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An evening of laughter at Fringe 2022

This evening I took in three Fringe performances, all of which made me laugh a lot.

1-Man No-Show – Isaac Kessler’s performance starts before it starts, with the performer on headset walking through the audience talking to the technicians and to the audience members, and shifts smoothly into recognizing the large roster of other Fringe performers in the audience “And even Mark Meer!” and asking some unanswerable questions about the nature of theatre. “A swamp!” The “high art” promised is illuminated, and many other original and unpredictable bits had me laughing. There was a lot of audience input, and I couldn’t tell how much of the show was improvising responses and how much was something that happens every show. It made me want to go back and find out. One more show on Sunday, at the Yardbird Suite.

Jesus Teaches Us Things, a Dammitammy production, starts with Pastor Greg (Adam Keefe) taking attendance of the audience as if we are attending a children’s Sunday School class, until substitute teacher Jesus (Rebecca Merkley) blasts in to take over. Things happen very quickly from then on, including several unique adaptations of popular songs performed by Merkley (He will, he will, save you! / clap clap stomp to the tune/accompaniment of We Will Rock You, for example), a crafts segment, an ask-me-anything, at least two miracles and an exorcism, some brilliant ad-libs, and a response to Pastor Greg’s appeal for tithes and donations that involves overturning tables and some canon-consistent messaging about giving privately rather than showing off. Two more shows at the Sue Patterson Theatre, Campus St-Jean.

Underbelly is described in the program as a “surrealist physical comedy”. Nayana Fielkov’s odd character starts off taking a shower behind a discreet curtain, emerges to coax the audience into song without speaking comprehensibly, has a short-lived romance with a bathrobe, engages some other effects that were so convincing I was sure a second performer was going to emerge, and uses various other tricks and collaborations to tell a story. So much fun. Walterdale Theatre, last show Sunday 6:30 pm.

My schedule today includes our last performance of White Guy on Stage Talking (2:45 pm, Walterdale Theatre), and fitting in a few more to watch. Happy Fringing, all!

Quick notes on more Fringe 2022

Epidermis Circus – Ingrid Hansen’s inspired physical theatre is kind of like object puppetry that takes advantage of various body parts that fit in front of a webcam/document camera. But more importantly, it is funny, delightful, and a little bit gross, an hour that flew by. Luther Centre.

Fags in Space – Before the curtain time, we see two characters (played by Sheldon Stockdale and Braden Butler) rushing around their living room getting ready to host a party. As the play starts they are responding to a question from an imaginary guest at their housewarming/Christmas party, “how did you two meet anyway?” The couple’s answers, acting out the key parts of the story along with all the bumps in the road (“that’s when he ghosted me”, “and then you were seeing Devin”, “It took me ages to figure out that you were studying astronomy and not astrology, and by then I had looked up our signs”), take up the rest of the play. Liam Salmon’s script has credible dialogue and enough resolution for a lot of happy sighs in the audience and a few tears. Walterdale Theatre.

Donna Carnivora’s Killer Party – This one also has an intriguing pre-set on stage before the show starts, including party hats in the front row and something else around the auditorium. I wondered what I was getting into. (In a good way). The performer uses a lot of flirtatious audience interaction, an occasional dash of French, a bit of music, and a lot of blood, to deliver a high-energy creepy funny performance. Walterdale Theatre.

Die-Nasty – This Fringe classic very-long-form improv runs each night through the Fringe, with some characters returning from previous years (Kristi Hansen’s Liz Nicholls, Mark Meer’s Fisher T Johnson gonzo journalist) and some of them new delights, especially Jesse Gervais’ Robin, the shirtless rollerskating recorder player. (Robin, like a sign of spring). Varscona Theatre.

I’ll Have Another – Rebecca Bissonette is credited as playwright, director, and a cast member in this three-hander about bridesmaids who don’t know each other, until they’re all stuck in a wine-cellar at a wedding and they start comparing notes about the bride. Ridiculous and satisfying. Sewing Machine Factory, 96 Street and Whyte.

The Heterosexuals – Johnnie Walker (Redheaded Stepchild) lives up to the tease of his Late Night Cabaret rant in a show that’s part satirical subversion and part insightful memoir about separating and integrating the “Johnnie” and “other-Johnnie” parts of himself, other-Johnnie being the grunge-loving heterosexual-passing part that got him through high school. Luther Centre.

Blueberries are Assholes – TJ Dawe’s tightly-connected monologue full of entertaining facts and oddities led to a surprisingly-insightful conclusion or challenge to the audience. Holy Trinity Sanctuary space.

Destination: Vegas – Same team as last year’s Destination Wedding (playwright Trevor Schmidt, cast Kristin Johnston, Michelle Todd, and Cheryl Jameson) but different characters – these ones a mismatched team of grocery-store workers who take a trip to Las Vegas together rather than lose vacation days. Various complications and dangers ensue. And although much of the story is told in retrospective narrative, it’s never entirely clear how it ends up. Westbury.

A Life, With Surprises (and Songs) – This musical memoir by Brian Ault might be flying under your radar, but is worth making time for. It was charming, humble and funny (like the performer), and also included several of Brian’s original songs from different genres. There is one more show, Saturday afternoon. Acacia Hall.

I saw Crack in the Mirror again – because it’s subtle as well as funny. And I’ve been to Late Night Cabaret a couple more times too, because I love the sense of community. And it’s almost time to head to the site again and see a few more shows people are recommending – 1-Man No-Show and Jesus Teaches Us Things, to start with.

White Man on Stage Talking has one more performance, Saturday at 2:45 at Walterdale.

Evelyn Strange at Teatro

Oscar Derkx and Gianna Vacirca, in Evelyn Strange. Photo credit Marc J Chalifoux Photography and Video

It doesn’t take me long to say yes when a friend offers me a ticket to opening of a Stewart Lemoine play at Teatro la Quindicina. I didn’t read anything about it ahead of time, though a glance at the program told me that Evelyn Strange was first performed in 1995, and that Shannon Blanchet, this production’s director, had played the title role in a 2006 production at Teatro.

The curtains open on a box at the opera. The Metropolitan Opera in NYC, in 1955. So it’s ornate and private and expensive — and somehow set designer Chantel Fortin and lighting designer Narda McCarroll make it feel like that, with just a few pieces that get slid away to become something else in the next scene.

The occupants of the luxury box are Nina Farrar, whose sophistication and snark are a perfect fit for Belinda Cornish, and her husband’s earnest young employee Perry Spangler (Oscar Derkx), tidy and respectful in Clark-Kent-esque glasses. Perry explains that Nina’s husband Henry gave him the ticket because he was tied up, charging him to keep Nina company and see her safely to her commuter train. And which opera is it that neither of them really wanted to see? Siegfried, a five-hour segment of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. (By the way, Sing Faster: the Stagehands’ Ring Cycle is a fascinating 1-hour documentary video, if you can find it.)

Evelyn Strange is a great example of Stuart Lemoine’s work and why Teatro does it well. The opening situation has unexplained threads, but the details and characters that appear next don’t resolve those questions but create others. The dialogue and action is amusing but never predictable. Jesse Gervais is Perry’s pushy colleague, poking into Perry’s secrets and holding his own. The eponymous confused woman who slips into the opera box after the lights go down, and slips away again before intermission, is Gianna Vacirca.

Things get odder. Some things seem to fall into place but other things are hinted. Settings like a publishing sub-editor’s office, an automat vending-machine restaurant, a hotel suite, Grand Central Station, and a bachelor’s apartment provide glimpses of mid-century modern chic, with a few well-selected details. Vacirca’s character, Miss Strange, claims to have no memory of her past – which would explain her, um, strange behaviour, assuming she’s now telling the truth.

There is a missing husband, a double-booked hotel room, evidence of trenchcoats and opera tickets and a $20 bill – in some plays, the details might never all fall into place and from other playwrights the hints would all be so obvious that we could figure out the outcomes at intermission. But not with Stewart Lemoine. At intermission my friend and I chatted about some of the possible explanations – we were right about some and wrong about others. And when the play ended, a patron behind us read out the list of predictions he’d jotted down at intermission to note how many of them he’d gotten right. It was that kind of play, like an elegant jigsaw puzzle.

And speaking of elegant, the 1950s-era costumes were designed by Leona Brausen. And speaking of jigsaw puzzle, one of the questions I had afterwards was “what did she have under that? and why didn’t it fall off?”

There are so many Stewart Lemoine plays that I haven’t yet seen, that I don’t want to use superlatives like “best”. But this production is most entertaining, with the directing and acting adding to a very clever script.

Evelyn Strange is running at the Varscona Theatre until June 12th. Tickets are available here and at the door. Masks are required when not eating or drinking – the usual list of refreshments including red licorice and Bloom cookies is available from the cheerful artistic associates staffing the lobby booth.

The 39 Steps at Walterdale

Bradley Bishop, Lauren Tamke, Lucas Anders, and Samantha Beck in The 39 Steps. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

During the last two seasons of theatre performance in pandemic times, I’ve seen a lot of small-cast productions – which makes sense, fewer people in the rehearsal hall means less potential exposure and easier distancing – and a lot of serious themes. Which also makes sense, as our society’s had time to think about some difficult issues over the last couple of years. I even got to direct a show fitting those descriptions.

When I watched Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Citadel last month, I realized that I’d been missing the experience of watching a large cast do ridiculous and unexpected things on stage, along with my more thought-provoking theatre-going.

With Walterdale Theatre’s current production of The 39 Steps, directed by Kristen Finlay, I got that experience. There are only six actors (Lucas Anders, Lauren Tamke, and an ensemble of four: Samantha Beck, Bradley Bishop, Liam McKinnon, Rico Pisco), but I think there are more than a hundred characters. Some of them in disguise. All of them in different costumes (Nicole English) and many of them with different accents,

As for “ridiculous and unexpected”, I kept giggling with delight at what was happening in front of me. I’d read this script before, but there was so much happening on stage besides the dialogue. Even the movement of set pieces was fun and silly. And since the action took the protagonist Richard Hannay (Lucas Anders) from his new flat in 1930s London to a West End show, taking a train to Scotland, leaping from a moving train over the Forth Rail Bridge, to a Highland croft, a misty moor, and a few other atmospheric locations, what I thought were simple set pieces (set and prop design Taylor Howell) turned out to transform into convincing backgrounds for many locations. A complex atmospheric sound design (Anne Marie Szucs) helped to set the scenes clearly and added to the humour and the suspense.

One of my favourite little details was the way I could see quickly that the curved row of rehearsal boxes was a moving train, because of the way everyone’s movements illustrated the carriage’s bumpy movement. I also loved Margaret, Tamke’s understated portrayal of a young Scottish farm wife yearning for travel and cities and the for exotic visitor Hannay, and Mister Memory (Liam McKinnon), the quirky music-hall performer answering trivia questions from his audience (ensemble members who must have slipped in to the Walterdale audience). Lucas Anders plays only one character, the protagonist Richard Hannay, but maintains the high pace (often running across the stage) and clear motivation that drives the somewhat-farfetched plot to its not-quite-predictable happy conclusion.

Liam McKinnon and Rico Pisco hunting fugitives by air, in The 39 Steps. Photo credit Scott Henderson, Henderson Images.

This story originated as a 1915 adventure novel by John Buchan, British writer and parliamentarian who later became Governor-General of Canada. My father was fascinated by Buchan, and shared his musty hardcover copies of The 39 Steps, Greenmantle, and Prester John with me. I also remember Dad showing me the 1935 Hitchcock film adaptation, and delighting in the detail of Hannay being Canadian in the movie. This stage version was written by Patrick Barlow in 2005, and it pulls from both the book and the movie as well as from many tropes and expectations of film-noir, slapstick, and early-20th-century spy thrillers to create a great parody which is very funny whether or not you already know the source material.

The 39 Steps is playing at Walterdale Theatre until Saturday May 21st. You can get advance tickets at Tix on the Square. If a performance is not sold out you can also get them at the door an hour before showtime. Masks are required, house capacity remains limited, and auditorium ventilation has HEPA filters.

Female actor in draped purple costume playing The Witch

Back to the theatre and Into The Woods

[Image above shows Nicole English as The Witch. Photo by Nanc Price Photography]

The other day, something reminded me of the feeling of watching a stage musical. I don’t remember if it was reminiscing about the Walterdale production of Light in the Piazza, looking at a Facebook memory of Chess, or watching tick, tick, BOOM on Netflix … but I was suddenly longing for that sensation of being in the room while live actors sang in harmony as part of a story that I cared about, especially when they were surrounded by a large movement ensemble in beautiful costumes lit strikingly on an interesting set.

So when I was offered the opportunity to attend opening night of Foote in the Door’s production of the Steven Sondheim musical Into the Woods, I signed up immediately.

And I got what I wanted. Into the Woods has music – lots of music, with hummable melodies and satisfying harmonies and lots of reprises of the good bits, and a backstage orchestra led by Daniel Belland. It has a movement ensemble bringing the forest to life (Julia Stanski, Andrew Kwan, James Velasco, Nick Davis). The large cast performs intertwined versions of several familiar fairy tales, with help from narrator Brian Ault and throughline of a Baker and Baker’s Wife (Jason Duiker and Melanie Lafleur) who are sent on a quest to acquire objects from the various archetypal characters in order to fulfill their wish for a child. The quest, and the other wishes in the familiar fairytales, are all complete by intermission, giving the impression of happily-ever-after.

Actor in gold and silver ball gown, with dancer moving tiny birds around her
Ruth Wong-Miller as Cinderella going to the festival, and Julia Stanski animating a flock of birds. Photo by Nanc Price Photography.

I had never seen the stage musical before, and had only vague memories of the movie, so I was very curious about what would happen in Act 2. And it turned out there was a lot to happen in Act 2 – mostly not tidy and definitely not all happy. While the quick pace and smooth dovetailing of plot bits in Act 1 was satisfying, Act 2 was more challenging and far less predictable. I have often thought that fairytale princes aren’t particularly inspiring or interesting – so I loved that the Into the Woods versions (Russ Farmer and Scott McLeod) became over-the-top prats and cads but were also completely bewildered about why they weren’t happy. Cinderella’s endearing down-to-earth sincerity was well portrayed by Ruth Wong-Miller. Due to an illness in the cast, Trish Van Doornum, the production’s director, was playing Jack’s Mother and Melanie Lafleur moved from that role to play the Baker’s Wife, including the powerful solo “Moments in the Woods”. One of my favourite characters was the Witch, played by Nicole English.

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Tickets for the short run in the Westbury Theatre at the ATB Arts Barns were sold through Eventbrite – but they may be completely sold out for the remaining shows in the short run.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921

Northern Light Theatre’s season starts off with a conflagration, at the Varscona Theatre, with Linda Wood Edwards’ play The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, directed by Trevor Schmidt. Sue Huff plays Mrs. Hastings and Twilla Macleod plays Mrs. Smith, both independent businesswomen in the small Central Alberta mining town of Big Valley. The social distance between them is large, as the blunt joyful pragmatic Hastings runs a whorehouse and Smith, a devotee of Queen Victoria and of propriety, runs a boardinghouse for unwed pregnant girls/women and helps to place their children for adoption. The costumes (production designer Alison Yanota) emphasize their differences, with Hastings in flamboyant reds and flapper style, and Smith in cool buttoned-up floorlength blues. Although both of them operate business/social enterprises dependent on men for their existence, the interactions between these two women and descriptions of offstage characters and action pass the Bechdel-Wallace test easily (“do two women have a conversation that is not about a man?”)

Productions of Northern Light Theatre often keep me guessing a bit about their genre or mood, which makes them more interesting to me than a more predictable play. As you might expect, the two characters start out hostile to each other and full of assumptions based on past hurts, but later find some similarities in their grief and in their ambitions. The funniest part is … something I’m not going to spoil, but the advice about avoiding unnecessary clothing repairs. It’s not a tidy ending, but it’s a satisfying one, leaving me thinking about middle-aged women making their own way and starting over, and about the harm done by mistrust and prejudice among groups of women.

The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921 runs to Sunday November 28, with tickets available for digital viewing as well as in-person performance under the Restrictions Exemption Program. The Varscona Theatre is a large auditorium and audience members are asked to leave space between each party. The concession and washrooms are open. Running time is a bit under 70 minutes.

The next play I’ll be watching is the one I’m directing now, Walterdale Theatre’s 5@50 – another look at women in middle age, how they can support each other and how they can wound each other. Tickets are available at the link.

The festival fusion of Freewill (Shakespeare) and Fringe

Normally the Freewill Shakespeare Festival happens at the end of June, beginning of July, with two of Shakespeare’s plays running in repertory at the big amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. Big crowds enjoying beer and popcorn, squirrels and thunderstorms, along with a professional company of about 12 actors performing in both shows. That wasn’t a good plan for 2021, so the festival pushed back to August and scaled back to two separate cohorts, doing small cast versions suitable for touring to community league spaces and large backyards. Macbeth is coming to my own community league in Ritchie Park on Saturday August 28th, at 2pm, for pay what you Will, for example.

Both of this year’s productions, directed by festival AD David Horak, started with previews outdoors at Louise McKinney Waterfront Park, and are now joining the Edmonton Fringe Festival for performances this week in a convenient overlap of two traditions.

Much Ado About Nothing is being performed in the tent in Light Horse Park known as Vanta Youth Stage. The cast of five (Troy O’Donnell, Ian Leung, Sarah Feutl, Christina Nguyen, and Fatmi El Fassri El Fihri) runs through a fairly traditional adaptation of the romcom in a bit under 75 minutes – traditional except for having the five of them play all the roles. So, for example, Sarah Feutl is great as the quickwitted loyal Beatrice taking pleasure in banter with her cousin Hero and with Benedick, but she also plays Claudio (Hero’s love interest) and the old Sexton taking down the criminal charges. There was also a framing of the five actors arriving at a tour destination under Covid precautions, cut down from a company of 15 for an unexplained reason, and deciding which play to perform. A few times through the performance the actors reminded us of this layer, making the character-shifts amusing rather than clumsy. The funniest shift was when O’Donnell-as-Leonato-the-accuser was confronting O’Donnell-as-Borachio-the-accused, eventually frog-marching himself away.

I saw Macbeth in the preview, but at the Fringe it’s playing in the air-conditioned space known as Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre, just north of the streetcar tracks and new crosswalk on Gateway Drive. It’s a less conventional adaptation, using just three actors (Nadien Chu, Rochelle Laplante, and Laura Raboud), skipping over many of the details in favour of exposition (with a bit of editorial) delivered by one or another. It sticks to the Shakespearean text for most of the familiar scenes and monologues, but adds in some ukelele-accompanied songs at some of the most brutal moments (Banquo’s murder, Lady Macduff’s murder) for a bizarre touch. Raboud is disturbingly good in the title role. Laplante plays Lady Macbeth and Malcolm among others; Chu covers King Duncan, Banquo, Macduff, etc.

Before the narrative started, the three performers occupy themselves in bouffon fashion, picking out a new leader from the audience, affirming the choice, then chorusing that their time’s up, nothing personal, but your leadership has come to an end, and then moving on to another selection. This was entertaining at the time and seemed to lead in to the action at the start of the play with Duncan being replaced by Macbeth and then being tormented by the idea of not being able to pass on the crown to his child.

At the end, the young Malcolm is crowned King of Scotland. The bouffon voice appears again reciting something about the cycle continuing. Suddenly I realized that in my whole long acquaintance with this play, since studying it in Grade 12, seeing two Stratford productions while living in Ontario, and more recently productions of Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, Theatre Prospero/Thousand Faces Festival, Akpik Theatre’s Pawâkan Macbeth, and The Malachites, I have always thought of the end of the play as getting back to normal, a sigh of relief for the rightful ruler on the throne and an assumption that the new regime will be wise, kind, and stable, a time to shudder and shake myself for the end of the nightmare brought about by two people’s ambition. It had honestly never occurred to me that I don’t know nearly enough about Malcolm and his advisors to assume a happily-ever-after. Just as when a self-serving government has been voted out or overthrown, or when public-health measures and community co-operation are getting a pandemic wave under control, we cannot congratulate ourselves and walk away.

And maybe I’m not the only one who needs to hear that.

Two characters share a bathroom mirror for evening routine.

Bed and Breakfast in a small town

Chris Pereira and Mat Hulshof in Bed and Breakfast.  Photo by Epic Photogs. 

I watched a play a week ago and I can’t stop thinking about it.  It made me happy and it made me feel seen.

Bed and Breakfast, playing at Roxy on Gateway until December 8th (a week today), is a Theatre Network production, written by Mark Crawford and directed by Bradley Moss.  Performers Mat Hulshof and Chris Pereira play a Toronto couple, Brett and Drew, who inherit a house in a small town and renovate it as a B&B, and the two actors also play 20 more characters who populate their world and that small town.  The character switches are funny and effective, with the most memorable being Chris Pereira as both halves of a drunk and passionate honeymoon couple.

I think what impressed me most about this script and this production is its gentle subversion.  It’s funny and charming and universal enough to be a success with summer-festival audiences (the program notes mention that it’s played at Thousand Islands Playhouse and Blyth Festival, among others), but it also illustrates some of the effects of misunderstanding and microaggressions and fear of violence for contemporary LGBTQ+ people, in ways that are easy for any audience member to see and sympathize with.  Early on in the play, Brett and Drew are getting dressed for Brett’s aunt’s funeral in the bedroom they share.  As they choose ties, Brett is reading the newspaper death announcement, including the brackets conventional for that context “brother Martin – bracket Linda – and nephews Steve – bracket Shannon – of Oshawa”  – suddenly I know what unnecessary hurtfulness is coming next and I gasp in sympathy for Brett and Drew – “and Brett of Toronto.”   Drew comments that they even included Shannon “and they’re divorced!” and Brett corrects “separated”. That one small scene gives us important exposition about who is who in Brett’s family (we meet them all later), and also shows how his family behaves about him being gay and how that matters.  It’s not overdone, but it’s there.

The affectionate but messy portrayals of life in a small tourism-dependent community were familiar and fun.  The Santa Claus parade committee.  The locals who think $3 is outrageous for a latte and sneer at the pretentious coffee shop.  The big-city designer trying to convince the building contractor that he really does want different tile in every bathroom of the B&B.  It reminded me of Ontario places like Prince Edward County, Bancroft, Muskoka, and Gananoque.

I also enjoyed the awkward and inarticulate teenage characters, Brett’s nephew Cody (Pereira) and small-town neighbour Dustin (Hulshof), and the ways that Brett and Drew work at connecting with them.

Afterwards, I was thinking about how well the simple set (Scott Peters) worked for the narrative that occurred in several locations. None of the furniture ever moved, and afterwards I couldn’t remember if I had ever seen any real props or if it was just easy to imagine them with the actors miming everything.

Tickets for Bed and Breakfast are available through the Theatre Network website or at the door.

 

 

Fringe 2018 – the first half

At midweek, I’m just catching my breath long enough to sit down with my program book (my second program book, after the first had an unfortunate beer accident) and start coming to terms with not being able to see everything I want to see.

What I’ve seen so far:

Don’t Frown at the Gown – I loved this new Guys in Disguise play set in a suburban bridal salon in 1962.  The characters are charming, the conflicts between mother (Darrin Hagen) and bride (Trevor Schmidt) and between mother and best friend (Jason Hardwick), are timeless although the details are a horrifying reminder of the unexamined sexism of the world I was born into, and the salon owner Lady Laura Lee (Jake Tkaczyk) provides a cryptic example of serenity, empowerment, and hope for better things “in the very near future”.

Cult Cycle – A new musical set in a spin-bicycle exercise studio of course needs a soundtrack of original dance-beat music with catchy tunes (Composer Daniel Belland, check.)  It needs a bitingly-clever book and lyrics touching on all the catchphrases and attitudes encountered in boutique fitness as well as a plot with enough stakes to create interest, and a little bit of cheese (writers Stephen Allred, Bethany Hughes, and Seth Gilfillan, check) .  It needs a cast who can tell stories in song, sometimes while cycling at spin cadence, doing arm choreography with weights and towels, and even doing parallel-bars type gymnastics moves on a bicycle (Jaimi Reese, Mark Sinongco, Geoff Ryzuk, Nadine Veroba, Kendra Humphrey, Stephen Allred, check check check.)  It is very very funny.

Red Bastard:  Lie With Me – Eric Davis’s performance is a wonderful example of what can be done with bouffon, alternately alluring and appalling the audience, compelling us to confess embarrassing things, and challenging us to re-examine conventional assumptions of morality.

Bountiful – Rebecca Ann Merkley’s script about sister-wives in a contemporary polygamist settlement has a great balance of interpersonal frictions and cultural issues, with little touches that kept jolting me into realizing the characters were in some ways ordinary women of 2018 (Jameela McNeil’s sassy asides, Emma Wilmott’s “Cool”.)  Laura Raboud played the senior-wife leader of the group and Kayla Gorman played an awkward naive woman who reminded me a little bit of her child character in Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant.  There was something especially disturbing about seeing this in sequence with Don’t Frown, with the scenes of married women trying to reassure young brides about wedding-night “responsibilities” in ways that show the audience their own unhappy memories of encounters with honeymoon sex.

Merk de Soleil – This vaudeville-esque amateur-circus revue is a very different creation from Rebecca Merkley.  It has all the variety-show tropes – a big buildup, some repeated gags, a cast of odd characters, and some underappreciated helpers (Kristina Hunszinger, Josh Travnik, Andrew Brostrom).  Lots of fun.

The Wilds – Classic Wonderheads production telling a tender story in an amusing way without any spoken words.

For Science! – Christine Lesiak’s new show doesn’t need spoken words either, although it makes good use of text in a slide-show and benefited from audience members who rushed to contribute when asked.

The Alien Baby Project – Impossible Mongoose always has something cool and weird.  This year it’s a script from Nicholas Walker Herbert performed by Jessy Ardern and directed and designed by Corben Kushneryk.  Cool and weird.

2 Queens and a Joker – Cheryl Jameson, Madelaine Knight, and Vance Avery play Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, and a messenger/spy go-between.  Dangerous-feeling design by Trevor Schmidt and script by Schmidt, Darrin Hagen, and Nick Green.

What I’m working on:

All Proceeds Go To:  Jake Tkaczyk, Alex Dawkins, Sarah Karpyshin, and I bring you a much-needed updating of the concept of seven deadly sins, and explore them using various performance genres including neo-bouffon, original music by Alex Dawkins, movement, dance, and audience contributions.  OSPAC on Gateway, three more shows.

A Golden Girls Tribute: Sofie’s Wild Ride is just what the title promises – a funny and nostalgic tribute to the characters of the TV show in some new adventures and to sitcom tropes in general (script by Amanda Leblanc, cast Brian Ault, Althea Cunningham, Nicole English, Ana Fassman, Rhonda Kosuska, and Amanda Leblanc).  Every afternoon at the Billiard Club, some shows selling out.

 

 

 

Another couple of days at the Fringe

One of the things I do at the Fringe each year is watch for the little improvements that make things run more smoothly and more fairly.  Like at Folkfest, another 30+ year tradition in Edmonton, the tweaks are small but always done to make things more fair, more convenient, and more fun.  Last year one new thing was a spinning postcard rack in the Arts Barns lobby for artists to leave their handbills on display.  It wasn’t designed ideally for that high-traffic activity, so the handbills often fell out of it, and festival director Murray Utas spent a lot of time picking up spilled handbills and sorting them to return to the rack.  This year, the rack is back, but it has been rebuilt with Plexiglas shields to allow the postcards to be seen and not fall out.  Little things like that.

This year the Playwrights Canada Press booth will be open all week, with staffing help from Concrete Theatre.  And the beer tents take debit and credit including tap, which speeds things up for the ticket sellers and for the patrons.  Little things, but little things that keep improving my favourite festival.

Marv ‘ n Berry Presents: Imagination is a sketch-comedy show performed by members of Rapid Fire Theatre, Nikki Hulowski, Quinn Contini, Mike Robertson, and Sam Stralak.  It’s very funny and occasionally surreal/weird – not quite as odd/eerie as Gossamer Obsessions was though.  Although I had heard many of their punchlines while sitting in on part of their tech rehearsal, I still laughed hard during the show, because good sketches are all about quickly conveying characters and situations which become funnier and funnier.  Not sure what was my favourite – the suburban couple auditioning to be gangsters, the fishing-trip participant with safety concerns, the board-game store …

Mormonic, the Musical  Sister Pratt, Sister Olsen, and Brother Bradshaw have turned the El Cortez basement into a meeting room to host an information session and potluck for people curious about the LDS church, complete with bad Power-Point and excellent songs.  The touch of having the slides be skewed and distorted on the screen as in pre-digital-projector days delighted me with nostalgic detail.  The script and lyrics were written by performers Amanda Neufeld and Jaimi Reese, and the music was composed by performer Daniel Belland, who plays the piano during the show but also sings and acts, which I have not seen him do before.  It is cleverly funny watching the characters’ personalities become revealed and unravelled during their presentation, and the music is appealing and sometimes catchy.

Pompeii, LA This play by Declan Greene is produced by Cardiac Theatre, with Harley Morison (director) and Jessica Glover (stage manager).  The familiar names on stage include Cody Porter, Elena Porter, James Hamilton, Nikki Hulowski, Morgan Grau, and Sam Stralak.  It’s a drama about Hollywood life, switching between scenes to show the challenges and unhappinesses for various characters, from an aging Judy Garland to a former child star trying to succeed in a disaster movie (Pompeii, it’s a metaphor and not) and a make-up artist trying to live her dream.

Prophecy This is another take on Greek tragedy written by Jessy Ardern and directed by Corbin Kushneryk, the creative team behind last year’s award-winning Fall of the House of Atreus, a Cowboy Love Story.  This one focuses on a smaller part of the stories, and on a few women characters:  tormented Cassandra, gifted (under dub-con circumstances) to see the truth and cursed not to be believed, Hecuba the proper queen and the mother of Cassandra, Paris, and Hector, and Andromache the timid and modest wife of Hector.  All characters are played by Carmen Niewenhuis, with clever smooth clues to character change in her costuming, voice, and posture.  And this one is not a funny play, although some of the design and acting is inherently funny.  It is disturbing and provocative and surprisingly topical, gory only in our imaginations, with content/trigger warnings offered in an envelope on the door rather than in a way that lessens the surprises for people who are willing to be surprised.

Shadowlands is a solo show written and performed by Savanna Harvey.  I saw a reading of this script at NextFest in June, before the performer left on her CAFF-lottery tour of five Fringe festivals, so I was excited to see it properly staged.  It’s told in alternating voices of several characters – maybe four, maybe five or six depending on how one counts.  A different prop represents each character, as in the puppetry genre referred to as object theatre – only this show is performed in the dark, with each character being represented by a different kind of light.  I don’t want to tell you much about it, because for me part of the fun of this kind of play is figuring out who/what each character is and how they are going to connect.

With Glowing Hearts:  A Canadian Burlesque Revue is just what the subtitle promises, a revue-style burlesque show with each act based on a woman or women from Canadian history.   The host is Ellen Chorley dressed as Famous Five activist Nellie McClung, and the panty zamboni (stagecrew) is Kiki Quinn dressed as a very cute beaver.  I never know whether to refer to burlesque performers by their stage names or by the names I’ve seen them listed by in other genres, but in this case both are in the program so you can figure out who is who.  Sweet Lady Night is a particularly strong singer, Scarlett Von Bomb is a great dancer, and Violette Coquette and LeTabby Lexington are experienced and talented burlesque performers.  The costumes are fabulous, the choreography is fun, and … and it was not only educational but inspiring, acknowledging the flaws of the historical characters by today’s higher standards of intersectional feminism and challenging the audience to take action.  The finale included a speech by Chorley that made me cry, and a Famous Five transition-to-the-present group dance number that had me clapping and cheering and fist-pumping.