“The TORONTO FRINGE, 2016” Reply

As in previous years our Ontario Arts Review will endeavor to cover as many of the entries as our time and writer-availability will permit. Having received venue and backing support from Honest Ed’s, the Fringe Administration has decided to caricature the store’s famous logo in the late Ed Mirvish’s honour. We’ll be adding and updating our critiques on a daily basis, so be sure and check out the column regularly.  Remember, many Fringe-style offerings (including Toronto’s) have gone on to mainstream performances. ‘The Fantasticks’; ‘Urinetown’; and ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ are just the most renowned.  If you see us and notice our Press accreditation badges – say hello! We’re Terry, Danny, Jordan, Ellen & Michael.

Finge 2016 Bannerhead

Dance Animal   Tarragon Mainspace
       With courageous vitality and tremendous energy Dance Animal is one to add to the ‘must see list’.  Founded in Montreal in 2008, the original production was Robin Henderson’s (ensemble/choreographer) love letter to the city of Montreal. This year she takes on an entirely new cast as she writes her love letter to Toronto, a love letter that will make you dance in your seat, laugh, but most importantly think about the city we call The 6.  What works so well about this show is its ability to balance contagious entertainment with relevance. It is a show centered on Toronto narratives, and through those narratives it finds universal messages. In a brief conversation with Henderson after the show, she mentioned the cast who writes their own monologues does a huge part in creating the show and, “you do not have to scratch far before you find real people.” During rehearsals Henderson would have the actors talk about themselves to inspire monologues, “sometimes when people are close to their stories they don’t see how awesome they are.” This show is certainly a combination of awesome stories, kick-ass dancing, and fantastic design. It is the perfect gateway to dance theatre.
Jordan Laffrenier

“THE UNENDING”, @ ‘Aunties & Uncles’ restaurant; 74 Lippincott
The Unending is one of those rare pieces of theatre that will still be in conversation years from now. While other fringe favourites get bogged down with familiar tropes, Convergence Theatre Company remains dedicated to finding innovative ways to push boundaries. The Unending is compiled of three short site-specific plays, each with a unique style and perspective on infidelity. Stylistically, it is the most relevant play I have seen at the fringe in recent years. It takes place in three site-specific locations, two of them are secret, and those are the two that are completely transformed: kudos to the design team (seriously fantastic work). It is not like watching three plays; it is like watching three completely different plays. Each play with its own world, ethics, morals, and politics. Each play holding its own raison d’etre. It is difficult to discuss this inventive piece of theatre without ruining it’s many surprises, but I will say Convergence Theatre Company brings everything to the table here including incredible performances and direction. Put this one on my ‘must see list’ and my ‘must see again’ list.

“ERASER”  @ Westside Montessori School
Eraser is a site-specific show that follows six performers as they re-live elementary school memories. The concept is solid and smart. The audience moves around the school and interacts with the performers as the performers share their experiences of kindergarten to grade 6 (I fondly remember being asked to dance in a dance off, draw an airplane, and later draw a bigger airplane). Overall, I thought the individual stories could benefit from being more developed. The stories were intriguing and personal, but the show would falter by taking a long time to get to a big topic issue and then abandon the issue as soon as it got there. The transitions were sloppy, which was made evident by the number of audience members who would stay in a location after the performance had clearly moved to another location. I admit, I did this once to stay with a character whose journey I thought had the most colour, but I was confident I would not miss much by watching him stretch, instead of following the story. I would love to see this show go further. The cast is extremely talented, and the show has a ton of potential.

“Silk Bath “@ Tarragon Mainspace
 “I came because I heard something happening here was about me,” someone in front of me in line says before the opening of Silk Bath. The play is framed within the context of a game show. In this game the only way to win is to adhere to Asian stereotypes. Winners fit into a socially constructed definition of what it means to be Asian. Winners are docile, are engineers or accountants, graduated at the top of their class, and say that American-style Chinese food reminds them of home. Though this game show is a metaphor, it is not far from reality. It is no secret that recently many of Toronto’s theatre companies have been criticized for not reflecting the diversity of the city. Silk Bath challenges that by giving a voice to the voiceless. It is a call for a revolution in our city and its arts facilities. It is a reminder that racism takes many forms, and sometimes even the best of us can be racist even against our own race. The performances are emotionally compelling, and the lighting is suburb. I hope this show is a starting point to inspire more shows like it.

“GET YOURSELF HOME, SKYLER JAMES” @ 918 Bathurst St., Bsmt.
I began regularly receiving hate letters & death threats…I asked my immediate supervisor for a meeting with the 1st. Sgt & was denied.”
-Skyler James
     “Get Yourself Home Skyler James” exposes an abuse of power in an institution that functions to serve and protect all citizens. Based on true events, the play chronicles Skyler James, an American soldier who fled to Canada after she was brutally abused and tormented by her fellow soldiers for being a lesbian. It is equally charming and shocking. It never hits you over the head with its messages; on the surface is a captivating monologue, a lover trying to get her partner out of the bathroom, but through that monologue so much is revealed about the way the American Military treats female soldiers. Natasha Ramondino’s performance was true, brave, grounded and heart breaking. Ali Richardson is a director capable of finding the beating heart of a piece and driving the story. In a brief interview with Ali Richardson after the show, she talked about the necessity of individual stories, “there is something uniquely powerful about one individual voice telling a deeply powerful story and we need that too.” It makes individuals and theatre makers part of conversations that are normally held by politicians, and lobbyists.

“WAKING, The Play” @ Al Green Theatre
This story by Joel Pettigrew is written with the love & empathy that can only result from having experienced someone-close losing their mind and memory. My own mother had Alzheimer’s so this writer was emotionally touched by such a creative rendering of a sorrowful subject. Rod McTaggart is Nigel today; Lucas James ‘Nigel’ 20 years earlier. Marta Legrady & Courtney Keir portray his wife Sonja the same way with empathy and amazing spousal support. The plot vehicle is staged as a documentary being recorded. Nigel’s two children are Bryan Kling & Andrea Cabera in touching role-renderings that also reflect compassionate identification.
WAKING is not for everyone and is not intended as entertainment. Unlike the movie ’50 First dates’ or ‘Ground Hog Day’; the cast and playwright don’t use the subject as a comedic vehicle; but rather, as a paean to an emotionally deteriorating situation. It not only affects the focal character but all those involved or nearby… Pettigrew & company capture the very essence of the subject and situation.
Danny Gaisin

Two Second City alumnae, Stacy McGunnigle and Jason Derosse open their dialogue by deriding & disparaging their individual lack of accomplishment in their theatrical attempts at success…sad but given a comedic tongue-in-cheek. Through skits like a School dance; A step-dad having ‘the talk’; a screwed-up seduction effort; and ongoing skits about a SUBWAY Sandwich employee and a young patron; the duo and their production team satirize mannerisms and social complications that everyone experiences.
McGunnigle is very physical in her portrayals while Derosse is more sanguine, but both are consummate comedians whose technical presentations are faultless and although exaggerated, somewhat credible. One standout sketch deals with a husband & wife’s weekly lovemaking schedule. Spoiler: – It’s Wednesday!
Be prepared to laugh; miss some dialogue due to audience responses and have a different attitude towards a certain fast food chain!

 “BEHOLD, The BARFLY” @ the Monarch Tavern
Spoon Vs Hammer’s collaborative and very adult collection of sketches and parodies is a continual hoot. Cast and crew are experienced and professional from the get-go and throughout this 75 minute, fast-paced offering. There is a feeling of improve, but only a feeling… the entire effort is expertly executed, and characters, although exaggerated, readily identifiable. We loved the intellectually-challenged face=painter as much as the ridiculous Ont. Science Centre disaster bit. “Belafonte’s “DAY-O’; already parodied by Stan Freberg receives another knock-out punch from a trio of this comedically satirical group. One of the team, Steve Hobbs, is a lookalike for early Andy Griffith, even to some mannerisms.
The clever and ironic twists or endings, make the time fly by (no pun intended).  The location and milieu of the Monarch add a sense of participatory involvement for the audience.
BTW. Next door is the original ‘San Francesco’ home of the sweet (or Hot) veal sandwich. Tell Danny that ‘Danny’ sent you, then head nest door for a brewski and this fun Fringe offering.

 IN GODS WE TRUST” @ The Al Green
The Lactor’s Studio is (are) a group of lawyers that act. Isn’t acting a prerequisite for the legal profession? This comedy imagines that the ancient Greek Deities abandoned Olympus for Mt. Rushmore in order to supervise the growth and progress of the U.S. of A. Hell, everyone wants a ‘green card’. Anyhoo, after manipulating the revolutionary & Civil Wars; emancipation; industrial growth and Viet Nam; now the Olympians are concerned with the Clinton/Trump situation …aren’t we all.
The play is riddled with anachronisms and a knowledge of American history helps follow the gags and references that abound as in any political satire. Unfortunately, Catherine Wiley’s ‘Athena’does not project so her pithier observations are missed. Aphrodite (Kerri Salata) is requisitely sexy, while Ajay Krishnan’s Apollo is as charismatic as the legends tell. There are some funny bits such as Hermes (Satinder Besrai) tapping the sundial when the council members are late, her referrals to unread emails and the Trojan War fiasco. In GODS We Trust is Hilarious.
Erroneous precedent, legalites; Emma Lazarus’ “Huddled Masses yearning to breathe free”, is inscribed at the base of Miss Liberty…NOT in the U.S. constitution!
Terry Gaisin

“BRIGHT LIGHTS” @ The Tarragon
Life does not always go according to plan. One day, you are starting a support group for people who have been abducted by aliens, as one does on Tuesdays, and the next day you are being accused of being less human than you appear. I wonder if anyone would see a comedy about alien abductions if not for a complete trust in the capabilities of Kat Sandler. It seems like one of those concepts a friend you haven’t talked to since high school invites you to, and you only go because it is his first show, the first thing that got him off the couch since his wife left him, and he gave you a WOM ticket. But trust us, this show does not disappoint. It’s incredibly funny and charming, the entire ensemble brings a unique comedic energy to the table, and the direction is professional and sharp.  The show brings up several questions about the human condition and human capabilities, which are so well executed you will be debating the shows deeper message after you leave. If you do not like this show people, you might be an alien.

“COLLAPSE” @ Tarragon, Solo room
One month prior to the entire Fringe starting, a director friend of mine asked me to see a workshop of the show he was working on. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, seeing as he told me it was a comedy show but still needed some work. I went and was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing throughout the whole show. After giving some feedback with the rest of the audience, I left and had a nice discussion with the friend I had taken along with the concept of making people happy and trying to clarify what the moral of the story was.
A month later I finally saw the finished product and was very satisfied with the result. Collapse, written and performed by Ryan Dillon, does an excellent job of walking the fine line between a stand-up act and a theatrical storytelling piece. His imagery and timing made the piece heart-warming and hilarious. Whatever moral you take away from seeing this show, whether it be to make everyone happy, or just try to be good person, you will have a great time finding it in the process.
Michael Piscitelli

“FIRE IN THE METH LAB”; @ St. Vladimir Theatre
The one-man show, Fire in the Meth Lab written and performed by Jon Bennett, had me in tears at certain points form how much I was laughing. At other points, I sobered up immediately from the hilarity due to the harsh reality that had hit from what was being told to me. Bennett is an excellent storyteller and has the theatrics to back it up. Frequently, he would be calling on the audience to try their hand at things that are somewhat strange to North America (like belly bucking) or to confirm the facts of an incredibly odd and poorly written trivia board game about the “poor man’s [Australian] Rick Astley”. Walking in to this show, I was expecting to be in for something tragic and to not be happy by the end, but I was mistaken and I’m very glad I took the chance on this show. A lot of international shows get very little recognition and support in the Fringe, so – I highly recommend seeing this show.

“INSTAGRAHAM”; @ Passe Mureille, Mainspace
Finding friend of mine working front-of-house for Passe Muraille meant I was able to chat about the show afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, Instagraham by Graham Clark is a hilarious show with a lot of audience participation and some pretty well documented times in Clark’s life. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be a true testament to how random the drawing for the shows in the Fringe actually is. If you’re looking to laugh and watch something that is probably better suited for the environment of a comedy festival, then this show is perfect for you. If you’re looking for storytelling, conflict, or to not literally spend an hour looking at someone’s Instagram account while he cracks jokes about what he took pictures of, then you might want to try something else. It was a fun show to watch, just not what I was expecting in a theatre festival.

   “THE COMEDY OF ERRORS”; @ Victory Café (venue 19)
The show was clearing out. That’s when I got my ticket and got to go in to the Victory Café to see Shakespeare BASH’D perform The Comedy of Errors. They were missing actors, all but one set piece and most, if not all, the costumes. Needless to say, this was a hilarious way to start the show. I enjoyed every second of it and was curious to see how they interpreted the script. I love Shakespeare, so I was happy they kept it traditional with the language, but a little surprised it wasn’t some kind of translation. Either way, the choice of venue, made the show a great time to be a part of, and they did an excellent and uproariously funny job using only 2 actors to play 2 different sets of twins (that appear at the same time by the end, no less). Kelly Penner and Tim Welham were phenomenal playing the dual roles of the twins ‘Antipholus’ and the other set of twins ‘Dromio’ respectively; their changes one-to-the other were spot on.
The Victory Café, is just around the corner from the Fringe Beer Tent.

Last minute decision to add Wireless Connection to our schedule. Trying for a wireless connection from the GO train to order tickets, failed. No wireless connection!!! Assistance from passenger Sarah, and the tix arranged.  No program, just a card with a computerized box which we were unable to decipher (no Scanlife™ app) – another failed wireless connection!
There is no plot, Point of View Dance tries to illustrate how life now revolves around being wired in; except us O.F.’s (old farts) are still decades behind. Choreographers Amy Adams & Kylie Thompson plus their five cohorts present an intricate and frenetic isometric-exercise example of modern dance that is exhausting to watch. Avant-garde artistic projections and cleverly decorative lighting help paraphrase the concept. One noticeable member of the corps is named Meg – her dynamism sets her at the forefront. The male performers’ contretemps is a highlight.
Negatively, the extremely loud music overemphasizes the bass end of the sound spectrum thus hurting old ears; and the darkened stage may be imaginative but does not enable the audience to see & appreciate those performing on stage.

 “INCH OF YOUR LIFE”; @ Al Green Theatre
To appreciate ‘Inch of your Life’, one does NOT need to be Italian, its message of family affiliation, struggles and relationships are universal. Eight main characters and a powerful rendering of ‘Vito’ a consigliere-ish small support role by Joshua Morris iterate a clannish tree who depict all the stereotypes endemic to the non-specific world; but with an Italian flavor. Sibling rivalries; alpha-omega psyches and even misogynistic attitudes are debated by the familial fraternity. Cleverly expressed via short stage-front vignettes, the audience identifies with at least one of the characters, and maybe even more personas. Directorially (Massimo Pagliaroli) utilizes the actors speaking over each other to add a strong & effective sense of realism to the play. Future viewers should pay particular attention to the three Catelli brothers, as well as Sylvia & Jill as their girlfriends. Discussions about ‘she likes/dislikes me’ will touch home to all but the most confident and egotistical of males.  The Title, has an addendum: – Episode 1, and thankfully, a comedic bit at curtain lets the viewers luckily learn that there may be an Episode 2! This one deserves to go mainstream post-Fringe.

“TO JANE, WITH LOVE”; @ the Al Green Theatre
The subject of ‘To Jane, with Love’ is alcoholic and/or drug dependency and how it affects not only the individual, but those around him or her. It’s powerful, both in plot line and character description. Playwright/director Deon Denton writes and expresses the theme so cleverly and succinctly that one must assume close familiarity with the topic. The Henry of the piece is Geoff Mays and he is so convincing as to seem almost personally familiar, but that’s from witnessing him in previous Teatron productions. The man is a consummate professional. Mish Tam IS the ‘Jane’ of the story and is intensely credible and human.
Unfortunately, Shobba Hatte who is a physically expressive actor fails to vocally project and even in our 3rd row, most of her dialogue was missed. Henry’s parole officer cum new neighbor is strongly portrayed by an empathetic Philip Cairns. Another AA group member is Fraulein Almariego and her stage-front moments are gut-moving.
Comedic relief is offered by 9-year old scene-stealer Aiv Cohen who can portray a likeable pain-in-the-ass kid, who behaves devilishly, but with angelically loveable facial expressions & professional sense of timing. Hope this imp goes to either UTM’s Erindale, or probably – Sheridan College.

One week after seeing Stratford’s intense ‘MacBeth’ and a terrific ‘As You Like It’ (and we did); a trip from the sublime to the ridiculous. R&JCM, is so hilarious that word-of-mouth makes it a Sold-Out Fringe success already.  The misquotes; malapropisms, temporal discrepancies, and colloquialisms all mean that this is NOT Willy S.; it’s just a comedic vehicle for an absurd non-horrible horror story. Sword, poniard, or broom against a chainsaw; blood & gore all over the floor and the audience laughter outdoes the dialogue. Direction is by writer Matt Bernard and one can imagine him giggling as he went through the creative process. The cast are thoroughly professional with a preponderance of Cdn Actors Equity pros enjoying the opportunity to unprofessionally ham it up.  Have seen Victor Pokinko back in his UTM/Sheridan days; glad to see him now mainstream.  This Fringe contribution should consider offering itself to School Boards as an alternative to studying the Bard!

  “EVERYTHING ELSE IS SOLD OUT” @ The Helen Gardiner
And so was this show. Everything Else is Sold Out plays up the fact that you really couldn’t get in to any other show (but with 150 different plays, dozens of venues, and nearly 2 weeks to do it in, we’ll just pretend that’s what actually happened and suspend our disbelief for an hour) rather than make you feel like you’re missing out, they give you a little bit of everything. All the while making that “everything” a comedy. You get a fair amount of quirky, awkward and fascinating little vignettes all just there to entertain you. Ironically, it was a packed house when I went, so there were people waiting outside the theatre to see the show and unfortunately couldn’t get in.
Everything Else… plays up that you are seeing what happens to be left over in many theatre festivals or shows you generally wouldn’t want to see but don’t have much choice. In a way it sort of tells you how absurd some of the presentations that end up in some festivals are; but no one really says anything because – hey, they got in, so they did something right. Right?

“DAN’S INFERNO” @ Helen Gardiner Playhouse
Dan doesn’t seem to understand bike safety. Dan is also dead. Reading the director’s note about what would happen if you had done nothing with your life and then you died is a fairly scary thought. And this is precisely what happens to Dan. He doesn’t act on the opportunities given to him in life, so in death, he’s shown all these past mistakes by a magic talking…toilet. I’m no expert on the original Divine Comedy, so I think some of the jokes went a little over my head (that pun just happened without me realizing it, I swear) but there was ample opportunity for people who weren’t as familiar with it to enjoy a little toilet humor as well (that one was a lot more intentional).  I found what really struck a cord with me was that the whole concept of the show was to take the opportunities in life that are given to one, or you might just end up doing nothing, wasting your time and being generally forgettable to your peers.

FAR AWAY” @ Passe Muraille  Mainspace
Megan Watson, director & producer, has successfully mounted British playwright Caryl Churchill’s drama Far Away.  First produced in 2000 at London’s Royal Court, this play has been described as a dystopia, a fantasy’ I see it as a dramatic vision of a world fearfully spinning toward self-destruction.  Watson uses only three actors, all excellent:  Michela Cannon, Young Joan and Joan; Alix Sideris as Harper (and a prisoner); Michael Ayres as Todd.  She and choreographer Patricia Allison use expressive movement and mime to deepen the poetic text; I loved this.  A collection of masks hang over the bare stage:  perhaps beheaded victims, who once wore hats that Joan and Todd create in their bizarre factory.  In the final scene, we learn war has turned nature against itself: – “the elephants have defected to the Dutch and the weather is siding with the Japanese… the Bolivians are working with gravity… there’s thousands dead of light in Madagascar.” Costumes and sets by Sorcha Gibson, Kathy Anderson’s sound design, and Chris Malkowski’s lighting enhance the production.  Eva Barrie was another Producer, and Tamara Vuckovic, Stage Manager. A play for our times; well worth seeing!
Ellen S. Jaffe

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