromer, Tony Harth, Kyle Reese Klein, and Frank Martinelli are understudies.

With fraternity scandals once again making the evening’s headlines, the time could not be riper for Pledge to put a personal face on frat house life. Beef up its script and Shoulberg’s play could well have legs to take it even further beyond the Fringe.

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The Dorie Theatre @ The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
January 14, 2018
Photos: Noah Kentis


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