The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes “busker” as chiefly British—a person who entertains in a public place for donations. The dictionary also defines “ball” as either a large formal gathering for social dancing or a very pleasant experience, a good time. Cassandra Moselle’s Buskers Ball at the Hollywood Fringe Festival seems to be dealing with Hollywood Boulevard hucksters (all female here) who I don’t think ever would call themselves buskers, hustlers maybe. And the resultant sixty minutes in their company was neither formal nor featured social dancing. Nor was it a very pleasant experience nor did it approach a good time. Billed as “A Vaudeville”, Moselle kicks off the show as grande busker dame Joanna Johanna Tart and invites us to her annual soiree to celebrate her corps of street workers and to discover new talent. But first the reigning Queen of Buskers, Dolly Smart (Megan Jasmine) with feathers in her hair, descends the staircase and you immediately think you will hear a rendition of “Hello, Dolly!”. Not quite. Instead of that showstopper, Jasmine warbles a Kander/Ebb number from Chicago, substituting Dolly for “Roxie”. There are a few other songs and a few solo dance numbers, but the entertainment quotient is quite low. There are a lot of feminist manifestos recited, oh, and an escaped killer on the prowl for the busker than ratted him out to the police.
There were two understudies in the opening night performance, but they weren’t the only thespians unsure of their footing in this all female (sorry Mikey) cast. Moselle’s direction is very loose. Cast members walk on and off stage, often carrying a broom, for no discernible reason. A ball this was not.