The Best of Fringe 2012

Torontoist

culture

The Best of Fringe 2012

Photo by {a href=”https://secure.flickr.com/photos/by_pui/7518021256/”}PLTam{/a} from the {a href=”http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/”}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

We’ve reviewed more than 50 shows at the Toronto Fringe Festival in its first nine days, and seen plenty of good theatre, comedy, and performance art. We’ve given good reviews, bad reviews (including a zero-star rating), and middling ones. But only a select few show have earned our highest rating: a full five stars, or a nearly perfect 4.5 stars. We’ve gathered those together here, in our own “Best of the Fringe” picks to date. Not surprisingly, it corresponds pretty closely to the Fringe’s own Patron’s Picks and Best of the Fringe holdover series, announced last night to a capacity crowd at the Fringe Tent. But there are a few hidden gems, too, and we encourage you all to go out there and check them out, particularly those you might not get to see again soon.

Happy Fringing!

The No Bull$#!% History of Canada
The House of Style


PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 5:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 1 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

Canadian history has a reputation for being dull, but The No Bull$#!% History of Canada, a one-man show by Montreal’s Kyle Allatt, is anything but. As it turns out, our nation’s history is hilarious. Allatt makes our first Prime Minister into Begbie from Trainspotting, and explains that the famous Battle of the Plains of Abraham actually took a little over fifteen minutes. He also proves that a disrespect for democratic process is a core Canadian value—one of our first Parliaments exploited a legal loophole to avoid an election altogether—and that sixth Prime Minister Sir Charles Tupper was possibly the biggest jackwad ever. All of these facts, which are completely accurate, are delivered in a mixture of deadpan lecturing and ridiculously over-the-top character work. Our history may be filled with drunks, opium addicts, and lunatics, but this play still makes you proud to be Canadian.

(Chris Dart)

The Other Three Sisters
Nobody’s Business Theatre

The cast of The Other Three Sisters. Photo by Greg Wong.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 7 p.m.
**Sunday, July 15, 6:45 p.m.

VENUE:
St. Vladimir’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue)

“You never really leave the house in which you grew up” is the mantra that drives this new show from writer/director Johnnie Walker, about three sisters and their futile attempts to escape their family home in Etobicoke. Jamie Arfin is wonderfully self-involved as failed actress Gillian, and Alexandra Parravano grates perfectly as histrionic little sibling Kris. A beleaguered Morgan Norwich struggles to keep things together as the responsible Jordana.

The Etobicoke home becomes a sort of Sartrean limbo, holding the characters in stasis despite the fact that they’d all like to leave (and despite the fact that they face no obstacles to doing so). Slowly, details of the characters’ histories are revealed. These are touching, and, surprisingly, they include a paranormal twist. Walker’s script deftly explores complicated familial love-hate relationships and the desire to escape one’s past. The excellent cast—which also includes Julian De Zotti as the trio’s clumsily charming brother, Rowan—makes it a show well worth catching.

(Ryan West)

Of Mice and Morro and Jasp
Up Your Nose and In Your Toes Productions

Photo by Alex Nirta.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 5:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 11:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)

Morro and Jasp are the the current rock stars of their field, as evidenced by the screams and cheers as the lights started to dim, before the duo had appeared onstage.

Their tweaking of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a brilliantly simple vehicle for their Joey and Auguste style of performance, with Morro (Heather Marie Annis) playing a version of the dimwitted Lennie, and Jasp’s (Amy Lee) know-it-all persona easily taking on the role of George. When it turns out that Morro hasn’t read the whole story, Jasp is given further license to place her younger sister in all sorts of humiliating situations to “advance the plot,” though the two both have hilarious crow (and other things) to eat, and get to play up how clowns are mistreated by society (a concept the two have explored before).

The show closed with a last surprise, this time for the performers themselves: a contingent from the Toronto Alliance For the Performing Arts came onstage to present Lee and Annis with their Outstanding Performance Dora award in a belated ceremony. The night did end in copious tears—neither of laughter nor the tragic variety, but of surprise and gratitude from Lee and Annis themselves.

(Steve Fisher)

Antigone
Soup Can Theatre

Photo by Scarlet O'Neill.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 5:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m.

VENUE:
Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst Street)

Soup Can Theatre has never shied away from ambitious projects, and they continue to push the oft limiting boundaries of the Fringe with their new staging of Sophocles’ classic political drama. The production is designed to court comparisons to the G20 and Toronto’s recent run-in with civil disobedience, though the modernized twist is subtle enough not to distract from a series of powerful emotional performances and elegant choreography. Cydney Penner’s Antigone rails against her iron-fisted father Creon (Thomas Gough) from the confines of an ad-hoc detention centre, surrounded by militant police who are all too quick with a baton. Also worth noting is Chloe Payne, who gleefully imbues her role as a simple messenger with all the blame-dodging and finger-pointing that seems too familiar in the wake of Toronto’s walled-off summit. Familiarizing yourself with the story beforehand never hurts when classics are involved, but if you do you won’t regret catching this expertly staged tragedy.

(Ryan West)

Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid
God is in the Dairy

Photo courtesy of God is in the Dairy.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 8 p.m.

VENUE:
SIX20SEVEN Gallery (627 Queen Street West)

Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid may be the template for all Fringe plays from now on. It manages to pack a ton of information and two parallel plots into 60 minutes without ever feeling rushed or jumbled, and has moments of both gut-busting hilarity and heartbreaking tenderness.

The main plot is a dramatization of veteran character actor Randy Quaid’s escape from American justice, along with his artist wife, Evi, and subsequent application for refugee status in Canada. Daniel Krolik’s version of Quaid is quiet, self-effacing, and downright loveable, while Amanda Barker’s Evi is bombastic, paranoid, and occasionally vicious, but also smart, caring, and unflinchingly loyal. The side plot centres on the relationship between two adult siblings, a brother and sister, one of whom is critically ill. The two stories collide in an unexpected plot twist, but both hinge on the theme of how we stick by the ones we love when the shit hits the fan. Smartly written and brilliantly executed, Release the Stars may be the one must-watch play at this year’s Fringe.

(Chris Dart)

Bad Connections?
Paul Cosentino

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 4 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 10:30 p.m.

VENUE:
St. Vlad’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue)

The phrase tour-de-force comes to mind. Paul Cosentino effortlessly disappears into the roles of nine different New Yorkers, running the gamut from a pregnant black woman to an excitable four-year-old boy. The transformations are positively astonishing; Cosentino brings all of these characters to life with tremendous subtlety and depth. Michael Levesque’s script, written specially for Cosentino, also deserves commendation for first bombarding the audience with this group of seemingly disparate personalities before slowly tying all of the loose ends together masterfully. The show’s pacing never loses steam, even as it balances moments of uproarious humor with a vulnerability that Cosentino sometimes achieves in what are essentially conversations with himself. For any budding actors out there seeking additional education on a budget, look no further.

(Kevin Scott)

Dirty Butterfly
Bound 2 Create Theatre

Photo by Joe Bucci.

PERFORMANCES:
Saturday, July 14, 9:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 12:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

A harrowing examination of how domestic abuse can affect a community, Bound 2 Create’s production of a new play by British playwright Debbie Tucker Green goes right for the gut. Joanna (Lauren Brotman) is a woman who endures daily abuse at the hands of her partner, never seen by us, and presumably rarely seen by her neighbours, Jason (Kaleb Alexander) and Amelia (Cherissa Richards). Jason has become obsessed with listening at the paper thin wall, in a mixture of guilt, attraction, and sympathy; Amelia does her best to ignore it all, in a decaying attempt at self-preservation. The first half of the play ratchets up the tension, as the couple interacts with a Joanna they seem to imagine, at her best and worst; and just when it seems unbearable, it switches to a real life interaction between the two women. The script is pervasive and mesmerizing, and all three actors are affecting, but it’s Richards who stands out as a woman we initially resent for her seeming callousness, and later come to realize is having her life torn apart by her perceived inability to prevent the brutality that’s ruining all their lives.

(Steve Fisher)

The Little Mermaid
Sisters of Salome

Photo by Brian Lin.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 11 p.m.
Saturday, July 15, 5:45 p.m.

VENUE:
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George Street)

At first glance, a bellydance version of The Little Mermaid seems like an odd idea. Why would anyone want try to sexy up a classic children’s story? After watching five minutes of the Sisters of Salome’s reinterpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the question becomes “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” Lead dancer Sarah Skinner, who plays the lovelorn fish-woman, does a wonderful job of conveying emotions using her body and face. There are no words in the entire production, yet the plot is remarkably easy to follow, and it almost goes without saying that the dancing is fantastic.

(Chris Dart)

With Love and a Major Organ
QuestionMark-Exclamation Theatre

Julia Lederer and Martha Ross. Photo by Peter Bevan.

PERFORMANCES:
Saturday, July 14, 4:30 p.m.
**Sunday, July 15, 7:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

This delightfully absurd story about a “boy with a paper heart, conceived by two broken-hearted people,” who ends up running away with the (literal) heart of a fanciful girl he shares several subway stops with each morning is poetic, playful, and wholly original. Playwright Julia Lederer, as the passionate subway rider who gives her heart away, has many of the best lines in the endlessly quotable show: quotes like “Just plant flowers in my gut” and “I’m just spouting leftover words, like sour milk” will embed themselves in your head. Her fellow players—Robin Archer as the heart stealer who learns to feel with the purloined organ, and Martha Ross as the boy’s lonely and internet advice–taking mother—give equally memorable performances. But it’s Lederer’s lyrical flights of fancy that are the revelation here. All of the show’s advance tickets have already sold out, but this one’s worth lining up for hours to see—trust us.

(Steve Fisher)

[ZED.TO] ByoLogyc: Where You Become New
The Mission Business

Graphic by Trevor Haldenby.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 7:30 p.m.

VENUE:
The Annex Wreckroom (794 Bathurst Street)

ByoLogyc is not your standard Fringe show. It’s not even a show by most conventional definitions. Instead, it is the opening salvo in a wide-scale interactive-narrative adventure set to run over the next eight months as parts of several arts festivals, as well as through social media. Sound complicated? It is, but it’s also crafted with obvious talent and energy, and if you’re willing to match even a fraction of said energy it promises to be a very fulfilling experience.

The events that make up ZED.TO will follow an apocalypse-level event in Toronto, with ByoLogyc setting the stage. This takes the form of a launch party for the titular biotech company‘s new designer drug, populated by the corporate senior staff and a team of new interns (i.e., the audience). The interactive, mobile format is similar to a murder mystery, where the audience members must collect what information and office gossip they can between speeches and team-building exercises. The ZED.TO team prove themselves to be capable innovators in this intricate scenario, though sharing information with your fellow interns is crucial. The party’s climax is only the beginning, setting things up for big events to come.

If you’re willing to take the plunge, we highly recommend taking a look at the extensive online material beforehand, and even signing up for the VIP Internship Program. Don’t be overwhelmed—just grab a drink, keep your ears open, and hang out next to someone chatty.

(Ryan West)

Tony Ho’s Sad People
Tony Ho

Photo courtesy of Tony Ho.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 13, 11:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 1:45 p.m.

VENUE:
The Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street)

A collection of sketches and monologues from local black-comedy kings Tony Ho and assorted friends, Sad People is equal parts hilarious and disturbing. Featuring everything from terrible paintings brought to life to a father-son reunion ruined by temporal disturbance, Sad People mocks the frailty of the human condition and will leave you alternately laughing and squirming, in the best way possible.

(Chris Dart)

The Wakowski Brothers
Aim For The Tangent Theatre

Derek Scott, Lorretta Bailey and Duff MacDonald. Photo by Kent Nolan.

PERFORMANCES:
Sunday, July 15, 4:30 p.m.

VENUE:
St. Vlad’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue)

As Jimmy Wakowski will tell you, vaudeville “is serious business, it’s not Shakespeare.” He’s not kidding. Using the framework of a one-night reunion of brothers Jimmy and Conrad, eight years after their last show—with perhaps a surprise appearance from performing partner, and Jimmy’s old flame, Caitlyn Rose—the comedy eventually takes a backseat to a story of surprising depth. As they rehash all of their history together, the familiar cracks start to re-appear and soon they are struggling to keep this special night afloat.

The jokes come fast and furious, tapping into an incredibly silly place that lurks within everyone, waiting desperately for that perfect pun. It’s not surprising then that many of the songs are quite funny, but there is a tenderness to a few numbers, especially those featuring the sweet voice of Lorretta Bailey, that lend the show its heart. There is great chemistry between Derek Scott and Duff MacDonald and though Scott does not have the greatest pipes, he more than makes up for it with a performance that slowly peels back the layers on a very sad clown.

(Kevin Scott)

MAHMOUD
Pandemic Theatre

Tara Grammy. Photo by Dan Epstein.

PERFORMANCES:
Saturday, July 14, 8:45 p.m.
**Sunday, July 15, 9:15 p.m.

VENUE:
Tarragon Theatre Extra Space (30 Bridgman Avenue)

Tara Grammy knocks it out of the park in this one-woman play in which she acts as a trio of seemingly unconnected characters. Grammy steps effortlessly between personas, from the talkative Iranian taxi driver Mahmoud, to the flamboyant Spaniard Alejandro, to a histrionic teenage version of herself. Amidst uproarious laughter, the characters slowly steer themselves into each other’s paths, coming upon a few personal insights along the way. Grammy uses each character as a window through which to view Iranian culture, as well as to explore her own sense of connection to her past. Even if you’re not up for some superb character acting, the show is worth catching for the reenactment of the moving conversation between Grammy and Mahmoud that served as the show’s inspiration.

(Ryan West)

The Ballad of Herbie Cox
Sum of Its Parts Company

Victoria Chua and Roland Cox. Detail of a photo courtesy of >Sum of Its Parts Company.

PERFORMANCES:
Saturday, July 14, 12:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst Street)

This is the weirdest, most multi-faceted show we’ve seen so far this festival—and at the Fringe, that’s saying something. Husband and wife artistic duo Victoria Chua and Roland Cox relate the personal histories of their extended families, including Chinese relatives whose feet were bound as children, a boy rejected by his father and sent to Australia, a brother addicted to street drugs, and much more. All of these stories are accompanied by performance: dance (and some pretty remarkable dance at that), piano, beatboxing, puppetry, and so on. The array of talents here is dizzying, and while the connection between the performances and the stories isn’t always immediately apparent, it’s such a personal display (which, by the way, includes some nudity) that knowing how it all fits together isn’t really essential to our appreciation. There’s also a special guest appearance at the end of the show—if the guest is in the mood.

(Steve Fisher)

Peter n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel
Peter n’ Chris

Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson. Detail of a photo courtesy of Peter n' Chris.

PERFORMANCES:
Saturday, July 14, 8 p.m.

VENUE:
George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)

Peter n’ Chris (Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson) have crafted an uproariously funny show that blends a Hardy Boys–style mystery plot with classic horror-movie tropes, and throws in a genuinely touching bromance for good measure. In this impressively physical show, the Vancouver-based comedy duo elicits joyful laughter from start to finish. They use inventive choreography, perfect facial expressions, and seemingly off-the-cuff remarks that show how in-tune the two are with each other, and with their material. As Peter n’ Chris unravel the mystery of a creepy motel, minimal lighting and music complement their sound effects (most of which come out of their own mouths) seamlessly. They deftly portray a host of characters—including the scene-spoiling narrator, the unaccommodating motel manager, and a nostalgic elderly couple—with quick changes in voice and posture.

It’s not surprising that Peter n’ Chris have already won accolades for this show at previous festivals across North America. Much like the Hungry Heart Motel’s doomed guests, we would like to check in and never leave (though preferably for less murder-y reasons).

(Laura Godfrey)

** indicates a performance that is 100 per cent pre-sale; other performances have 50 per cent of the house reserved for rush tickets.

Comments