2017 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 2

11 Jul

More highlights from this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival!

04-28-2017-032446-490732 Short Sketches About Bees

This goofy and brisk-paced sketch revue is a delightful mish-mash of high-concept dad humour and abstract comedic thinking. From an tight and talented ensemble comprised of members of past Fringe hit-makers, Dame Judy Dench and other notable faces from the Toronto sketch comedy scene, 32 Short Sketches About Bees includes everything from scenes about literal bees to more open interpretations of the subject, such as recurring bit about a Bea Arthur’s tenure as Shopper’s Drug Mart’s sexually-charged spokesperson or a concise but clever scene about mishearing the phrase “Her bees”. The self-imposed concept is stretched to its creative limits, but there is still a cohesive feel to the whole. Although perhaps a contradiction in terms, 32 Short Sketches about Bees is good dumb smart fun.

 

05-01-2017-223631-2688A Peter N’ Chris-tmas Carol

After last year’s meta-theatrical Peter Vs. Chris, this dynamic duo of comedy (Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson) return to classic form, taking on the tropes and familiar stories of the holiday season with zeal. Don’t let the title fool you; the Dickens classic is a jumping off point for the show, but there is nothing formulaic or predictable about the story they weave (other than the fact that – like all of their shows – it’s about two best friends). What always impresses is how equally adept they are at both verbal banter and physical comedy; their dissection of the lyrics of a familiar Christmas ditty and a brilliant bit involving a mug are only two of many examples. Peter N’ Chris have been one of the most reliably hilarious acts to grace the Fringe circuit, and this show only serves to cement that reputation.

 

06-08-2017-191938-6304About Time

This high-brow production from the Templeton Philharmonic (Briana Templeton and Gwynne Phillips) sits comfortably between the genres of sketch revue and theatrical vignette. In either case, it’s a smart and occasionally ribald take on the passage of time and human history. Templeton and Phillips have excellent chemistry which results in tight and calculated performances. Their writing is equally strong; some scenes, such as one in which two refined ladies share tea while speaking almost entire in double-entendres, blend silliness and propriety in a way that invites comparisons to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, while other scenes, such as one about two entertainment correspondents reporting on the lives and fashion trends of various historical monarchies, are surprisingly informative. Rather than rely on blackout music, the scenes are cleverly tied together by a sonorous narrator with a seemingly endless supply of ridiculous analogies about the nature of time that helps to elevate the concept.

 

06-12-2017-141758-7707Bendy Sign Tavern

Sex-T-Rex have established a well-deserved reputation for consistently producing must-see Fringe productions; their past theatro-cinematic takes on the action movie, the western, the swashbuckler, and the post-apocalyptic thriller have all been highly physical and imagination-driven epics. That is why their latest production, Bendy Sign Tavern – a self-aware puppet show about the staff and patrons of a downtown pub (set in the physically limited space of the Paddock at Queen and Bathurst), looks, on paper, like such a departure. In reality, this production is as richly detailed as, and lacks none of the ambition of their previous work. The sheer number of characters and puppets that emerge from every nook and cranny of the space is remarkable; there are people, animals, a literal barfly, talking food, and more. One of them even doubles as an actual server, delivering drinks and food to the audience during the show.

The story and writing feels like a CBC or TVO kid’s show from the 80s or 90s that has been elevated for adult audiences, albeit without the acid cynicism of obvious comparison, Avenue Q; there is no shortage of heart in this show. The behind-the-puppet performers are uniformly hilarious and attack the multitude of roles with zeal, and the jokes and gags, both visual and verbal are all top notch. Non-puppet piano player Elliott Loran contributes both a pleasant background music, as well as a handful of toe-tapping original spotlight numbers that will have you singing along.

Bendy Sign Tavern is a magical experience that will leave your inner child beaming.

 

05-26-2017-194513-1390MacBeth Muet

There are few shows that manage to elicit laughter and delight as well as genuine visceral cringing with equal efficacy, but Montreal-based company La Fille Du Laitier’s MacBeth Muet does exactly that. This wordless (save for a few helpful title cards) retelling of The Scottish Play is a highly imaginative and fast-paced delight that sees household objects imbued with symbolism and whimsically transformed into Shakespeare’s characters to great effect. Director and sound designer Jon Lachlan Stewart artfully blends traditional performance and puppetry, with an expertly curated soundtrack that sets the tone and pace for the bite-sized scenes. Performers Clara Prévost and Jérémie Francoeur are captivating to watch as they bridge the worlds of tragedy and comedy, human and object.

MacBeth Muet is a perfect example of the power of independent theatre and how so much can be done with so little.

 

04-27-2017-051849-3711The Seat Next to the King

This New Play Contest winner from Steven Elliott Jackson delivers an impactful punch, telling the story of two gay men – one white, one black – who meet in a public washroom in 1964 Washington DC. Jackson’s script is pointed and tender in equal measure and manages to address an impressive number of socio-political facets that speak to both the past and present. Director Tanisha Taitt smartly avoids an unnecessarily complicated staging, instead allowing the characters and their forthright dialogue to flourish. Kwaku Okyere and Conor Ling deliver powerful nuanced performances and navigate the emotionally wide reaching material with grace.

 

Brief Shout Out

06-05-2017-150645-2061 bThe Teeny Tiny Music Show: Vivacious and eccentric performer Hayley Pace’s site-specific tale of love and heartbreak is a charming and earnest entry in this year’s festival. It’s hard to say too much without spoiling the concept, but suffice to say that the title is more than a little misleading and anyone with an appetite for music would get their fill.

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