Archive | July, 2014

Fringe Picks: Part 4

9 Jul

More great shows on stage at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival!

licking_knives.web_-250x250Licking Knives

This deceptively simple one-woman show from playwright/performer Melanie Hrymak is both elegantly written and performed. Hrymak tells the first-person tale of a young Ukranian woman’s experience growing up on a wheat farm and how she was ultimately separated from her family by the forces of World War Two. Hrymak’s performance is artfully restrained, perfectly capturing the essence of a character who has seen a lot in her scant few years and has grown a thick skin in response. A touching little gem.

three_men_in_a_boat.web_-250x249Three Men in a Boat

This frivolous (and the term is meant in the best way possible) farce from Pea Green Theatre is a brilliant addition to the cannon of British twit humour, a sub-genre perfected by the likes of Monty Python and Hugh Laurie. Based on Jerome K. Jerome’s classic 1889 travelogue and adapted by Mark Brownell, Three Men in a Boat recounts the less-than-remarkable adventures of three listless uppercrust gentlemen whilst on a fortnight-long boating jaunt up the Thames. The trio of foppish friends are energetically played by Matt Pilipiak, Scott Garland, and Victor Pokinko, all of whom have impeccable comedic chops. Director Sue Miner keeps things tight and the pace perfectly brisk, contrasting the comically mundane details of the story with theatrical vim and vigour. Jolly good stuff.

sex_t-rex_presents-_watch_out_wildkat_yer_dealin_with_the_devil.web_-250x250 peter_n_chris_and_the_kinda_ok_corral.web_-250x250Sex T-Rex Presents “Watch Out Wildkat!” (Yer Dealin’ WIth the Devil) / Peter n’ Chris and the Kinda OK Corral

This reviewer would normally not lump two shows together in one review, but weird and wonderful coincidences can happen at the Fringe, and the undeniable similarities between these two shows in terms of style, premise, and sheer entertainment value makes a favourable comparison inevitable. Although Peter n’ Chris might be a nose ahead in terms of brand name recognition amongst Fringe-goers, both they and Sex T-Rex are treating this year’s audiences to equally hysterical, cinematic, and physical comedy-based takes on the Western movie. The performers across both shows are manically wonderful, and both productions manage to lampoon the dusty genre to great effect. There are, however, a few notable differences. With a more sizeable cast at their disposal, Sex T-Rex’s staging is often elaborate and they are able to paint some truly impressive theatrical tableaus using nothing but their bodies. Peter n’ Chris’ buddy-chemistry is used to full effect, and they happily and spontaneously break the fourth wall when it suits them. Take your pick between shows – or better yet, pick both – you are guaranteed a great time.

punch_up.web_-250x250Punch Up

After years of near-faultless Fringe and independent productions from playwright/director Kat Sandler and the remarkable creative team behind Theatre Brouhaha, a review of their latest offering – as though it would be anything but praise-worthy – almost seems like a superfluous exercise. Nevertheless… Punch-Up, like most of the Brouhaha canon, blends laugh-out-loud comedy with quirky and memorable characters and an intriguing ‘what-if’ premise. In the case of Punch Up that premise sees a gently deranged fan (Tim Walker) kidnaps a world-famous comedian (Colin Munch) believing that if he can make the love of his life – a suicidal woman he met the day before (Caitlin Driscoll) – laugh, he might save her life. Sandler guides the proceedings with perfectly frenetic comedic timing, and the cast all deliver artful and energetic performances. Watching the quick-fire back and forth between Munch and Walker is a particular treat.

Fringe Picks: Part 3

6 Jul

The hits keep rolling in at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival!

potosi_.web_-250x250Potosi

Playwright Alexander Offord, this year’s Best New Play Contest winner, offers up a delightfully scathing and darkly comic parable about the sins of Canada’s resource industry, neo-colonialism, the role of gender-based power in the corporate rat race, poverty, and a handful of other controversial topics for good measure. Set in the regional office of a Canadian silver mining corporation operating out of a unspecified African nation, Offord sets up the story as a cat and mouse game between LeBlanc, a young hard-headed female lawyer flown out by the firm’s HQ to investigate allegations of rape on the part of the mine’s private security personnel, and Beamish, an evasive and quick-tongued PR guy tasked with keeping press and public scrutiny to a minimum. However their motives don’t remain straightforward for long, and as the situation outside the office grows increasingly unstable, so too do the pair inside. Nicole Wilson is admirably intimidating as LeBlanc, and Sean Sullivan is a treat to watch as the slimy and feeble Beamish.

bard_fiction.web_-250x250Bard Fiction

First, a warning; those who have never seen Pulp Fiction may very well leave this production scratching their heads. Those who have only seen it once, or perhaps twice, will likely appreciate it. Those, however, who know it inside and out will find endless delight in Montreal-based Beyond the Mountain’s inventive Elizabethan adaptation of Tarantino’s modern classic. Almost every aspect of the film is given a hybridized treatment; costumes, weaponry, and food are all yanked back 400 years while still bearing a easily recognizable resemblance to the original – even the legendary soundtrack is recreated by a lone lute player. The dialogue, crafted by Aaron Greer, Ben Tallen & Brian Watson-Jones, is impressively Shakespearian – not only in style but wit as well – and the sizeable troupe deliver the famous (and now slightly more floral) lines with the same tone and inflection as the original cast. Sure, the show is essentially one giant gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that is very well executed and clearly comes from a place of love for both the Bard and the film.

Fringe Picks: Part 2

5 Jul

More highlights from the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival!

you_detective.web_-250x250 You Detective

Toronto sketch comedy stalwarts, Fratwurst, present a unique and ambitious conceptual comedy caper that combines highlights from their existing repertoire with a choose-your-own adventure style detective drama. Much of the material is delightfully funny (a bit about an inept jingle writer elicited particularly loud howls) and even when there are rough patches, it’s just as entertaining to sit back and watch the three performers navigate the labyrinthine narrative structure required of the format. Seriously, this reviewer has seen a flow chart of the possible outcomes and it’s damned impressive.

slut-showpromo-2179_finalSlut

With a title like that, one might expect Erin Thompson’s one woman show to either be a modern-day cautionary tale or an over-zealous celebration of female sexuality. Instead, Thompson avoids the spectral extremes that characterize lesser fringe shows of a similar ilk and presents a laudably nuanced and relatable tale of ‘Diana’s’ (a very thinly fictionalized version of Thompson herself) sexual evolution from clueless teen to confident lover. The tone is frank and open without being titillating, and the performance is dotted with plenty of good humour. Thompson is a stronger actor than singer, but a handful of droll musical interludes add some cabaret flair to the already colourful sixty minutes.

redheaded_stepchild_amusement.web_-250x250Amusement

Nobody’s Business Theatre, comprised of best-buds Johnnie Walker and Morgan Norwich, are back to celebrate their company’s ten-year anniversary with a pair of audience favourite remounts (the other being Redheaded Stepchild). Amusement is a delightfully crafted tale of two former university friends who, after reuniting over too many Caesars in the park, spontaneously decide to fly to Florida and apply for jobs at Disney World with unexpected results. The world Walker and Norwich create is rich with whimsy, satire, and over-the-top characters (performed with gusto by the duo), but it is the elegant way the innumerable threads of the story all come together that impresses most.

Fringe Picks: Part 1

4 Jul

The 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival is in full swing and the buzz is already building! Here are a pair of our early favourites.

true.web_-250x250True

Acclaimed Toronto Playwright Rosa Laborde, throws her hat into the Fringe ring with a family drama about an alcoholic father who re-enters his three adult daughters’ lives shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. On paper, it may sound like quintessential Canadian theatre fare, but there is nothing cut and paste about Laborde’s creation. With a fluid tone that ebbs and flows between drama and comedy, as well as a tug and pull between the ideas of accountability and forgiveness, it’s a rich and rewarding experience with an unusual twist. The site-specific venue, the Citizenry coffee shop on Queen West, is used to great effect; its surprising depth allowing for characters to exit the scene without ever fully leaving the presence of the audience. The cast as a whole is rock solid but it is Scott McCord who steals the scenes as Franco, the middle daughter’s musical husband who finds himself haplessly caught in the midst of his extended family’s crisis on fish taco night.

time-stands-still-250x244Time Stands Still

Donald Margulies 2010 Tony-nominated play is mounted here with a deft touch by Eclectic Theatre and director Jordan Merkur. Margulies’ protagonists, Sarah and James, a war photographer and a journalist who have shared their lives and careers abroad for nine years, are forced to return home to New York after Sarah is seriously injured in an IED explosion. The return to “civilization” proves to be a catalyst that exposes rifts in their relationship, and ironically shakes their sense of personal stability in a way that not even the chaos of war could. Markur wisely chooses to apply a naturalistic approach to the piece, giving the script and characters the spotlight. Jason Jazrawy is convincing as James, the forgiving yet frustrated journalist, and Carleigh Beverly also deserves acclaim for her role as Mandy, James’ editor’s young and seemingly naïve girlfriend. Mandy’s well-meaning cheerfulness is quietly scorned by the weary couple, but she makes a simple if compelling argument for happiness and in so doing, adds an additional and welcome dimension to Margulies’ work.