The GTA’s ‘Fringe Festival’ season looms just over the horizon; what better time to stage a couple of Fringe-type 1-hour plays than now! Izad Etemadi’s “LAUGH WITH LEILA” and “XOXO: the RELATIONSHIP SHOW” created & starring Meghan Chalmers & Franny McCabe-Bennett, both inform and educate as well as entertain.
The former one-man effort introduces us to a young and single Iranian girl growing up in post-Shah Pahlevi Persia and under the sharia rule of Khomeini. ‘Hijab’; Chador; ‘Niqab’ and Burkas are all humorously defined and visually delineated.
The social mores; inhibitions; restrictions and insubordinate subtle defiance’s are all portrayed by Etemadi with drollness and wit that encompasses the audience to assist and verbally respond. His Leila enjoys the ‘lost’ (read lust) of males in the Sukh marketplace; ideas gleaned from Cosmopolitan™; and the ancient Levant routine that must be followed whenever a gift is offered. This supposedly knowledgeable scribe learned that North York is home to a large community of Iranian ex-pats and that modern Iran has the largest per capita plastic surgery demands, especially regarding the proboscis.
There is a hilarious bit dealing with Leila making & offering fudge to a suitor. Strange choice- one would have thought that Etemadi would have chosen pakhlava; Noghi; Savay halvah or Jalebi as more traditional and symbolic of the area. Jokes about the Kardashians and Southeast Asian stereotypes earned both responses and guffaws from his (her) audience.
Etemadi’s presentation is – unlike stand-up- ambulatory and constantly physical. He propels certain concepts or questions at specific spectators and even recruits one for a somewhat dramatic & illustrative dialogue situation. The closing sequence has the entire audience up and on stage for a lesson in ritualistic belly dancing endemic to the region. The approximately one-hour performance flies by.
Post interval; Chalmers and McCabe-Bennett stage a dialogue, or in some cases two harmonious but differing-subject monologues. Animated and very physical, both performers engage in almost Rap-ish recitations that somehow are understandable and easy for an audience to follow. Their format of skit-like instalments or episodic bits reflect on everyone’s own experiences. This writer was especially taken with their Smartphone® bit, having just (and finally) purchased one. Hate it and can’t figure out most of the things it can do; like C. & McC-B, I too am sure -“ ♪ My Phone is going to be the death of me ♪ “!
The interview segment touches home as will their ‘Isle of Starbucks™ “melody, we’ve all been there & done that. The take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Act I, scene V dialogue may never be reprised at Stratford but it does not harm or insult the original! BTW, the ladies are self-titled The Two Juliet’s! Pace is hectic and wide ranging. Yatter including an audience-involved episodic first kiss experience and dating tribulations counter with Irish dancing and original ‘punny’ (sic) songs.
The duo may not demand their audiences to get up on stage for a Riverdance finale, but they too incorporate spectator attention and involvement; whether physical or just emotionally empathetic. Their presentation is creative; compassionate and yet benevolent of the stereotypical situations they depict.
This critic and the muse enjoyed both presentations and suggest that readers keep an eye out for any future opportunities to see ‘Leila’ or XOXO being staged; they won’t regret it…might even learn a thing or two!