Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.
The Williamson Playboys are the oldest musicians in North America. Photo by Christine Latimer.
Don’t try to fool us, Canada Day! While this Hump-Day Holiday means a day off work for some, it means the exact opposite for tons of theatre folks, since it also happens to be the opening of the twentieth annual Toronto Fringe Festival. Gadzoooks! Drama Club is abandoning its usual format today to bring you a special Fringe edition, with all the hot tips and cool buzz we can muster. Check back during the festival for Torontoist’s coverage of the festival, running until July 12, where our team will be bringing you fresh reviews daily.
That’s a lot of theatre, music, comedy, and dance happening all over the place for the next twelve days. Where to begin? Well, the Williamson Playboys, seen above (who just happen to be starring in their own show this year called Brother, Can You Spare Some Pants?), offer up some tips on how to find shows through word-of-mouth in this amusing promo video. We’ve caught this duo’s act—they bill themselves as the oldest living father and son Cajun music combo—before, and they’re likely to produce a pretty hilarious show. Plus, who better to share thoughts on the recession than a pair who claim to have lived through the Great Depression?
After the fold, Drama Club’s other Fringe picks, plus the sage advice of our talented Fringe team.
One of our favourite things about the Fringe is that there truly is something for everyone. If you’re looking for a comedy show, the Williamson Playboys are only one out of a slew of funny acts. But there are many other categories to choose from as well.
The ironic musical has become an increasingly popular genre of Fringe show, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. While not every entry is necessarily going to be Gershwin-quality, some shows surprise you with their wit as well as their musicality. This year, our pick is Just East of Broadway, a new show from Nick Hune-Brown and Ben King, the team behind 2007’s LOTR: The Musical: The Musical (Nick is also the keyboardist for Hooded Fang). Inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s current push to sell watered-down versions of his musicals in China, this show is likely to be smart, funny, and full of catchy tunes.
Then, of course, there are the shows you see simply because of the title. This year, My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding takes the proverbial cake on that front. Also a musical, this show is directed by the talented Andrew Lamb, and is based on the true story of writer David Hein’s, you guessed it, mother’s lesbian Jewish-Wiccan wedding. How can you go wrong?
Finally, the Fringe is always a cool place to see theatre in non-traditional venues. This year, the Bloor Cinema gets in on the action with an interesting project called The Silver Stage. Rocky Horror aficionados have been attending midnight screenings with “shadow casts” for decades; a group of actors perform the film, with a few key alterations, in front of the screen as it’s being projected. Hot on the heels of last year’s special screening of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the Bloor will be presenting shadow casts screenings during the Fringe of not only Rocky Horror, but REPO! The Genetic Opera, Blue Velvet, a Joss Whedon double-bill of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s musical episode “Once More With Feeling,” and, perhaps most bizarrely, Jurassic Park.
If those picks don’t sound like your cup of tea, worry not. This week, Drama Club is providing you with a second opinion (and a third, and a fourth). Continue reading for tips from the Torontoist Fringe team: Hamutal Dotan, Kaori Furue, and Jamie Bradburn.
Hamutal Dotan’s Fringe Advice
Things get Shavian in Candida. Photo by Jona Stuart.
One of laments most often made by (would-be) theatre lovers is that the high prices are a barrier to entry. Fringe solves this accessibility problem neatly, with tickets to individual shows all priced at ten dollars or less and a fourteen-show pass going for an easy ninety dollars. It does, however, present its own barrier to entry, namely that there are too many damn shows for the average mortal to navigate. The vital stats: over a hundred and fifty companies, twenty-nine venues, and upwards of eight hundred performers make for more program notes than we can muddle through, much less actual shows we can manage to watch. In fact, we needed to come up with a crib sheet just so we could make this crib sheet for you.
So, like over-scheduled young urbanites everywhere we decided to come by our opinions dishonestly, which is to say, we are stealing them from reviews we otherwise pretend not to have read. Forthwith, some of the Fringe shows for which we’ll be making time, culled solely on the basis of gushy, star-strewn word of mouth…
Candida (Burning Passions Theatre): Shaw + love triangle + troupe with pedigree = an automatic slot at the top of our list. The classics are always a bit of a crapshoot at Fringe, but Burning Passions’s sold-out run of Mrs. Warren’s Profession from a couple of years back is a reassuring bit of precedent.
Like a Virgin (Jimmy Hogg): Hogg is a longstanding favourite on the circuit [and occasional Torontoist foe, ed.], with several Best of Fringe awards to his name. This year he will spend sixty minutes on the subject of virginity and the loss thereof, which is about as close to a comedic sure thing as you can get.
MC Jabber & Friends: a Solo Show (Eyes Glaze Over Productions): We don’t really understand what this show will entail, but anyone who can simultaneously win the UK National Poetry Slam and the hearts of Elle Magazine’s editors seems like someone we should get to know.
Killing Kevin Spacey (Wolf Productions): A five-star favourite of the Edmonton and Winnipeg installments of Fringe last year, Killing Kevin Spacey will apparently allow us to exorcise our inner wimp and become the Al Pacino we’ve always secretly suspected we could be, which is a fairly good evening’s work.
Shadows in Bloom (Gemma Wilcox): Wilcox’s one-woman, multi-personality tale of what it’s like to rebuild your life after a devastating loss has been impressing critics and Fringe-goers since 2006. We haven’t seen it yet, and it’s about time we figured out what all the fuss was about.
Kaori Furue’s Top Five
This paramedic will tend to your Emergency Monologues. Photo courtesy of Drinking Well.
Baggage: A Non-Musical Romp Through One Catholic Gay Man’s Dating History (With Breasts for the Straight Men) (Running Late Productions): Failed relationships are the subject of every other song, book, blog, and movie, yet snuggling up and listening to the intimate details of someone else’s emotional baggage never stops being fun. Written, directed, and starred in by Toronto’s own Shaun McCarthy, Baggage plays at the Factory Studio Theatre.
BAGS: Obsessions of a Hoardaholic (Lee Michael Buchman): How appropriate that this story of hoarding and OCD is brought to us via New York City, former home of the famous Collyer brothers (The two kept so much junk they eventually died as a result—the younger, crushed by piles of possessions, could not tend to his invalid sibling). Veteran actor, comedian, and Gothamist Lee Michael Buckman brings these impulses to life in BAGS, playing at the Glen Morris Theatre.
Bert and I (Maine Event Productions): Bert and I is more than a play; it’s an homage to Maine’s Down East storytelling traditions. Back in the ’50s, two Yale students wrote a collection of comedic stories—mostly centred on the lobster fishery—that have been adapted so many times that the “Bert and I” story has become its own genre. We look forward to drinking our fill of laughs and east coast accents at St. Vladimir’s Theatre.
The Emergency Monologues (Drinking Well): This one-man show is both written and performed by one of our city’s own hard-working paramedics, Morgan Jones Phillips. Even though it’s his first solo play, it was named winner of the 2008 NOW Audience Choice Award at SummerWorks. The Emergency Monologues screams into Fringe on Friday at the George Ignatieff Theatre.
The Importance of Being Earnest (Manchester Central Theatre Company): In a sea of new scripts, the Importance of Being Earnest is a familiar friend, but with a twist: all parts are played by women. You can grab your capacious handbag and see Earnest tonight at 8:15 p.m. in the Factory Theatre Mainspace.
Jamie Bradburn Decodes the Fringe Program
Rob Salerno gets busy with the PM in Fucking Stephen Harper. Photo by Jenna Wakani.
A flip through the Fringe program can be a dizzying experience. Deciding what to see may cause mental overload as you debate whether to go for serious or funny, fresh talent or experienced pros, ensemble or one-person pieces, shows with “The Musical” or a pun in the title, etcetera. You could narrow down the choices by reading the warnings for each production and determining what clashes with your sensitivities. This year’s warnings range from standard issues like salty language and seizure-inducing strobe lights to those that promise dangers and offences like an “emerald beam laser light” (How to Make a Mix Tape), “anger at organized religion” (Moving Along), and “may offend federal Conservatives” (Fucking Stephen Harper: How I Sexually Assaulted the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada and Where It Got Me). Speaking of the Prime Minister, he will be happy to know that his name is dropped in the title of two productions this year, placing him ahead of communist leaders, drug gurus, cult leaders, movie stars, and Neil Young.
While waiting for your show to begin, you may be handed a variety of flyers by performers eager to promote their show. Not sure what to do with them once you’ve amassed a backpack full? Depending on the venue, they may serve as a cooling instrument if the mercury rises and you’re in a theatre that has minimal-to-no climate control (we’re looking at you Glen Morris, where past Fringes have seen flyers made into fans and handed out at the door). And if sitting in a standard performance space doesn’t thrill you, there are a handful of oddball venues. While sports fields and automobiles aren’t being utilized this year, you will be able to catch performances designed for travel agencies, community centre bathrooms, and the grocery department of Honest Ed’s.
For those looking for a relaxing way to wind down the day or who have spent their daily allowance at the beer tent, Late Night at the Fringe offers free entertainment at 10 p.m. at the Tranzac. Pop by and you may see works by playwrights barely in their double digits, an open mic contest to find the most interesting person in the world, improv, and one-night stands by past hosts.