Sunday, July 16, 2017

Toronto Fringe 2017 Day #6

James & Jamesy In The Dark. Photo by Thaddeus Hink

It was Toronto Fringe Day 10, and my final day of fringing. I did a ton of not only walking but standing and my body hates me today for good reason.

The first two shows are Patron's Pick so you can still catch them. Click the title to get the link. The last one has closed but is going on to Winnipeg so I'm linking to that fringe (the website doesn't give me a direct link to the show). Pass along to your Winnipeg friends!

James & Jamesy in the Dark

I'm a huge fan of these guys and I thought I wouldn't get a chance to see this. If you've seen either of their previous shows, Tea for 2 or High Tea, be warned that this is a little different. Which is great because I love seeing artists stretch their wings and move out of their comfort zone.

The show revolves around two characters who have working lampshades on their heads and are thus restricted in what they see. There's a lot of comedy in it, engaging enough to capture the attention of the pre-teens in the audience. The first half, establishing the world, does feel slow. But just as you get to "is that all there is?', they discover the audience and what happens from there is pure delight.

If you like something that's off-beat, or something that is physical comedy-based in an intelligent way, then check this show out.

Magical Mystery Detour

My reaction to this show is an example of me being jaded in having seen too many fringe shows. (I've never counted but I know it falls in the hundreds.) I've heard about this artist for years as she's made the rounds of the fringe circuit but had never seen her. I walked out disappointed. I just couldn't help but make comparisons to Nicola Gunn's fringe shows which worked with similar themes and found it wanting.

Now that I've got that out of the way, let me tell you why everyone else raves about this show. :)

We meet a woman who is dealing with a lot of stuff - trying to write a tag line for Marmite, a break up, and her mother's death. When she gets a letter from beyond the grave, it sets her on an unforgettable road trip. Gemma Wilcox not only gives us all the people she meets along the way, but voices animals, coins, and my personal favourite, a car. You won't find any stereotypes in the characters, which given how quick a glance we get of most of them, could have been very easy to do. The show has a great mix of drama and comedy - it's a very enjoyable journey.

My friend who saw the show with me felt the audience interaction portions of the show unnecessary. After thinking on it, I tend to agree. It pulls us out of the narrative. However, that's the only problem I found with it.

It truly is a tour-de-force and an interesting story. If you love watching those things, this show is for you.

The Life Henri

The show that has already closed (although I won't be surprised if there's a Toronto remount at some point). It was the perfect way to end my fringe.

Ostensibly the show is about the life of Henri Rousseau but Adam Bailey uses it as a jumping off point to talk about being an outsider in other contexts. After the show I found out there's another layer I didn't even see which talked about the fringe circuit itself. I really wish I could go back and see it again with this knowledge. Maybe Winnipeg audiences will be more astute than I.

Doesn't really matter, I enjoyed it immensely. Adam is an engaging and funny storyteller and the life of Rousseau is a fascinating subject in its own right. Using slides to show us the work of Rousseau and his contemporaries, we get a rollicking tour of the Parisian art world of the late 19th and early 20th century. The time flies by as we hear about Rousseau artistic development, his naivety, and the most epic house party ever.

Want to have fun spending an hour hearing a story about an ordinary man who becomes an icon? You'll want to see this.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Toronto Fringe 2017 Day #5

Vanessa Quesnelle and Martin Dockery in Moonlight After Midnight. Photo by Will O’Hare

This was my day 5, officially the fringe's day 8. Saw two shows by friends who kindly made it possible for me to come. Happily, I loved them both.

As always, title links to the fringe box office.

Letters to Annabelle

From the moment you walk into the venue, a bar on Dundas St, you're immersed in the world of the show. You're welcomed into the space by a man dressed like a maitre d. Burlesque dancers mingle with the audience and with each other. You get to order drinks and food if you wish.

We're in a bar just after The War to End All Wars. A young soldier has returned, searching out the woman who gave him reason to survive. In the process of looking for her, he gets immersed in the protection racket of the owner of the bar and reconnects with a girl from his hometown working there.

What ensues is a story about illusion, loss, and the hope of love. It actually reminded me a lot of a show I worked on a lifetime ago, Andrew Woolner's Dearest Companion. The immersive experience brings a poignancy to the piece that I think a conventional staging would have lost. With the action all around us, we can feel the characters hopes, dreams, and pain. The letters that we hear have a beautiful poetry mixed in with the horrors of war, giving us a understanding of the nightmares our protagonist has on a nightly basis. From the get-go there's a strong sense of where the story will end up but I kept hoping for a happy ending anyway.

The show has a few things that needs to be ironed out. I was never quite sure where we were. I thought we were in Quebec, as the story seemed to indicate that it was a last stop before shipping out and the Canadian forces trained at Valcartier, Quebec. Yet there's a reference in the show to doing a run to Albany, which is nowhere near there. That would place us in Kingston or Cornwall. Also, the scene changes were very slow. Live piano playing and burlesque were used to cover these and while they were entertaining diversions, it made things feel very dragged out. The voice-overs of the letters got lost quite a bit.

These are all minor things though. If you want to experience something different and dramatic, this is where you want to be.

Moonlight After Midnight

I've heard about this show for a long time as Martin and Vanessa have toured it to many fringes and will be taking it to Edinburgh next. So happy to have finally seen it. It has a twist ending that I saw coming only because of a comment Martin made to me before I saw it. The audience had no idea.

I hesitate to say any more beyond the initial set up of a man and a woman in a hotel room because the joy of this piece lies in the discovery, how it always keeps you guessing as to what is going on. Every time you have a handle on it, it shifts the ground under your feet.

It touches upon the ways we play roles in order to dance around our truths, especially around love. The writing is very strong and the performances actually play with levels of competence to help guide you along the way.

If you love an intriguing story and don't mind being challenged as an audience member, then make sure you catch this show.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ottawa Fringe 2017

Yesterday being #WorldFringeDay reminds me that I still have an outstanding review to write.

I went to the Ottawa Fringe last month to see Keith Brown's new show, which didn't get into Toronto. After I saw it, I promised to write up a review but things got crazy and I didn't get around to it. With the show now heading to Winnipeg and Edmonton, it's a good time to keep that promise. I'll even throw in the other show I saw there, which I really liked.

Hotter than Potter

(Winnipeg link Edmonton link)
I can't even pretend to be objective with this review as I worked with Keith on his last show and was a sounding board for this one. So I will tell you about the show through the eyes of my cousin and her daughter, who came with me.

My cousin was very concern about the age appropriateness of the show, since her daughter is 12. Never fear! Keith is all-ages friendly. He discovered magic as a boy and loves to share that wonder with children of all ages.

And wonder is the theme of this show. I know some people were disappointed because there wasn't more Harry Potter references, not knowing that the title of the show came from a preview piece the CBC did for his last show, Absolute Magic (the one I worked on). He liked it so much he was running off buttons at the end of our Toronto run and decided to use it for his show title this year. But why do people love the Harry Potter books so much? I'd suggest it's the idea of magic existing in the everyday mixed with a dash of adventure. And that's what you get with this show.

Halfway through the show, my cousin and her daughter were leaning forward in their chairs, hanging on every word and action. They were mystified by the magic and charmed by the man. Which is the quintessential Keith Brown experience.

So if you want a break from the everyday, a dash of wonder and charm in your life, you owe it to yourself to see Hotter Than Potter. You'll be glad you did.

AL Connors: DJ Detective

This was the local show I wanted to see and thanks to my plans falling through I was able to hightail it over and see it. I wanted insight into how a DJ works. I certainly got that. What surprised me was how polished the show was. His tales were engaging, he used the stage well, he led us through a journey which culminated in letting us experience what he does. I got to laugh, I got to dance, maybe I even cried a little. It was everything I had hoped for as a fringe experience..Glad I got stood up!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Toronto Fringe 2017 Day #4

Amo Gulinello in Fastcar: Man of Action. Photo by: Valerie Michele Graper

I saw 2 evening shows after getting some sleep. And more sleep afterwards, which is why this is late. (Again, the link in the title takes you to the show page so you can buy tickets.)

Fastcar: Man of Action

This was another show I didn't know much about going in. I already had it in my schedule when I ran into the artist, who was hanging out with someone I know from my vocal studio. They had worked together in Singapore. Small world.

It also turns out that this wasn't the first time I had seen him perform. I checked out his online bio and he was with De La Guarda. (I've spent the last couple of hours trying to retrieve the post I know I wrote about seeing that show in October 2001 and how I was moved by the scene about the tower falling. It's sadly trapped in WP backup hell.)  The man has solid physical theatre chops.

And that's what you get with this show - tons of physical comedy in a mime style. And it's done very well. Like any good clown, he takes the mundane and raises the stakes ever higher, pushing it in the realm of the absurd. I'm finding it really difficult to describe what happens in the show, which may very well be the point. The artist in his synopsis talks about three sections - the phone call, the date, the mission - but that really doesn't do justice to what you see. This show is really accessible, a product of his years of being a lead clown for Cirque du Soleil. He told me the final bit is directly lifted from his work there. 

This show is a lot of fun but be prepared, members of the audience will be involved in the antics. Having said that, he got my friend Heather onstage and she never does audience participation. He's that good. So if you want a shorter show (it runs 45 minutes) where you'll be doing a ton of laughing performed by a master of physical comedy, this is the show you'll want to see. He's an out-of-towner who doesn't have a large network of contacts here and needs all the support he can get.

Odd One Out

This show is very different from everything else I've seen. It's the one pure drama on my list. 

It concerns two women who fall in love while in university in the 50s. Setting it in the 50's gave it a power and resonance that separated it out from most stories I've seen about lesbian romance. While the romance is the center of the plot, the play is really about shattered dreams and the long arm of guilt. The play shifts two time frames - the time when the women and the "steady" of one of them were together, and 8 years later when two of them come together to discover the story of what happened to the third, who had disappeared.

The acting is stellar and the script is lush (helps having a character who loves writing that kind of prose). The relationships are very well drawn and we have a strong sense of who each character is. It's a simple set that uses 3 flats on wheels to define spaces and I found that the moving of the panels was distracting instead of enlightening. But that's the only quibble I have with this production. It moves at a good pace and is fully engrossing.

I do have to give a shout out to Siobhan Richardson's intimacy direction. She learned the craft from the Intimacy on Stage workshop that I wrote about last year  (she was the one who made it happen) and you can see the difference on the stage. I felt the attraction between the two female characters from the moment they met in a way I can't remember experiencing ever before in a show. There was such a comfort level between that actors that has to have been Siobhan's work.

The description sells it as a mystery but I'd consider that a little misleading because it's never solved. Instead, we get a powerful story that is told well by engaging actors. If that's your thing, you need to see this show.