2018 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 1

7 Jul

Here are some of the shows from the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival we’ve loved so far!

Inescapable

You’re going to have to forgive the vagaries of this write up; I would rather be obtuse about Fringe staple Martin Dockery’s deceptively simple and intensely clever two-hander than to give too much away.

What we can say is that what is ostensibly a conversation between two old friends who have stepped away from the hubbub of a holiday party and discover a cryptic object in a closet, is the framework for a high-concept bit of theatrical fun that is testament to Dockery’s talent as both a writer and performer. Those who enjoyed last year’s Moonlight after Midnight will appreciate the same one-two punch of human story and meta-structure that also defines Inescapable.

Dockery’s stagemate Jon Paterson is equally impressive to watch; the work’s concept and brisk pacing demand effortless performances to pull off, which Dockery and Paterson both deliver.

Because of the relatively simple staging, it would be easy to overlook Director Vanessa Quesnelle’s contribution, but she especially deserves credit for giving the performance a well defined arc – which is more of a challenge than one might assume.

Inescapable is a fast-paced slow burn, and an early highlight of this year’s festival.

Also worth noting: Martin Dockery has a second surprise show in this year’s fringe, The Bike Trip, which is also excellent. A one man storytelling show about Dockery’s trip to Basel, Switzerland to recreate the first literal LSD trip, laced (pun very much intended) with his philosophical reflections on love and life.

 

D&D Live!

Fringe regulars will know Sex-T-Rex for their hilarious and cinematic takes on various tropes and genres (Swordplay: A Play of Swords, Wasteland, among others), and while that also serves to describe D&D Live! (Dungeons and Dragons for the uninitiated), the difference this year is that there’s no script – it’s completely improvised with the assistance of the audience. Using a satirical version of Toronto by way of JRR Tolkien as the backdrop for the story, the players weave a tale that is both true to the Dungeons and Dragons experience and comedically accessible to the local audience.

The results, while not surprisingly less polished than their scripted shows (it wouldn’t be improv otherwise), are no less hilarious and imaginative. Sean Murray acts as the Dungeon Master, giving structure and guidance to the motley core group of mythical heroes (Chris Wilson, Kyah Green, Sean Tabares, and Conor Bradbury) who, like in a true game of Dungeons and Dragons, must on occasion roll a soccer ball-sized 20-sided die to determine the outcome of their quest.

Each performance features a special guest performer; at the performance this reviewer attended, it was the always top-notch Mark Little who played a mystical curator with a propensity for mischievously challenging the conventions of the format to great comedic effect.

Sex-T-Rex have earned their reputation as Fringe greats, and D&D Live! Is only further proof.

 

Featherweight

Tom McGee should be familiar to Fringe audiences as a key member of Theatre Brouhaha and the dramaturg of many if not all of Kat Sandler’s numerous fringe hits, as well as the creative force behind Shakey-Shake, the equally successful series of child-friendly Shakespearean adaptations performed by puppets. Featherweight, which McGee wrote and directed, is a departure from both those previous projects – although it is no less smart and entertaining.

Set in the Paddock Tavern (host to previous Fringe hits, We Are the Bomb and Bendy Sign Tavern), Featherweight gives the audience a glimpse into the afterlife – well, the administrative part right before the afterlife that is. Jeff (Michael Musi) a beige 30-something, finds himself in the hall of judgement, which looks suspiciously like his favourite bar, where he encounters Egyptian god Anubis (Amanda Cordner) and his/her assistant, Toth (Kat Letwin) who are tasked with processing his soul by weighing the deeds of his life against a feather. It being a well-stocked bar though, the liquor doth flow and the procedure takes a few left turns.

McGee’s writing is often delightfully nerdy, but never sacrifices the truth of the characters or story for the sake of a reference or joke. The dialogue is quick, the arguments nuanced, and the cast all do a fantastic job of bringing it all to life – although Kat Letwin does often steal the show as the oft-hapless servant.

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