Several of the shows I saw at this year’s Fringe examined the theme of death in some unorthodox ways.
Grim and Fischer was a mask show by the Wonderheads, the troupe which presented LOON last year. It’s a repeat of a show that was at Edmonton Fringe a few years ago, but I missed it then. Since I loved LOON, I was excited about seeing the troupe again, and I wasn’t disappointed. The three characters were Mrs Fischer (Kate Braidwood), a determined energetic old widow with a lopsided smile and a sense of humour, Death (Andrew Phoenix) a long-faced persistent figure in a black overcoat, and Doug the Nurse (Andrew Phoenix). Death checks his pocketwatch and attempts to deliver a summons to Mrs Fischer, but she isn’t ready to go yet. Mrs. Fischer’s physicality and posture are very effective in creating the impression of someone who is active but very old. After the show, the performers told us that they are developing a new show and hope to be back next year.
Life After Breath is a clown show I’ve already mentioned, a charming and poignant look at how two characters (Neelam Chattoo as Squee, Amy Chow as Nona) cope after the death of a loved one who used to take care of them, and how they have some underworld adventures in an attempt to re-connect with the person who died.
Into Oblivion is a set of musings, monologues, and mood vignettes on death created by the three young local performers (Isaac Andrew, Graham Mothersill, Jordan Sabo) and their director Nick Eaton. In the program, the director writes that he was moved to think about death after the cyclist died on Whyte Avenue shortly after last year’s Fringe (he’s not named in the program, but it was Isaak Kornelsen). My favourite thing about this show was the ways they used some audience interaction to add to their effectiveness without disrupting the thoughtful somber mood of their presentation. They greeted audience members beforehand as if we were funeral attendees, and finished by welcoming us to stay for refreshments as we shared memories (and the refreshments turned out to be tasty cookies). In other portions of the show, they identified the oldest audience member and asked polite questions about her mortality, used an audience member as prop in reflections on decomposition, and most unnervingly invited an audience member who claimed not to fear death to sit on stage and be blindfolded, after which they handed him a handgun.
You Killed Hamlet, or Guilty Creatures Sitting at a Play was a bouffon style piece (mockery and physical comedy), performed by Nathaniel Justiniano and Ross Travis of Naked Empire Bouffon Company of San Francisco. It wasn’t exclusively about death; the topics bounced around as much as the performers did, but there was a lot of material about death, culminating in the personification of the play Hamlet in an audience member who lay on the stage and was then carried off by pallbearers. It was funny, it was disturbing, it was fast-paced, and it had the most aggressive interactions with the audience of any show I’ve seen this year. Another audience member told me he’d seen it twice so far, and that people who were too uncomfortable had walked out both times.
And as I’ve mentioned before, Off Book The Musical had a graveyard location the night I went, meaning that one character is a woman who has recently become a ghost (Jocelyn Ahlf), and one storyline involves a grandmother’s (Joleen Ballendine) death and her grandson (Kory Matheson), son (Matt Alden) and other mourners.