Archive | July, 2013

Fringe Picks: Part 3

11 Jul

Liza Live! Full disclosure: Jennifer Walls, the performer playing Liza Minnelli in this production also appears in another production affiliated with the editor of this website. Normally, we would try to avoid situations where a review may be tainted by personal interests, but we feel strongly enough about the charm and energy of this show – an opinion that was evidently shared by the audience (let’s call them an independent litmus test) – that we’ll make an exception. Walls does a wonderful impersonation, nailing the voice and mannerisms of the colourful and oft-caricatured songstress and daughter of Judy Garland. Even more remarkable, she manages to utterly humanize Minnelli (and her many vices) and still pack in a few toe tapping numbers in just over 50 minutes. There is definite room for this production to grow – brief lines like “I was told I would never walk again” beg to be expanded on.

You Won’t Be Here (Tomorrow) On paper, this drama about two disparate adult sisters who re-hash their personal history and uncover fresh secrets is very well-trodden theatrical territory, but that isn’t to say that this creative team don’t pull it off artfully and with great impact. James Fanizza’s realistic characters organically navigate the dense swath of melodrama he lays out for them, and director Carrie Adelstein’s choice to present the piece in a raw and authentically rundown loft space only heightens the grit factor. Cast members Karen Ivany and Julie Lemieux impress, delivering performances well above the Fringe standard.

I Hired a Contract Killer This adaptation of the 1990 film by Finnish auteur and cinephile favourite Aki Kaurismäki recreates the story of a working class man who, after being fired from his non-descript government job, decides to off himself with the assistance of a professional – a plan he regrets when he unexpectedly falls in love after the contract is signed. Director Bruce Pitkin does an admirable job of evoking a cinematic mood somewhere between ‘Film Noir’ and Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ and uses the large and youthful ensemble to great effect as both narrators reciting screen direction, and as human set pieces – like a cab complete with windshield wipers. One of the few flaws: a charming but peculiar final note at stylistic odds with the rest of the piece.

Weaksauce In this earnest and achingly relatable one-man show, Sam Mullins (who some may remember from last year’s Tinfoil Dinosaur) tells the story of his first time falling in love – at the romantic hub that is hockey camp no less. Mullins is a natural performer and between his underdog-like quality and his friendly presence, he quickly has the audience completely along for the ride. Interspersed in his casual language are some great turns of phrase that leave one laughing much longer than expected. Weaksauce was a late addition to the Fringe and is not found in the print program, which is all the more reason to support this worthy show.

Fringe Picks: Part 2

8 Jul

Here are some more treats courtesy of Toronto Fringe Festival participants:

We are the Bomb Playwright Kat Sandler and her company, Theatre Brouhaha – who took the festival by storm last year with Help Yourself – are back with another outstanding entry. This site specific piece, set in the Paddock Bar at Queen and Bathurst, takes place in the hours before a modern-day prohibition is set to take effect in Canada. A small ensemble of revolutionary vigilantes and a handful of assorted strangers band together to fight the new law, but ill-conceived plans and heightened emotions quickly push the motley group into Lord-of-the-Flies-esque territory. Sandler can be given much of the credit for the piece, but it is apparent than the entire, and utterly wonderful, ensemble of Brouhaha regulars (and a couple of fresh faces), have put their personal stamp on the often hilarious and occasionally intense material. There isn’t a weak link among the bunch, but Benjamin Blais and Elliot Loran steal the show with their perfect yin-yang chemistry as the bl0whard and often clueless rebel leader and his nebbish and practical assistant.

Peter n’ Chris Explore their Bodies Peter n’ Chris can join Morro and Jasp on the wall of “Perennial Fringe Comedy Superstars”; this sketch-based dynamic duo wow once again with an imaginative take on the Hunger Games – set inside Chris’ body. It’s slightly darker and edgier fare than some of their previous work, but no less hysterical. Their synchronicity is spot on, their frequent fourth wall-breaking never feels tired, and their ability to evoke settings and objects with virtually no production elements is testament to their talent as true theatre artists. If you have never seen them before, just do it.

Polly Polly Toronto indie theatre darling Jessica Moss uses her trademark bluster and bravado to great effect in this tender piece about Polly, an aimless 20-something cinema denizen who wakes up one morning to find that her entire life is now narrated by a presence in her head. The narration prompts her to pursue her “true self” – the woman she thought she would be, or should be. It’s a simple narrative – and in the hands of a lesser artist the premise might even seem cliche – but Moss is a powerhouse performer able to charm and move the audience effortlessly. Highlights of the work include sketch-like asides, including one of Polly attempting to find her “true self” through Yoga – a hilarious scene that says out loud what I’m sure many people have always been thinking on the inside.

Fringe Picks: Part 1

6 Jul

The Toronto Fringe is now in full swing and here are a few early charmers and pleasers!

Adventure! Matt Gorman’s double-edged romp through a Camelot-esque world in which marital strife is a greater concern than any fire-breathing dragon is spotted with moments of hilarity, many of them courtesy of gangly and petulant Sir Godfrey (played by the comedically-blessed Andy Trithardt), his servant Osric (Colin Edwards), the foppish and imbecilic Prince Langley (Carter Hayden) and a straight-faced hermit (Jim Armstrong). Balancing the comedy is an more serious undercurrent loosely touching on the theme of mortality. The piece does have  are a few uneven patches where the energy lags – perhaps a first night issue that will be smoothed out as the run progresses – but even so, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable entry.

It‘s Always You: A Musical From Dan Redican, member of the legendary Canadian sketch comedy troupe, The Frantics (seriously, if you have never heard of them, google them now – do it!) and c0-starring Canuck screen queen Sheila McCarthy (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Die Hard 2 – I like that movie, gimme a break), this quiet musical revisits the same three old friends in a plethora of “what if” alternate universes to explore themes of regret, sacrifice, and life choices. It’s simple but thoughtful material that is enhanced by Redican’s gentle humour and a likeable fourth-wall breaking narrator. The cyclical structure of the piece does hinder a feeling of linear narrative progression, but that isn’t to say that one does not feel as though one hasn’t been on a journey with the characters.

Radio: 30 Chris Earle’s one-and-a-half-hander (essentially a one man show with off-stage vocal support from Fringe vet Paul Constable) was a big hit when it debuted in 1999 – and with good reason. This subtle and ever so slightly dark comedy peels back the facade of the world of commercial voice work with great effect and surprising emotional impact. On a superficial level, one comes away with an appreciation for the artifice of the format and the performances behind it. On a more profound level, Earle reveals the inner turmoil of “Ron”, a professional voice over artist who examines his moniker of “artist”, the fragility of his career and the fragility of friendship, all while cooing to the audience in dulcet tones. A great performance from Earle mixed with unique material makes for a remarkable show.

Fringe Preview: The Soaps

4 Jul

Your Name: Christy Bruce

Your Fringe Show: The Soaps! A Live Improvised Soap Opera: City Hall Edition

Your Role (writer / director / cast member, etc): Producer, director, cast member

Tell me about your Fringe show in 100 words or less: After selling out shows the last two years by taking the audience to The War of 1812, and the Shawford festival, we are now taking you to the cracked and dirty underbelly of City Hall! Staring some of the city’s best improvisors and armed with nothing more than a director, a setting and unscrupulous characters,  we’ll make City Hall look more corrupt, and show you a mayor that is even more of a disgrace then what we have in our great city.

Now do it as a Haiku:
Ford running through snow
improvisors on the stage
in the july wind

Your favourite Fringe Festival memory (doesn’t necessarily have to be from the Toronto Fringe): Having people from Stratford come to our shows that took place in “Shawford”.  It was all very meta for them, I’m sure.

If you produced a FringeKids! show about Rob Ford, it would be called: Watch our for the Crack Man