On the second Thursday, after my volunteer shift I saw three plays. Around then I stopped being able to keep up with my goal of posting notes every morning about what I’d seen the night before, so I’m trying to catch up now. Thursday’s three were all good and very different.
Who Killed Gertrude Crump is a murder-mystery, an Agatha Christie pastiche set in a country house isolated by a storm around the turn of the previous century. Ryan Gladstone wrote and directed it. The Fringe program lists the cast as “Tara Travis and puppets”. Tara Travis introduces the story, as Agatha Christie, and narrates everything besides the dialogue. She moves props, dresses the set, and operates about ten puppet characters, talking directly to the audience when the puppets aren’t talking. Her style reminded me a bit of what Ronnie Burkett does in his shows, operating marionettes while being visible and delivering witty asides to the audience as himself, and a bit of the object theatre / found object puppetry that I saw in Sapientia at Canoe Festival.
I was a little restless at the beginning. It was a little hard for me to see the puppets well enough to learn to distinguish them, sitting at the side in the Suzanne Thibaudeau Auditorium, and several of the characters had similar enough names that I had trouble remembering who was who. The setup seemed predictable and not very compelling. Then it occurred to me that I had all the same complaints about a lot of Christie’s work, and that this was actually a clever tribute. The plot then thickened, and I got to feel smart for remembering some clues and I got to enjoy missing others and getting surprised. After it was over, the performer swore the audience members to secrecy about the plot outcome.
After supper at Cafe Bicyclette, the little bilingual-service cafe in La Cite Francophone, I went to 3…2…1, by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, starring Jamie Cavanagh and Chris W. Cook. I loved it. It was the most emotionally intense drama I saw at this year’s Fringe, building gradually from a scene of two young men in a garage hangout determined to get drunk and high, to the awful context and significant outcomes of their bender. At first their excesses and rowdiness were just funny, familiar like Bob and Doug, Wayne and Garth, or Dante and Randal, with a leader (Jamie Cavanagh as Clinton) and a follower (Chris Cook as Kyle). Their reminiscences and stories of their past youth include a third character, their friend Danny who has died, and in the flashback scenes each actor takes a turn as Danny, sometimes in quick succession, using blocking cues to show us who is speaking as Danny in a three-person conversation. Each character has different redeeming qualities and vulnerabilities, so that we see them as more than loser-caricatures. Clinton has some loosely-Christian spiritual convictions. Kyle is proud of how his work at Subway involves supporting people who are trying to eat more healthily or lose weight. Both of them come from imperfect families and are somewhat trapped in their lives. The story gets more painful, and I was crying before the end. Chris Cook is a great tagalong sidekick, and Jamie Cavanagh was perfectly cast in the role of Clinton, as a foulmouthed drunken jerk who turns out to be a complicated tormented tragic character at the same time.
Then I wiped my eyes, got in the car, and went to change my mood at Real Time, the comedy written by Matt Alden of Rapid Fire and directed by Alden and Katie Fournell. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger in the refreshment tent, I was able to take a friend with me even though the show had been sold out. Jessie McPhee and Joleen Ballandine, regular Rapid Fire improvisers and two thirds of the cast of last year’s Fringe hit Excuse me … this is the truth!, play two mismatched young people (Jessie is Billy and Joleen is Jessica) who meet playing an online game, spend time together in person, and explore the possibilities of romance. The actors also play other parts as needed (Billy’s British mother, Jessica’s marijuana-smoking grandfather, Jessica’s ex-boyfriend, etc, all of them funny and original). The whole thing was just charming and funny and familiar, including the customs of on-line life of ten years ago.
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