Our O.A.R. team was able to cover 35 entries (with 3 still to come) of Toronto Fringe 2014. There were a few duds, but overall, the quality; effort, and most-of-all professionalism of the offerings were the equal of the TorFringe administration itself. Many of these submissions deserve an opportunity to extend their runs, and some showed enough promise as to progress mainstream.
For the 2015 Fringe, our reviewing protocol will be to cover only those productions that extend a request and offer ‘courtesy’ (read ‘comps) beforehand.
Terry Metter, editor
“HUGH AND I”, Randolph Theatre
Not only does this endeavor musically re-tell the saga of the founder of PLAYBOY™; which this scribe enjoys (for the articles- of course); but it has a trio of ‘Daniels’ and a plethora of Sheridan grads. Naturally, we had to see it. Turns out to have been serendipitous…this is a sure winner of ‘Best in whatever’ at the Fringe. ]D-1] Daniel Abrahamson and [D-2] D. Cummings stage this Kevin McGarry & [D-3] Dan Falk book that factually recalls the history plus the moral & social rise and fall of this amazing influence on today’s mores. The songs may not be all Hit Parade quality, some are even forgetful; but their contribution to both plot & presentation are undeniable. D-1 is the play’s hero and is constantly on stage. Abrahamson possesses a fine voice, but it is his facial expressions, body language and charisma that accurately transmits the mutations that ‘Hef’ evolves. Substantive support from Lana Sugarman as his wife, Leanne Miller as ‘Marilyn’ and especially from Jennifer Walls, this diminutive dynamo is a total ‘hoot’ and just about steals every scene she’s in. The costumes are delightful, chorus ladies are delectable; and the choreography merits an “A-list”. See it –at least twice! Dan G.
“HERE AFTER”, Passe Muraille, backspace
Occasionally, a group, like Upstart Theatre, is able to get all of its thespian pins in a perfect row …the result is a pure gem. “HERE AFTER” is such a ‘VVG1’! The director/writer is Meg Moran and her post-apocalyptic sci/fi piece will leave audiences emotionally drained yet utterly fascinated with the concept and its presentation. The 4-member cast are Owen Fawcett; Elizabeth Tanner; Chiamaka Ugwu & Enzo Voci. All are superb; from their dramatic pauses; facial expressions; body language and phrasing. Obviously, Sheridan turns out ‘A-team talent’. From the opening ‘belly-button contemplation’ to the finale, it is impossible to look away from the stage & activity thereon. At one point, a cast member characterizes another’s monologue as ‘boring’…its anything BUT. I felt emotionally drained at curtain, but it was another audience member who succinctly categorized Here After’; she turned to friends seated nearby and exclaimed “It may me cry; and stuff”. I couldn’t say it better. Watch our O.A.R.’s TOP TEN for this particular effort. D.G.
“ELVIS & DICK”, Tarragon Mainstage
Both are dead, at least to most people, but director/creator Brian Kennington has brought them back in a hilarious (almost) factual musical recollection of the two icons meeting. The concept is creative; the cast is as professional as it gets; and the ironic (from hindsight) statements continually bring on audience guffaws. The ‘King’ is credibly acted and especially sung by Phi Bulani with a suitably exaggerated Milhous Nixon portrayed by Kevin Jollimore. Most of the familiar Presley hits are cleverly incorporated into the plotline and the on-stage orchestra under Angelo Bernardo is a non-distracting addition to the play’s progress. Sarah McGowan’s voice and the acting/singing of Alison Edwards-Crewe are outstanding. To creator, crew & cast…’Thank ya- thank-ya ver’much’ D.G.
“EURIPIDES’ THE TROJAN WOMAN”, The Annex
The Randolph academy’s entry takes the famous Greek tragedy to a new level. Laocoon’s caveat about ‘Timeo danaös et döna ferentēs’ went unheeded and Troy fell… all this over Paris’ stealing the already-married Helen. Director Peter Pasyk bestows some contemporary impressions on this ancient tirade against war. The play is repetitious but that is traditional with the genre and is still effective. Such lines as Helen’s “I don’t lie; I alter truth” certainly evokes our recent Provincial election and events that proceeded it. Pasyk’s imagery is capably portrayed by some outstanding thespian efforts by Lindsay Frederick’s Queen Hecuba; Luiz DaSilva as the cuckolded Menelaus and especially the statuesque Victoria Dunsmore who exemplifies the face [& figure] that ‘launched those 1,000 ships’. This is a major work that was obviously given a major production effort and it shows. From direction, to lighting & sound; to support cast, this enterprise deserves a full house…even non-classic fans will glean something from it. D.G
“NO CHANCE IN HELL”,Phelan Playhouse
There was ‘The Fantastiks’; “Urinetown”; ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ “Lesbian Jewish Wiggan Mother’s Wedding” and others — Fringe offerings that went mainstream. TorFringe’s Joe White & the 7 divorcees; “Peter Pan vs. The State of New York”; ‘The Cellar’ etc. were also contenders for such. This year we have “NO CHANCE IN HELL” and they have every chance of gleaning an extended run. Starring a coterie of Sheridan grads,, this effort is completely professional from crew to sound to performance. The direction by Lezlie Wade is as impeccable as anything McAnuff does; blocking; phrasing, plus choreographed movements are all spot-on. The music is supplied by Peter Kadar unobtrusively on stage left- rear. Plot-wise, this is a ‘Damn Yankees’ Dante’s Inferno & Dionysus legends blended into a creative original musical. The heaven/Hell lovers are Isaac Bell & Jody-Anne Whitfield; in the Shoeless Joe & Lola personas; while Jake Foy & Dana Jean Phoenix are the secondary couple. The scene-stealer par excellance is Jonathan Whittaker, who’s Satan is as good as Ray Walston’s original. Four personal recommendations; 1st, make a CD of this effort. 2nd, run off a song-list insert for the programme; 3rd have Kadar play an overture bit before & post-curtain, especially with ‘Serendipity’; Good old days’ & “Jesus envy; 4th – invite us back for another visit! D.G.
“I WAS BORN WHITE” Robert Gill Theatre
The noon-time performance of I Was Born White attracted only a modest audience, but the show deserved more. Without words or even facial expression, the five dancers of local company We Are Knot Rivals tore through the superficiality of colour and race. The premise of is as its title suggests; it follows “the journey of a Black child, of white and Indigenous ancestry who pieces together stories of who they are.” The audience is introduced to the child’s various families and caregivers, collectively known as “a village.” The dancers are backed by a duo of tribal drummers and raw testimonials. The father’s portrayer dances with a little too much flair. The child is given choreography not nearly as expressive or demanding as the adult characters. The screen (used to project occasional visuals) provides I Was Born White’s strongest argument. When the “village” is behind the stage and backlit—their shadows cannot predict what colour they are. At ease, the child exits through the audience. J.J.
“RED BILL”, George Ignatieff Theatre
From Danka Scepanovic’s pre-show retching sounds and half-naked state onstage in a dirty bathtub, the audience could anticipate good things from this show. The trio of actors are committed to their exaggerated, drugged-up roles and Michael Eisner’s character wasn’t the only one on steroids. So was his script, in which occasionally clunky and unnatural dialogue is the only thing stopping ‘Red Bill’ from a shining review. Edging up the contemporary Fight Club atmosphere was distinctly Dust Bros-esque music, which persisted throughout the hour-long, “fast moving palpable play”. He and Cecile (Scepanovic) are both turned up, flying high off the previous night’s shenanigans and the following morning’s proceedings. Eisner and Scepanovic, in particular, delivered convincing, psychotic performances and William MacDonald’s direction made excellent use of the aisles. At one methadone-ic moment, the duo even slowed time, flailing their limbs in slow motion and drawing out their speech. “[Methadone] is like hugging your mother’s coffin,” explained Eisner. It doesn’t stop Aiden from giving him a hard time. (“Sorry, [Drew]? ‘Sorry’ is like a sunset after a hurricane. It’s pretty but it’s fucking useless”.) This is what Red Bill is: great one-liners and a libraryful of drugs. One audience member said afterwards, “I didn’t know what half of those are.” Not recommended for the faint of heart. J.J.
‘JONATHAN PRAG, CLASSICAL GUITAR’. Robert Gill Theatre
Listening to Jonathan Prag from the UK, play a wide range of works for his instrument, three things came through: beautiful sound, exquisite tone and the care with which Prag fingers his instrument in the pieces performed. Taking up the classical guitar as his life’s work not as a youngster he has functioned outstandingly at his first appearance at TorFringe. Playing works by Bach, Barrios, Garay, Koshkin, Lindsey-Clark, Marsh, and Sear, he covered a wide range of music demonstrating the potentials of the classical guitar. Of particular note were his presentations of the Prelude to J.S Bach’s Lute suite, Sindo Garay’s Cuban Boleros, and music of the great Paraguayan guitarist, Agustin Barrios. The latter’s music, according to Prag, has been seminal in works for the classical guitar in South America. The only minor criticism was Prag’s use of long music sheets to site-read his presentation. Unfortunately, these sheets became a distraction for the artist to continually read and cast aside while performing. Recommendation: – the use of either a Kindle™ type device, or some alternate form of mobile sheet music teleprompter technology. Avrum. R.
“MUTE: A MUSICAL AGAINST BULLYING!”, Randolph Theatre
The problem of bullying has only recently started receiving the political attention it deserves so although this play is not listed in the children’s section; kids would certainly benefit from being part of the audience. The bully in this presentation is surprisingly, a young girl. Not only does she attack psychologically but physically and not just toward other girls; boys are also her victims. Suicide, guns in schools, and emotional breakdowns are all portrayed by dialogue as well as music in order to make the writer’s points. There is a strong character reading from Bryna Weiss in the title role; but it is the two geeks who made the biggest impression on this scribe, even though they neither spoke nor sung. They continually held my attention. The costumes are interesting and the songs underline the play’s message. If MUTE continues post-Fringe, I’d suggest cutting the more redundant ‘beating of a dead horse’ in order to bring it down to 60 minutes. The show could also benefit from improved sound engineering as well as vocal projection. Exiting, I overheard an 11-year old asking Mommy if “we could see it again”! R.R.
‘STRAPLESS’, George Ignatieff Theatre
Four girls, who also play their male counterparts; perform vignettes about relationships, sex, exercise, laundry and how to manipulate suitors. The Baker’s dozen (plus two) stories are energetic and certainly fast-paced. The protagonists run the gamut from feisty to ingenuous and the portrayals ring true. The songs are originals and focused strictly on the fragment plots. The cast members, Jackie Blackmore; Lauren Martin; Megan Philips & Amy Auchstaetter are also the writers as well as the composers. One can only imagine the creative hen party during the production sessions. “The VIEW” exponentially. This offering is not restricted to the distaff side, the males in the audience seemed to appreciate, even comprehend the messages therein. The ‘Oops’ boob exposure is surprisingly non-purient, strictly a giggle-inducer. T.M.
“A BICYCLE BUILT FOR TWO”, Randolph Theatre
If something is shown to someone, and it has yet to be finished, it can leave the beholder underwhelmed. When a piece of theatre feels unfinished, it leaves one with the same sensation. I am sad to say that A Bicycle Built For Two by Johnny Wideman left me wondering when the next show was due to start. I will admit, that not every show will be 100% every time, and mayhaps I happened to show up at such a show, but I will say that listening to the writing left me thinking critically about how the show was put together. It felt long, there was no rising action, falling action or climax. The jokes fell short, & there was nothing but back story throughout the entire piece leaving me wondering the main story was that was being told. I understand that it was designed to point out what can happen when we get too comfortable with our relationships & stop communicating, but it doesn’t stop me wanting a story to go with those points. M.P.
“PETER N’ CHRIS & KINDA OK CORRAL”, Randolph Theatre
Being able to save face when you make a mistake, and then bounce right back and make a joke out of it, is truly a great skill to have, especially when you’re a comedian. There may have been times when they were swept up in the humour of their own jokes they made mistakes, but Peter N’ Chris etc. by Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson is so funny, you just don’t care. In fact, it will make you laugh even harder because you get to see how much of a good time Peter and Chris are having on stage and how much they are able to enjoy themselves in spite of anything. Pantomime (well, mostly) mixed with a cheesy western that doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest? What more could you want! The show I was lucky enough to see was sold out, so get your tickets before it’s too late to let this comedic duo leave you in stitches! M.P.
“THE EMERGENCY MONOLOGUES”, Passe Muraille, Mainspace
It is not every day one has the opportunity to hear the stories of an EMS paramedic. It is also not every day you to laugh at said stories. Morgan Jones Phillips, paramedic for Toronto EMS, shared his hysterical stories from his time on the job, reaching as far back as ten years ago. A man with a kind heart told his stories like you would hear them at a bar with your friends. Built up, detail by detail; until BOOM – the punch line. Although his stories were funny, his telling of them were fairly long and drawn out for just an instance of laughter. Overall, an entertaining performance, with his wheel of risk, attached with all of his stories, not knowing which one he will tell next. But it was a story not of laughter that caught my attention, but a story of an eighteen-month old baby who was accidently run over by a car. This story made the audience pause, as if momentarily stopped in time, for the loss of the child & for Phillips as well. He is a man with a great heart & good sense of humour. D.C.
Dr FRIGHTFUL PRESENTS: DEAD AIR”; RANDOLPH THEATRE
I personally have been fascinated by radio plays ever since I heard of the infamous radio drama based on H. G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’. Dr. Frightful etc.by Grahame Kent is a wonderful homage to the classic radio dramas of the 1940’s and 50’s. Live folly is used throughout the entire performance, alongside a short and sweet dialogue with the voice actors before the true “radio drama” begins. I was kept so engaged by the performers; watching them set up for each sound cue. I was fascinated seeing them silently struggle with one another as, not to give away any spoilers. Unfortunately, certain people choose to be less than co-operative during the show. I made almost no notes at all throughout the entire show. If cheesy zombie drama isn’t enough for you, then at the very least go for the spectacular use of balloons, lettuce and a miniature door. M.P.
“TARRARE; A STORY OF HUNGER”Passe Muraille, Mainspace
A story taking place in Revolutionary France, Tarrare( John Fray), a man who eats everything and anything, embarks on a journey to be cured of his cast iron stomach. Meeting a so-called doctor, Alfonso played by Scott Clarkson; a whore portrayed by Cydney Penner ;and a sword swallower (Kristoffer Pedlar), he travels across France to seek his curer. The cast of four people puts on an incredible performance, each having to play multiple parts. Fray especially has a natural gift being as professional and fitting as a possible Elizabethan actor. Interesting as a story, yet the script was a bit odd considering the time period and setting of revolutionary France. Using a number of “F-Bombs” was implausibly unnecessary and useless in this script, as to make a point of some kind by letting everyone know that they were allowed to swear. A unique original tale of a man who eats everything and anything, however, the fantastic acting precedes the production itself. D.C.
THE COMMON GROUND”, Randolph Theatre
Music has the power to bring people together. Music has the power to speak a message. The Common Ground: A Musical Dissertation by Ken McNeilly exemplifies these traits wonderfully, all the while staying entertaining and telling the story of 4 teens with LGBTQ parents. The harmonies were beautiful and the live music was a wonder to behold. The cast was engaging, definitely able to keep each other’s characters strong & grounded while jumping between their main selves and the minor characters of each vignette. Sound and lighting often go unnoticed in a festival setting, unless they go horribly wrong. I am very happy to say that this is not the case. The music, written by McNeilly was breath taking to listen to. I would love to be able to get the soundtrack one day. Lighting designer Tommy Smith was able to create worlds on stage that just made everything pop. I would love to see this show get high praise from everyone who goes to see it, and this review comes with a very high recommendation. M.P.
“TIKVA’S ORCHESTRA”, The Annex
Created by Alisa Walton, Ginette Mohr & Thomas Morgan Jones, this powerhouse brief retelling of the 1938 Kristallnacht that inaugurated the Holocaust is magical in its imagery. The symbolism; music and dance impart thirty-five minutes of emotional dehydration. For those readers that may be unfamiliar with orchestral terminology, the phrase “chair” refers to the status or position of a musician. The two performers (Mohr & Jones), utilize the only prop in their dance and acrobatic sequences; while an instrument case filled with miniatures represent the orchestra members our heroine hopes to save. The suspended bungees & rope ladder are additional vehicles for Ms. Walton’s acrobatics. Composer David Mesiha’s music also manifests itself as sound effects and overt scene descriptions. It hits the audience with as much force as the instrumental weaponry it represents. No one will leave untouched. D.G.
“PARALLEL PLAY”; Tarragon, extra-space
I am an advocate of people seeing all theatre whether good or bad; horrible or absolutely fantastic. People should attend theatre so they can create their own, well informed opinions. Parallel Play written and performed by Elvira Kurt and Megan Fahlenbock is a series of small mostly comedic but several heavy-toned vignettes about women, adulthood, parenting, grand-parenting, the heart and mind and altogether being a lesbian. There were clearly many bodies in the sold out performance who knew the two personally, as they were a great audience to be a part of, laughing at all the right times, but I was personally (as a male) felt somewhat uncomfortable with some of the subject matter. I urge people to go out and support my peers and form their own thoughts on the matter. M.P.
“TORONTO, I LOVE YOU”, H.G. Phelan Playhouse
By far the show with the greatest turnout, local favourites Bag Dog Repertory put on an endearing, laughable collection of improv skits Sunday afternoon. In fact, the crowd was laughing before anything funny was even said. When Nicolas di Gaetano stopped strumming his guitar to report that there were still “three minutes left,” he was met with chuckles. When he announced, “Now it’s time to start,” there was thunderous applause. We forgave the pre-emptive laughter, because this effort is incredibly funny. Our particular performance took place primarily in three settings, local secret spots suggested by both the audience and troupe included the Labyrinth (next to Trinity Church behind the Eaton Centre), the Dark Horse pub (a “shithole” at first sight but a hidden treasure at second), and the fifth floor of the Reference Library. It was familiar and touching as the seven-person troupe traversed through the fluorescent scrutiny of Eaton Centre fitting rooms, the thrill of jaywalking on busy streets, and the infamous caricature of Rob Ford. They also somehow managed to weave illegal meat trafficking and a house-squatting marriage counsellor into the story line, among other subplots. Keep in mind that this is all improvisation, a fact made most evident by the best freestyle haiku, Karl (the Virgin Mobile kiosk guy at the Eaton and uncommitted husband of Joan who is also Ford’s personal assistant at City Hall) could come up with. J.J.
“CONCRETE KID” George Ignatieff Theatre
Spoken word is a powerful medium and Concrete Kid delivers on its promise through witty rhymes and quick spits. With up-to-date music (including Beyoncé’s “Partition” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”), elementary hip hop routines to go with them, a distinctly Torontonian setting, and a fresh-faced cast, what’s not to love? When lead character and tough girl Jamie (Annelise Hawrylak) is given a fake ID by her holier-than-thou cousin to use on her final weekend before spending a summer in the countryside, she gets a night to remember. Although Jamie is easy to relate to – “my bones are eight lane highways / my blood is gasoline” – it’s her supporting cast who steal the show. From their gender-defying portrayal of Jamie’s parents to their perfect imitation of the Bloor-Danforth subway station announcements, these three musketeers provide some of the play’s best lines and comic relief. “What’s your… favourite day of the week?” Jamie asks Alex, the bartender Jamie met at her first gay bar experience, during their post-clubbing pizza date. Alex replies: “Tuesday, because it’s unpretentious.” Shortly and sweetly after a brief waltz lesson, a fleeting first kiss, and a parental dispute, the play is over, having treated the audience to only a slice of this concrete kid’s colourful life. J.J.
“REAL DEAD GHOSTS”, Robert Gill Theatre
This particular effortmakes its audience feel extremely uneasy and as though they are intruding on a private argument between a young couple. Amber (Lara Hillier) and Graham (Nathaniel Kent) are spending their fifth anniversary (symbol –‘wood’) in a remote cabin when the power goes out. They quarrel before the outage; during it; and after. They come to a truce, and then immediately breach it. Perhaps this is what isolation does; the two speak as if they were thinking the words that come out of their mouth, switching topics with no abandon and fixating on certain subjects, such as Graham’s high school crush, Lucy. Despite its sound pace and premise, Real Dead Ghosts tires quickly and winds up feeling like a play that’s been read too many times by its own actors. The entire skit takes place on a living-room rug and traverses many existentialist breakdowns. It’s won awards elsewhere, but Sunday evening’s performance was only mildly funny; beside a couple of touching moments, it dragged on and was lukewarm at best. J.J.
“THE URINAL DIALOGUES”, Al Green Theatre
It’s an ancient axiom, guys; two shakes only…otherwise you’re playing with it”. This along with no peeking at the next guy’s dick; and no conversation while at the urinal: – business first; then everything else. ‘Mark My Words, Ink’ have created a three-member (sic) cast of the folks one runs into in the Gent’s room. To open & close the sketches, a voice-over about Daddy taking his kid into a stall for a needed piss. Having had only daughters & granddaughters, I missed all the fun, the questions and the conversations. Writer/producer Mark Albert also performs some of the characters and he’s ably supported by Holm Bradwell & Derrick Evans. The theme is a musical number entitled “Talking in the Men’s Room”, I found myself humming same while taking a pre-departure leak! Stuck zippers; gays; sports news; cellphone usage (while peeing) and even a call from a duct work telemarketer all contribute to the very personal hilarity. The last bit is pathetically sad and could be omitted to keep the mood lighter. In any case, Urinal Dialogues is a whiz of a good time. D.G.
“SCARBORO FEVER & GOLD FEVER”, Al Green Theatre
Scarborough Fever is a 10-minute paean to the silent movies. A mother & daughter are having a disagreement about life. Then the offspring has a struggle with a bear. She wins; the End. Part two; a seven-member cast recaptures the end 19th century gold rush in Alaska. The harsh trip to the Klondike; the rough & tumble existence in the local towns; and even the romances. Through music, pantomime and some lip-reading, the audience can grasp the plots as they unfold. Director & co-creator Richard Beaune also plays one of the characters. Outstanding performances are contributed by Sarah Joy Bennett and Dana Fradkin along with the zaniness of Stephen LaFrenie. S.F. & G.F. is a lot of fun, so much so that the 85 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. The costumes are effective, the overhead projection – informative; and the scene changes were smooth and non-disruptive. Add this one to your Fringe bucket-list. T.M.
“AN ODE TO DYADS”; Passe Muraille, Mainspace
In this short thirty minute production, very little is said but a lot is conveyed. As these two young ladies are introduced, they are lost and confused, much like the audience at first. Strange in that the show is a combination of interpretive dance and pure playfulness, like playing patty-cake in the middle of the show. The two confine themselves to their chairs, symbolizing their teddy bear like companions. They eventually find themselves making similar “movements” and eventually find each other and are betrothed as friends. Dancing to songs like the Ronettes, ” Be My Baby” the two become best friends and go through life together. They go through it together playfully, joyfully and most important…together. A charming short production that all can enjoy with a smile on their face as both Spencer and Kaya perform an interesting show. D.C.
“WHO KILLED GERTRUDE CRUMP?” Passe Muraille, Mainspace
Tara Travis puts on a marvellous performance in her show of murder mystery as told through puppets. She plays all the archetypal roles of the genre from Creepy Butler to the Gold digging young wife. Incredible to see an adult’s child-like spirit come to life as she engages people of all ages in this puppet show. With no regard to making it seem as though she was not manning the puppets; it was like we were in the middle of a young girl’s play time with her dolls. Travis- naturally funny, also made the most of her puppets falling over and somewhat breaking, as she made it all a part of the show with great humour. It brought big smiles to the audience as we were all invited to use our imagination and be a part of the mystery of “Who Killed Gertrude Crump?” Incredibly charming and fun, I promise it will bring a smile to your face. There is only one way to find out who the murderer is – go see the show! D.C.
“SHE’S BLACK, HE’S JEWISH, THEY’RE MARRIED…OY VEY”, Annex Theatre The opening:- “Hava Nagila”, of course! The protagonists have been married 27 successful years. The play, coincidently written & performed by the couple themselves; bring us a full hour’s worth of N.Y. humor…not just a ‘New York minute’. More therapeutic than just entertainment, there is a message that reeks of today’s almost 50% intermarriage statistics. Epstein is the husband; and Hassan is his wife. The over quarter-century chemistry resounds across the footlights and thus underscores the pithy aphorisms they pass on to their audience. The addition of songs Hassan performs in a mellow soprano, are just icing. Finances, racism, bigotry obviously are interspersed between comedic moments, in other words, their lives with all the bunions exposed. Viewers will take away more than a few succinct hints that will certainly assist in inter-personal relationships; not just in marriage. T.M.
“SUMMER HOT, SOME ARE NOT”, Annex Theatre
No festival is complete without at least one sketch comedy show. Heck, no LIFE is complete until you’ve seen a sketch comedy show live, if you ask me. All graduates of the Second City Conservatory of Toronto, the cast of Summer Hot, Some Are Not bring an uproariously funny take on the twisted ways of going about everyday life, from breaking up with your girlfriend, to (badly) parenting to singing a rousing musical number about how everyone in society is nothing more than a fraud faking it enough to (sort of) get through life. Thus far I’ve enjoyed several great shows, and if they’re all up to the standard that Second City and the cast and crew of Summer Hot have to offer, I look forward to the rest of the week. M.P.
“Watching Seana McKenna Watch Paint Dry”, George Ignatieff Theatre
Satire and comedy go hand in hand, and being able to recognize when something is being satirical is a skill that is earned learned after many moments of feeling like you’ve missed a joke. Watching Seana McKenna Watch Paint Dry by Peter Hamiwka and Diane Baker Mason should absolutely scream satire just by the TITLE alone. I will, however admit that I didn’t initially realize this, and wasn’t expecting something so sarcastic. This play just oozes with mockery and pokes huge holes in people’s reasoning as to why they like art, theatre, and, incredibly, makes the connecting between bad theatre and the extinction of the human race. After seeing such a piece and having seen the Critic with her one buzzword answer to everything, I won’t entice you with anything other than a high recommendation to see this piece. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. M.P.
“WHEN ALL IS SAID” and “GET SERVED”, Al Green Theatre
If you are a fan of interpretive dance this is a must-see. ALEXANDRA ELLIOTT DANCE of Winnipeg and her choreographic trio, stage a creative un-storied yet visually impressive piece. “When All is Said” opens with an almost sculptural image enhanced by the nude-looking body stockings worn by the dancers. Interpreted by an amazingly athletic and flexible fluidity of motion, the instrumental background is comprised of atonal cacophony. The opening pace is almost non-existent for what seems interminable; then the aerobic terpsichore begins. Visually fascinating, it is almost mesmerizing in its presentation. The second offering is a solo by Ms. Elliott herself which interpret sexperiences faced while waiting on tables. Both sections are unique, and both – creative but not recommended for anyone not INTO the genre. T.M.
“VALKYRIE” Tarragon Extra-space
A new play by a recognized Canadian – Thomas McKechnie should be a definite “10”. Uh, uh.! The title refers to ancient Norse mythology about warrior women who select those that live or die in battle; then escort the losers to Valhalla. Wagner iconicized them in Act III of his “Die Walküre’ , part 2 of The Ring cycle. The cast of three; two ‘Thelma & Louise’ type serial killers basted with intense DeSade & Sacher-Masoch tendencies,, are presented as a potential ‘Criminal Minds’ scenario, but with the “F” word used almost continually. The rest of the dialogue is poorly projected and obfuscated by continual chair squeaks. The victim of the misandrous duo is Spencer Robson and he is the standout. He elocutes with clarity; possesses thespian pace; mobile facial expression and body language. His tormentors are Tara Koehier & Monique Renaud… trained actors but poorly directed. This should be a big draw with the BDSM crowd. D.G.
“EVERYTHING IS FINE”, Tarragon Mainstage
For aficionados of ‘stand-up’ or especially improvisation; this offering ‘is fine’; and cheaper than the Yuk Yuk™ franchises. The music under direction of Jazzman Paul Crocker is enjoyable and an enhancement of the on-stage repartee It also augments the singing & dancing moments . The eight-member cast is very credible in the numerous vignettes presented. Stand outs from the group are Gillian Bartolucci and Ted Hambly. Some of the more memorable skits dealt with clothes misplacement; our beloved P.M. & his national budgeting; and discussion of post-natal abortion…obviously subjects indubitably suited for humor. Director Ken Hall’s pace is brisk, the story lines – creative, and no punchlines ‘bombed’ with the audience. This is a four-star effort for those who enjoy a good laugh. T.M.
“FANTASTIC EXTRAVAGANCE,”, Randolph Theatre
The festival setting is, in my opinion, the perfect way to introduce anyone to theatre. What better way to bring anyone brand new to the world of the theatrical arts than with a piece that is equally brand new to the world of theatre? Fantastic Extravagance by Lara Stokes is a heavy handed statement about the writing process and what a writer must do to face the world, her critics, and most importantly, herself. It details the undertakings of a writer who struggles with the lives of her characters, particularly, Poppy (Janelle Hanna) who is unsatisfied with her lot in life (or rather her death) and refuses to leave the addled Eden Montgomery (Lindsey Clark) alone. Hanna’s performance as Poppy is mute but her presence on stage speaks loudly throughout the show, with her hovering at the edge of a scene, giving Clark a push or a prod every so often, and Clark taking these hints to heart. Their spectacular performance coupled with their stellar supporting cast is a performance to see at this year’s Fringe. M.P.
“INSIDE ALBERT’S HEAD” Passe Muraille, Mainspace
David Ackerman stages a one-hour comedic monologue that, unfortunately, brought close to no chuckles. The plot of this “artistic” monologue, consisted of an old man named Albert, an electrician in New York City, and his adventures. This oblivious individual tells his stories unaware that he indeed is the hero of each story! Each adventure for him leads him to believe he is one minute a male underwear consultant when indeed he is stopping a “Peeping-Jane.” Or perhaps he just wanted to have some soft serve ice-cream but ends up stopping a Bulgarian car thief. However, all of these tales are presented almost like someone describing a poorly written ‘Saturday Night Live’™ sketch. This production left audiences calling it “genuinely bizarre” and simply “un-funny.” It even made some patrons walk out due to comedic disappointment. D.C.
“PLAY PIANO PLAY”, Al Green Theatre
As Jan Janovsky, (JJ), comes out in his 3-piece brightly striped suit & large polka-dot tie, he carefully dusts off the piano with a feather duster, and pulls out a loose string; our comedic expectations rise, and the pianist has our undivided attention. Beginning with a boogie woogie beat, he rapidly morphs into the Flight of the Bumble Bee, clearly, demonstrating that he knows how to get dramatic sounds from a piano. Billed as “a blend of comedy and incendiary pianism mixed with funny songs…” comedy seems a stretch, as JJ stops periodically to tells how he comes from an unhappy Czech family, from a country, in which “… unhappy is a national pastime!” We also learn; about his unpaid student loan of $40,000; that his marriage has fallen apart, in part, because his wife could not abide his drunken behavior after too much Palenka at social events. Clearly, his efforts at “comedy” seem a turnoff. JJ played pieces highlighting various regions of Canada, but his strongest was his arrangement of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, perhaps, highlighting, in his view, the importance of the Can –US relationship. The event is featured as ‘part concert and part ridiculous’. Given JJ’s considerable pianistic skills, there was too little concert and too much ridiculous. The piano, even a smaller grand can be a great instrument, as demonstrated by Borge, Liberace, and Russell. However, such an opportunity is wasted when a somewhat bored performer loses his audience. A.R.
“BARD FICTION”, Tarragon, Mainspace
The Quebec team; Beyond the Mountain, brings their unique take on a popular movie by re-dating it to Elizabethan England and the language of Willie S. Alas, poor Yorick, it suffers from poor projection, weak phrasing & no meter. The concept is interesting, the plot (convoluted) progresses via short vignette-ish scenes and the humor is continual. Could use a little dramaturge ‘tweaking’, otherwise, and anachronisms aside, it’s ‘murder, most funny’ plus great fun. D.G.
MYTH OF THE OSTRICH, LAUGHING YOUR HEAD…
Myth of the Ostrich made me extremely grateful to be a spectator and not a participant in its isolated moment of modern truths. A comedy of errors in a different sense, the small mistakes people make for the purpose of preserving airs quickly snowballed into absurd hilarity. Ostrich handled foreshadowing in a slick turn of speech– the shoot-from-the-hip realism of its writing and the quick verbal footwork by all three actors was flawlessly executed. The speed and timing kept the performance’s looming resolution at bay while still feeling humorously nerve-racking throughout. Ostrich‘s most amazing feat was coming to a human conclusion without sacrificing the intelligence of the audience, simultaneously remaining funny and relatable. S.M.
TACHYCARDIA: TOUGH LOVE
The argument of having lost love versus the love’s total absence will rage for eons. Those retold moments of ruddy infatuation smeared with their eventual demise and the hollow cavity they leave behind will always be worth telling. Tachycardia is no exception to this rule, but its passionate performance was marred by ham-handed symbolism that was thematically inescapable. The hard-won love lost in the staggering duels of self-worth and the expectations of either lover were torrential. Every actor contributed a performance of well-suited severity, but there were times when the staggering displays of devotion were so heavily layered that the acts themselves felt juvenile in their thoughtlessness. However, as an exemplary collection of exaggerated and fiery obsessions associate with that first loss, it was easy to remember the feeling of having something inextricably ripped from ones cockles. S.M.
ABOUT ALLEGRA: FINDING SILVER LINING…
About Allegra is a play unstuck in time. Blair, a twenty-something student has fallen for his married neighbor; Allegra– but that isn’t information that’s immediately apparent. What’s revealed by Blair’s wise aside prior to his love-struck admission is a fleshing out of Allegra’s past – her upbringing, need for escape, and eventual tumble into domestication years later. It’s a brief place setting for the moments fittingly left to unfold between the two characters. About Allegra‘s graces lay in its own moments of reflection. Both characters belay their blooming romance from a future separate from the gravity of their loves. They are weighty specters of perspective objectively taking in the rise and fall of their own intimacy, capable of laughing at their foolishness in a posthumous way. The contrast between the two times worked well together; as did Megan MacDonald’s and Simu Liu’s senses of situational gravity. About Allegra was made all the more involving by Eric Letcher’s conceptual approach, deftly splitting up time and circumstance with a kind of conveyance that jumped around emotionally from humorous to dour without seeming difficult for the actors’ talents to adapt. As a romance that managed to flare up and sadly snuff out in less than an hour of stage time. This presentation felt like a personable account that’s more accurately about time itself. S.M.