2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: The Huns

4 Jul

Your name: Michael Ross Albert

Your production: The Huns

Your role: Playwright

Tell me about your show.

The morning after a break-in at a hip, downtown tech company, three feuding co-workers assemble for a conference call to discuss the burglary. The civilized meeting devolves into a brutal and barbaric battle for survival. The play is about our generation’s relationship to work, and to one another.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I’d go to The Great Jagmeet Singh-Along, where audience members join the NDP party leader around an actual campfire and sing songs together, in harmony. This show’s got way better buzz than the Conservative leader’s aptly titled, Scheer Terror.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I definitely want to see: Emotional Labour by Jess Beaulieu and Luis Fernandes; Jake Epstein’s autobiographical one man show, Boy Falls from the Sky; Comedy Records presents Jay and Eytan; Pump! starring the mega-cool Cat and the Queen; The Commandment by Phil Rickaby; An Utterly Stupid and Indefensible Thing by Sock Monkey Collective; I, Malvolio which stars Justin Otto; and so many more than I’ll be able to see.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Personal Demon Hunter

3 Jul

Your name: Velvet Duke

Your production: Personal Demon Hunter

Your role: Writer / Director / Producer / Performer

Tell me about your show.

Personal Demon Hunter is my first solo comedy production. It is an exploration and confrontation of anxiety through song, storytelling, stand up and improvised comedy. Plus plenty of opportunities for good-natured audience interaction.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

Trudeau; Sorry in a sari or: Never Apologize for Great Hair

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m digging the solo artists this year, like: The Commandment, Drink of Choice, Monica vs The Internet, and Congratulations. Also the other musicals, like Omen and Fuckboys.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Unbridled Futurism

3 Jul

Your name: Nick Di Gaetano

Your production: Unbridled Futurism – A Sci-Fi Comedy Rock Show

Your role: EVERYTHING. I wrote it (with my wife Teddy Ivanova who is also the Stage Manager and Voice of Mission Control), wrote the music, worked on the arrangements, made the props, edited the videos, organized the rehearsals, filled out the forms, coordinated the band and designers, made myself sick, had a panic attack, thought about quitting, resolved to do the show.

Tell me about your show.

It’s a wacky adventure through the multiverse with music and video and strange characters and genocidal raccoons who use iPhones. Eat Trash Do Murder.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I’d see Andrew Scheer’s show cuz it would be about how different he is from Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau but he would just end up showing everyone how bereft of personality and ideas he is. He would officially call the show “I Love Canada” (or some other totally pablum thing) but all the people who saw it and the critics would call it “Scheer-denfreude”. It would be an awful show but people would be killing themselves laughing and then he wouldn’t understand what makes it so funny and the harder he tried, the worse it would get, and the more people would laugh and buy tickets. A real “Springtime for Hitler” kind of thing.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m gonna check out Anesti Danelis “Six Frets Under” (I remade a hip-hop track for him this year and I think his tunes are great), Death Ray Cabaret (I met Jordan and Kevin in Edinburgh last year and we’ve been pals since and they write super funny tunes) and Alli Harris’ “High School High” (I know Alli from Ottawa and she is a bona fide star and amazing singer and very funny). Basically I just see things that have comedy and music in them but ARE NOT musicals (sorry to musical theatre people – I just can’t stand that stuff).

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Three Men on a Bike

3 Jul

Your name: Mark Brownell

Your production: Three Men on a Bike

Your role: Playwright

Tell me about your show.

Being the further adventures of three Victorian gentlemen caught up in the Great European Bicycling Craze! Join Jay, George and Harris as they tour to the continent on their new velocipedic machines. Witness THRILLS and SPILLS! (since “the brake” hasn’t quite been perfected yet.)

Based on the further writings of Victorian author Jerome K. Jerome, THREE MEN ON A BIKE is the sequel to Pea Green’s wildly successful Three Men in a Boat (NNNNN – NOW Magazine).

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I would totally go to see “Suddenly Scheer!” – a one-person BYOV starring Andrew Scheer as an ultra-conservative party leader who wakes up one morning to discover that he has magically transformed into a radical trans activist. Only one problem: Will Doug Ford approve? (60 minutes. Audience Warning: Gun shots and strobe light.)

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

We love work adapted from classical sources so we are looking forward to Molly Bloom at the Helen Gardiner.

2019 Toronto Fringe Preview Questionnaire: Death Ray Cabaret

3 Jul

Your name: Kevin Matviw

Your production: Death Ray Cabaret

Your role: Writer/Performer

Tell me about your show.

After performing to sold out crowds at the Edinburgh Fringe, real-life couple and Second City veterans Jordan Armstrong (One Night Only/Dora Award Nominee) and Kevin Matviw (JFL42, Sunday Night Live) are bringing the dark and delightful music of Death Ray Cabaret home for their Toronto Fringe debut.

“Death Ray Cabaret were a DELIGHT. Our bellies hurt from laughing” – Comedy Central UK

Our music explores everything from true stories about being adopted, to an audience inspired R&B song. Plus, our relationship allows us to playfully mess with each other on stage. Jordan has an entire song that disses me, but there’s affection there… I think.

Campaign advertising for the upcoming federal election is replaced by one-person Fringe shows performed by the party leaders. Tickets are free so you can attend any show without necessarily being a supporter of the performer or their party. Whose show do you go see, what is it called, and what is the show about in a nutshell?

I’d see Trudeau’s ‘Abs on a Hot Tin Roof’. It’s a play where he works out for 60 minutes.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

We really want to see the musical comedy show “Six Frets Under” by Anesti Danelis and the cosmic weirdness of “Unbridled Futurism” by Nick Di Gaetano.

SummerWorks 2018 Pick: A Girl Lives Alone

14 Aug

A Girl Lives Alone

This auditorily-rich production from writer-director (and cast member) Jessica Moss artfully weaves elements of old and new like pre-television radio dramas and digital podcasts, Hitchcockian psychological thrillers and modern-day cop procedurals, as well as themes of solitude and self-imposed insulation into an intriguing and atmospheric spectacle.

After a Grace, a young actress (Tiffany Deobald), is gruesomely murdered in a low-rise apartment building, the diverse tenants all start eyeing each other with a little more suspicion. Marion (Samantha Madely), the newest tenant – and something of a loner – begins to suspect the building’s most eccentric resident, a professional foley artist (Andrew Musselman), of having been involved, leading her to strike up a bizarre friendship with the enigmatic sound-maker under the guise of “investigation”.

Not only does the foley artist play a part in the narrative, but also transparently provides ongoing sound effect accompaniment to the action on stage. It’s a quirky but effective choice that draws attention to itself in such a way that it invites one to briefly close one’s eyes and experience the story through sound alone – a sort of choose-your-own sensory experience. This is particularly true of the climax, which is unconventionally ambiguous for a whodunit, but still extremely effective at rattling the audience.

Innovative direction, charismatic performances, and a script rife with red herrings (and a few charming pop culture references), make for a memorable show.

SummerWorks 2018 Pick: Winners and Losers

11 Aug

Winners and Losers

Sometimes the simplest of concepts and presentations can also be the most impactful and effective. Such is the case with Chromatic Theatre’s presentation of Winners and Losers – a work originally devised by Marcus Yousseff and James Long, and adapted for this incarnation by Valerie Planche, Makambe K. Simamba, and director Jenna Rodgers.

In Winners and Losers, there is no set, no complex blocking, no elaborate lighting, no evocative sounds cues – just two performers (Planche and Simamba) at a table who toss out whatever subject – whether it be person, place, concept, or thing – that seemingly happens to come to mind and then debate if it’s a “Winner” or a “Loser”. If you think that alone can’t sustain a 75 minute show, you’d be sorely mistaken. The back and forth opens up the opportunity for creative and organic discourse on any and all topics at the forefront of today’s society; race, feminism, politics, history, celebrity culture – the list goes on. The fact that each subject has to be argued from both sides – no matter how obvious the answer might seem – means that Winners and Losers is a challenging work in the literal sense of the term and is effectively structurally incapable of preaching to the choir, which is a criticism often applied to theatre (and often with some degree of merit). There are certain motifs which are revisited, each time with more emotional depth. It is these heightened moments that takes what is already a dense and intriguing show, and elevates it to something even more special.

Because of its minimalist nature, much of Winners and Losers’ success rests on the shoulders of Planche and Simamba. The two are disparate in terms of age, race, and cultural upbringing, but they share a remarkable chemistry and kinship which gives any elements of antagonism a playful edge. They are both sharp performers who know how to manipulate the audience and each other, and who are able to blend the impromptu and scripted elements of the show seamlessly.

2018 SummerWorks Preview Questionnaire: The Private Life of the Master Race

9 Aug

Your name: Rouvan Silogix

Your production: The Private Life of the Master Race (a cabaret)

Your role: Producer + Performer

Tell me about your show.

Join us for a night at Das Kabarett as we explore a new adaptation of a Brecht classic. Delve into the deepest secrets and naughty desires of a numb population.

You’ve been commissioned to write a musical about the events of 2018 so far. What is it called, and what’s your elevator pitch?

“History Doesn’t Repeat Itself; But It Does Rhyme”. A Surrealist Epic Musical encompassing times and events eerily similar to others, that bind and tie us– ultimately asking are we just born “human” or can we choose to define what it means to be “human”.

We live in ever-changing times (for better and for worse). What, in the artistic community, do you currently feel there is too much of, and too little of?

I think there are a lot of soft-positive initiatives for artists marginalized and drastically-underrepresented; but it’s just that. “Soft.” I think if we want to create the change we claim to want– we have to do things like Frances McDormand suggested upon winning her oscar– (I.e. she will not sign onto a film without a diversity rider). That and I’d love for there to be more Artistic Directors of venued companies in Toronto that are POCs, and indeed female POC. (Toronto sadly currently only has the 1).

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

Looking forward to seeing “The Negroes Are Congregating” and “Swim Team”!

2018 SummerWorks Preview Questionnaire: The Negroes Are Congregating

8 Aug

Your name: Natasha Adiyana Morris

Your production: The Negroes Are Congregating

Your role: Playwright & Director

Tell me about your show.

The Negroes Are Congregating is a personal and contemporary piece delving into the psyche of generational internalized racism. Delivered through a fusion of spoken word, satire, and soulful dialect, audiences will enter a realm of private truths and leave with an understanding of what it means to be Black, proud, and ready.

You’ve been commissioned to write a musical about the events of 2018 so far. What is it called, and what’s your elevator pitch?

It’s called ZAMN: The Muscial.
Politically we’re in a sh*thole but ain’t nothing new under the sun, son. It can get worse but it can get better. ZAMN captures the unyielding heartbeat amidst chaos. Some call it blissful ignorance we can it survival.

We live in ever-changing times (for better and for worse). What, in the artistic community, do you currently feel there is too much of, and too little of?

I believe there are too little spaces owned AND operated by people who do not identify of being of European descent. Specifically facilities and venues. Do the research, it’s dismal.
I think there’s too much pretending. Pretending to champion diverse programming as long as it doesn’t rock the boat and fills funding quotas. Pretending to, beyond stumbling through a sheet of paper copied and pasted from the internet, acknowledge we’re on Indigenous land yet 99% of us have no idea about the tribes and/or histories we’re referencing (do the work before acting ‘woke’).

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

ZAYO by Esie Mensah – saw an excerpt a few months ago and would love to see the growth.
Third World by Diana Reyes.
The Red Horse is Leaving by Erika Batdorf.
I plan on watching at least 5 different productions.

2018 SummerWorks Preview Questionnaire: Body So Fluorescent

7 Aug

Your name: Amanda Cordner

Your production: Body So Fluorescent

Your role: Co-Creator and Performer

Tell me about your show.

​What happened last night on the dance floor? Two friends retrace their steps from the night before to figure out how it all ended in an explosive fight. In their effort to figure out last night’s facts, both friends shift from self to alter-ego, and along the way, are met with stunning revelations. BODY SO FLUORESCENT is an inviting, racy, and outrageous solo-show: asking difficult questions about Blackness, otherness, and oppression.

You’ve been commissioned to write a musical about the events of 2018 so far. What is it called, and what’s your elevator pitch?

​Love Me, Kimmy J: The Musical

An old man falls in love with the dictator of another country. When the old man becomes president of his country, he is forced to choose between love or leadership.  A story of passion, betrayal and intrigue.

We live in ever-changing times (for better and for worse). What, in the artistic community, do you currently feel there is too much of, and too little of?

Too many attempts to just educate.
Too little attempts to entertain (AND educate).

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

The Negroes are Congregating
Winners and Losers
…And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next

2018 SummerWorks Preview Questionnaire: …And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next

7 Aug

Your name: Graham Isador

Your production: …And You’ll Never Believe What Happens Next

Your role: I wrote the thing and I’m performing it.

Tell me about your show.

The original intention for the piece was to make a greatest hits collection of stories I’ve performed/written for other places. Some of the content in the show has previously appeared at VICE, where I work occasionally. Others have been performed for the radio or on podcasts.

As my director Jiv Parasram and I started looking for a through line to the play we asked ourselves why some stories get told and others don’t. Why some stuff works. Why other stuff doesn’t. What gets popular?

What we noticed is that there are trends to the type of work I’ve done. The stuff that’s hit over 100k views/listens has usually been deeply personal and borderline maudlin. This show takes a look at why that is. It’s a comedy about how we document tragedy and how online culture exasperated that.

You’ve been commissioned to write a musical about the events of 2018 so far. What is it called, and what’s your elevator pitch?

It’s a Philip Glass adaptation of The Lottery played through four hundred different phones that have been thrown out but still work fine.

We live in ever-changing times (for better and for worse). What, in the artistic community, do you currently feel there is too much of, and too little of?

I think there is too much irony and too few earnest conversations about what they believe. I most people have all chosen sides and those who haven’t find the whole exchange of ideas inaccessible or annoying.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

Amanda Cordner is a joy to watch. I think she’s going to be a big deal in this community and I expect this Summerworks is when people figure that out. Also a huge shoutout to everyone doing a relaxed performance. Putting together those performances isn’t that hard if you’re committed to it and it’s huge for people who could benefit from that environment.

2018 SummerWorks Preview Questionnaire: The Red Horse is Leaving

5 Aug

Your name: Erika Batdorf

Your production: The Red Horse is Leaving

Your role: Playwright/Performer

Tell me about your show.

It’s a portrait of my mother, Thaya Whitten, a painter who toured Canada in the 60’s doing controversial performance art. Through the use of biosensors, this interactive theatrical two-hander explores the meeting point of madness and creativity.

I play a painter, in her studio struggling to paint. She struggles with mental illness and has hallucinations. One of them is a Gargoyle played by Zoe Sweet wearing a costume that has a spine that lights up based on my (the painters) heart beat and breathing. I am a bit of a cyborg; I wear some technology that you cannot see put together by an amazing team of art/scientists.

It’s a wild show, the audience gets to paint if they want and things go flying (if you come, you should duck).

You’ve been commissioned to write a musical about the events of 2018 so far. What is it called, and what’s your elevator pitch?

A super cheesy musical called MILKWEED about the demise of civilization while secretly a butterfly population grows a whole new society; new rules, new laws, justice it’s main goal.

In the triumphant ending, concrete in Toronto is overtaken by grassy, flower lined mini butterfly sized bike lanes and butterflies take over the city, chasing the humans out to the suburbs.

Music by The Monarchs, directed by David Suzuki.

We live in ever-changing times (for better and for worse). What, in the artistic community, do you currently feel there is too much of, and too little of?

-A city that puts a ten year plan into place for arts audience development, so that the artists can spend more time making good art and less time marketing their own work.

-Too much fast art, I like well crafted work with levels and depth. How do we fund that? Risk works really well with knowledge, skill and experience, but that takes time.

-Too few Mom’s making art. I want to hear those voices. Artists are paid less than child care costs.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

The Negro’s are Congregating… very excited to see this!

2018 SummerWorks Preview Questionnaire: A Girl Lives Alone

5 Aug

Your name: Jessica Moss

Your production: A Girl Lives Alone

Your role: Writer/Performer

Tell me about your show.

Marion moves to New York in the wake of a break-up and a murder takes place in her walk-up apartment building. As her life starts to feel like she’s trapped in a Hitchcock movie, or maybe a TV show where young girls get killed every week, Marion can’t stop listening to the old-timey suspense podcasts her ex made; and the lives of the other tenants, particularly the foley artist who lives upstairs, start to push in on her walls, making the dangers of being a girl living alone seem more and more prevalent. Does living close to others keep us safe, or put us in danger? And can you keep it down up there? An ensemble comedy and a mash-up of Hitchcock, radio horror, and Law and Order SVU about murder, fear, and how well you really know your neighbours.

You’ve been commissioned to write a musical about the events of 2018 so far. What is it called, and what’s your elevator pitch?

It’s called ‘Way Up Here’, and it’s about a gay scientist and an under-achieving girl whose mum just died. They team up to build a machine that can contact aliens in Sudbury, Ontario and hijack the city’s money to do so.

This is actually just the musical I’ve been trying to write for the past little bit. Maybe it has nothing to with 2018, but I think we need to see more shows that talk about things like loving each other, understanding people who are different, how hard it is to listen, how scary the world is, in particularly dark times: and I believe we are in particularly, terribly dark times. There’s something really subversive about radical entertainment out for a good time, and narratives that focus on kindness and truth right now.

We live in ever-changing times (for better and for worse). What, in the artistic community, do you currently feel there is too much of, and too little of?

I’d like to see less:

Training that focuses on ‘breaking people down’ without ever getting around to ‘building them back up’.
Desire to appease subscribers.
People working with the same people on the same kind of plays.
Mandate driven theatres
Letter grading of plays (please buzz off)
Dramaturgy that’s about ‘fixing’ plays or turning them into things that more closely resemble plays we have already seen
Sets that revolve around couches
Acceptance of cruelty as something we need to make work better
Writing that depends on characters being dumb
People who have never written plays being on juries that determine what plays get money and which plays are the good plays
Four hander plays being the ‘big cast’ play
Political theatre that doesn’t say anything controversial and lets us think that we have done a good thing just by going and agreeing with the play, even though the play said nothing

I’d like to see more:

Empathy
Risk
Truth
TRUTH
Like a completely radical and surprising commitment to truth, actual truth, not what you THINK is true, what actually is true.
Rehearsal time
Affordable and adequate rehearsal spaces – seriously, what are we going to do about this? If I host a meeting about this, will people come?
Women and people of colour in leadership positions in established theatres
Term limits for artistic directors (8 years seems sufficient)
Long-form responses to plays instead of critiques
Comedies that are actually funny
Free tickets offered to playwrights and artists
Free tickets offered to everybody
Direct social engagement from theatres in terms of audiences and also community outreach
Dancing from people who have been told they can’t dance
Singing in groups
Diversity on stages, including body diversity
Women of colour directing plays
Support for playwrights to find their voices, not become new versions of pre-existing playwrights
Drinking alcohol in theatres
Child care for theatre workers with small children and support for pregnant women and women with young children
Roles written for women over 50, especially roles that let them tell jokes, have sex, set things on fire, make mistakes, be angry, and have the last word
Comfortable theatre lobbies that let people come work there without buying things, but that also have cookies and beverages available for purchase
Established professionals and critics from major newspapers going to fringe shows
Inclusion
And there’s not enough safety in most rehearsal rooms, and not enough danger on most stages.

What other shows or artists are you looking forward to seeing?

I have watched every video that Rock Bottom Movement has on their website, and I think I am their biggest fan, so fantasylover. Seriously, Alyssa Martin is a genius.

Daniel Krolik and Hume Baugh are two of the best actors in Toronto, and they are in an amazing cast of similarly gifted humans in Box 4901 (including Michael Hughes, who I really want to write for).

The Extinction of Hong Kongers looks wicked.

Shira Leuchter is a treasure, so ‘Lost Together’.

I think Esther Jun is so smart, and I always love a Brecht play, so ‘The Private Life of the Master Race’.

2018 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 3

13 Jul

With the final weekend of the Toronto Fringe Festival upon us, here are a few more brief recommendations!

Dead for a Ducat: A deliciously clever and earnest film noir adaptation of Hamlet, with all the parts smartly performed by only two talented and hard working actors. It can be risky to mess with the classics, but Dead for a Ducat pulls it off with aplomb.

Harvey and the Extraordinary: This touching site-specific piece situated in a back-alley garage uses the premise of an eight year-old aspiring mime performing a show for her neighbours as the vehicle for a far more profound and moving story that is told almost exclusively in between the lines. Performer/creator Eliza Martin uses the intimacy of the space to great effect; her subtle twitches and the brief flashes of sadness in her eyes communicate so very much that would be lost in a larger venue.

Hooked: Looking for a bit of variety in your Fringe diet? Consider checking out one of the many worthy dance shows in this year’s festival. One excellent candidate is Kristen Pepper’s Hooked; it offers an emotionally effective premise, a clear narrative arc, and elegant choreography.

Life in a Box: Who would have expected a stoner buddy comedy to be so sharp, vibrant, and imaginatively staged? Not only does this dank time travel adventure feature palpably noteworthy chemistry between writer/performers Landon Doak and Matthew Finlan, but also some damn catchy musical interludes that invite comparisons to the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Police Cops in Space: Very much in the same vein as Sex-T-Rex, The Pretend Men are able to weave a tale of justice, revenge, and friendship – in space no less – that is in equal measure hilarious and cinematic using only goofy costumes, cheap props, and a whole lot of theatrical magic.

2018 Toronto Fringe Picks: Part 2

10 Jul

More excellent shows from this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival!

 

Anywhere

When Liz (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster), a tourism conference attendee returns home to her Air B&B late one night, she finds Joy (Cass Van Wyck), her host is still up and in the mood to talk. What starts as a friendly conversation takes on more ominous tones and pits the two women against each other in a situation with far more than just a good Air B&B review at stake.

This taught two-hander drama from playwright Michael Ross Albert is not only a shining example of the art of dramatic escalation, but is elevated by the fact that it relies and comments on larger ideas about class and the realities of our socio-economic system to work. His dialogue walks the fine line between precision and naturalism, making for a seamless but punchy back and forth.

Lancaster and Van Wyck are both superb in their respective roles as the slightly uptight Liz, and the deceptively unsophisticated Joy. Casting is not often critically recognized as a part of the creative process, but in this case it is worth highlighting given just how well the two performers play off of and contrast each other while still finding ample common ground.

Director David Lafontaine guides the piece with a deft hand; the pacing, blocking, and emotional progression are all calculated but organic, never drawing the audience out of what is an engaging experience.

 

The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act 1)

Disregard the whimsically alliterative title if you think you’re in for a Fringe Kids show; Kevin Wong (music and lyrics), Julie Tepperman (book), and Aaron Willis’ (director) highly polished musical does indeed have Polly Peel (rising star Hannah Levinson), a confident and precocious child-scientist as its protagonist, but the the themes of loss and grief the production dissects are done so with nuance and sensitivity.

While audience members should be aware that due to the time constraints of the Fringe Festival, only act one of the full-length musical is being presented, it is still a thoroughly fulfilling experience and only leaves one that much hungry for more (fingers crossed there are some savvy producers and ADs in the audience).

Wong’s music and lyrics are plucky, sophisticated and gentle, and truly serve to support, communicate, and enhance Tepperman’s narrative – which cannot be said about lesser musical works. Willis’ direction is imaginative and imbues the production with just the right amount of Broadway bravado to be fun, without overshadowing the touching human story at the core of the production.

The cast are all a treat to watch; Levinson is charming in the titular role, and Jessica Sherman and Troy Adams both endear as Polly’s parents.

 

Shadow Kingdom

This imaginative shadow puppet show from the Mochinosha Puppet Company (Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai) is a treat for children and adults alike. Wishes and Yanai have elevated shadow puppetry to a truly cinematic art form that offers no end of charming and innovative surprises.

In Shadow Kingdom they weave the tale of Minerva, a young girl who doesn’t want to go to sleep but rather stay up and play on her phone all night. When she and her phone are magically transported to the Shadow Kingdom – the realm of sleep – she finds herself caught up in an adventure that invites comparisons to the empowered-child stories at the heart of Hayao Miyazaki’s and Roald Dahl’s work.

Goofy humour, motley and memorable characters, and impressive technical artistry are just three of the reasons not to miss this show. Equally worthy of note are the touching original songs written for the show by composer Elliott Loran.

Also worth mentioning is that the company has a second show in the Fringe; Space Hippo. This reviewer saw it performed in late 2017 and it is just as delightful and fun as Shadow Kingdom. #LizarrrdMaaaaaaan

 

The Merkin Sisters

Creators/performers Ingrid Hansen and Stephanie Morin-Robert are a couple of weirdos, wonderful fearless weirdos. Thank god we have festivals like the Fringe to give them the platform they deserve – because you sure as hell aren’t going to see this delightfully wacky shit as part of any Mirvish season.

The Merkin Sisters is structured as a series of loosely interconnected abstract vignettes featuring the titular characters; a pair of rivalrous oddball siblings clad in 80s print bathing suits and, for lack of a better term, hair muumuus. Sweater vaginas, a cannibalistic wig, and miniature doppelganger puppets are just some of the physical comedy setpieces making up the show.

It’s not strangeness for strangeness’ sake though; motherhood, the nature of art, and body image – among other ideas – are all fodder for their completely unpredictable theatrical whims. In the hands of lesser talent, the concepts could fall flat as awkward head scratchers, but Hansen and Morin-Robert have impeccable comedic instincts and timing.

Beautifully bawdy, gleefully grotesque, and scintillatingly surreal, The Merkin Sisters is a welcome departure from reality.

 

Morro and Jasp: Save the Date

If there is such a thing as Fringe royalty, Morro and Jasp (Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee) are it. This marks their (along with director/dramaturg Byron Laviolette) tenth Toronto Fringe, and they haven’t laid an egg yet.

In this iteration, the beloved clown sisters are preparing themselves for Jasp’s fast-approaching nuptials – and by extension the first time the two siblings will be living apart. It’s new emotional territory that they are forced to confront in the midst of all the other brouhaha that comes with planning a wedding. It is that brouhaha in which they mine the brilliant comedy they are known for; in this case dress fittings, cake tastings, and a superb visual gag involving a longer-than-average veil all illicit howls of delight from the audience.

Annis and Lee have always elevated their productions above mere entertainment (as entertaining as they are) by placing their loving and well-defined relationship at the centre of their stories, and this one might just be the most touching yet.

 

Entrances and Exits

The Howland Company (52 Pickup, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, Punk Rock) in partnership with Bad Dog Theatre is trying something a little different this time around – improv comedy. With an innovative premise, a talented cast, and some stellar guest performers (including the much beloved Colin Mochrie) the results are no less impressive than their previous offerings.

Entrances and Exits parodies the classic British living room farces of the 60s with a clever two-act structure that sees the same story played out twice, but each time showing what is happening in different adjacent rooms. It would be ambitious enough for a scripted show, but is even more so when the pieces are fit together on the fly.

 

We’ll Be Better Tomorrow

This bold, honest (and dare I say it, brave) two-hander sketch revue from performers Stacey McGunnigle and Jason DeRosse, and director Rob Baker is just as hilarious, contemporary, painfully truthful, and surprisingly heartfelt as their 2016 hit Tonight’s Cancelled.

Although on paper the two Second City veterans tackle material that has been the subject of countless sketches before (relationships, parenthood, sex, etc), they do so in a way that is both insightful and captures the zeitgeist, making the hour-long show feel fresh and topical. Their writing is strong and their characters are admirably well-defined and three-dimensional; not always the case in lesser sketch revues.