2019 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 3

9 Jul

Three Men on a Bike

For anyone who may have questioned whether this follow-up to the smash hit Three Men in a Boat could possibly match the original, rest assured, lightning has indeed struck twice for the veteran creative team of playwright Mark Brownell and director Sue Miner.

This hilarious victorian travelogue, based on the novel by palindromically-named author Jerome K Jerome, reunites foppish and foolhardy friends Jay (Matt Pilipiak), George (Victor Pokinko), and Harris (David DiFrancesco) as they plan for a cross-country bicycle tour of Germany. Naturally, little goes as planned and not even their resolute English optimism can save them from an abundance of bothersome misadventure.

Brownell and Miner work hand in hand to deliver a taught and charming production replete with visual flair, fourth-wall breaking, and sharp and witty dialogue. The trio of performers are superb and practically work as a single unit – each delivering distinct but perfectly complementary performances.

 

The Huns

Playwright Michael Ross Albert has been producing excellent work for some time now, but caught the attention of many a Fringe-goer last year with his taught and thrilling two-hander Anywhere. He returns to the festival with some equally dark, but more darkly comedic fare with The Huns, in which three disparate office workers (Jamie Cavanagh, Breanna Dillon and Cass Van Wyck) attempt to brief their international co-workers about the theft of five corporate laptops via conference call.

It starts innocently enough as a comedy of errors bolstered by malfunctioning technology, office politics, and clashing personalities, but Albert artfully redirects it into more intriguing territory, eventually peeling back the personal costs that today’s increasingly pervasive live-to-work culture exacts on the human psyche.

Director Marie Farsi impressively manages to transform “three people at a table” into a lively and dynamic affair, and stage manager Aidan Hammond deserves a special shout out for nailing the natural rhythm of what must be dozens of pre-recorded dialogue-based sound cues (designed by Andy Trithardt), without ever betraying the artifice of it.

The three performers each deliver sharp and highly-honed performances, but it’s hard not to single out Breanna Dillon for nailing THAT high-strung kool-aid drinking co-worker we’ve all encountered at some point in our lives.

 

Horseface

Full Disclosure: this reviewer is creatively involved in an upcoming production in which Alex Dallas will be appearing. Like all of our Fringe Picks, we have chosen to make note of her show based solely on the strength of the work.

Veteran performer and life-long feminist Alex Dallas is in the enviable position to be old enough to have experienced several societal sea changes first-hand – most notably the #MeToo movement – but also the unenviable position to possess the perspective of how much work is still to be done when it comes to the safety, equality, and respect of women. She channels both these thoughts in her compelling and no-holds-barred one person show, Horseface (if you’re wondering about the title, it’s in reference to Donald Trump’s less-than-diplomatic comment on Stormy Daniels’ appearance).

Her text is replete with personal experiences and anecdotes, some of which are cheeky and amusing (a wholly inappropriate birthday present given to her on her 60th birthday is a standout) but more often than not, are unseemly and sometimes downright harrowing. Tidbits about her early family life and her parents’ marriage effectively tie the issues of past and present together, and recollections of her time working the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival reinforce the unsavoury realities of show business that have recently come to public light.

As a performer, Dallas is a dynamic powerhouse; her pleasant and polite English disposition is the yin to her steely gaze and eruptive passion yang. She manages to spin the serious subject matter into an hour of entertaining theatre while never diminishing its importance.

Hannah Gadsby may have gotten the Netflix special first, but Dallas possesses no less of an effective and creative voice, and she ought to be heard.

 

Unbridled Futurism

This delightfully off-the wall cosmic and comedic musical is perhaps most aptly described as a live multimedia concept album. Written and performed by Nick Di Gaetano (backed by a real spitfire of a band), the show centres around the odyssey of an astronaut from an alternate earth trying against all odds to return home to his wife and cat – all while battling an evil racoon overlord through multiple bizzarro dimensions. The psychedelic narrative is interspersed with funky and delightfully DIY video clips and a plethora of impressive songs that invite comparisons to both 70s prog rock and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Di Gaetano is a natural performer who doesn’t need to over-emote to grab your attention; his gruff-voiced and silver body suit-donning protagonist channels Tom Waits and Wolfman Jack, and his quick wit rewards the audience with some dry gems of jokes.

It’s a quirky and imaginative blast of fun from an equally unique artist.

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