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culture

Toronto Fringe Festival 2012 Reviews: Saturday July 7

As our team of contributors works its way through the 150+ shows at the Toronto Fringe Festival, they’re finding both the diamonds in the rough, and the… other parts of the rough (including our first no-star rated show.) Here’s our latest batch of reviews; for all reviews to date, see our Fringe Festival page.

The Dinner
Upstage Productions

Photo courtesy of Upstage Productions

PERFORMANCES:
Monday, July 9, 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 5:15 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 12 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m.

VENUE:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

What is it about the ritual of sitting down for holiday dinner with a group of those closest to us that brings out the worst in people? Four couples gather for an annual Thanksgiving feast that gets derailed by a whole lot of emotional baggage in Jason Murray’s tension-filled play The Dinner. Old wounds resurface at the same time as new ones are being opened with revelations and confessions that shatter the facade of stability existing between all of them.

The cast is uniformly superb, with everyone at first struggling to maintain an air of civility before things quickly devolve into a mess of unresolved issues being haphazardly purged. Jeff Madden is especially effective as an infuriatingly materialistic prick, verbally sparring in underhanded ways that elicit audible gasps from the crowd, if only to avoid letting the moment linger too awkwardly. What rings unquestionably true is the way that these loved ones—particularly those who have known each other for quite some time—have a way of picking away at all of the loose ends until everything has unraveled before them.

(Kevin Scott)

Ways to Kill Ethyl
Pigs Can Fly

Photo courtesy of company.

PERFORMANCES:
Monday, July 9, 1 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 3:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Factory Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

Both ridiculous and hilarious, Ways to Kill Ethyl is the story of two siblings who are attempting to kill their less-than-beloved grandmother at a potluck. Susan Q. Wilson turns in a strong performance as the titular Ethyl, and Krista Hovsepian and Jeff Ulrich both do a decent job as her homicidal grandchildren, but it’s the other two characters that really make this play work. Tyler Champagne’s performance as Victor, the pretentious idiot half-brother, is absurdly amusing, as is Peter Spence’s work as the bumbling lawman charged with investigating the case. If you’ve ever wanted to see a play about meatballs and water hemlock, this is the show for you.

(Chris Dart)

Medicine
Big Sandwich Productions

TJ Dawe. Photo by Rene Ferrer.

PERFORMANCES:
Sunday, July 8, 3:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 9:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 12:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 11 p.m.

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

T.J. Dawe is no stranger to the Fringe, having performed his popular anecdotal monologue shows on the circuit for years now. His highly kinetic performances have grown from collections of amusing stories to pseudo-lectures of personal exploration, all imbued with his quirky insights and high octane energy.

In his 2010 Fringe show Lucky 9 Dawe spoke at length about the self-help teachings of Gabor Mate, but this year he goes a step further. In the time that’s elapsed Dawe has both met the guru Mate and joined in one of his retreats, which involved group therapy and the use of the Peruvian psychoactive medicine ayahuasca. Medicine is the story of his experience, but it is also a startling departure from his usual style. Dawe not only lays bare his experience but also his personal discoveries, in a performance that is both surprisingly calm and powerfully raw. Medicine is not the Dawe show you’re used to, but it is a portrait of a talented artist taking a big step and evolving into something entirely new.

(Ryan West)

The Soaps
The National Theatre Company of the World

Christie Bruce, Paul Bates, and Murphy. Photo by Matt Baram.

PERFORMANCES:
Monday, July 9, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 11:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 9:15 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 2:45 p.m.

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

Students of history take note: the short introductory summaries of each participating nation’s perspective on the outcome of the War of 1812 are as insightful as thick literary works. After that, The Soaps sticks to gut-busting improvised silliness set against the backdrop of wartime intrigue and lust. The cast of veteran improvisers keep the laughs coming via characters that face their cowardice, passions, and mushroom-induced 19th century equivalents of the Great Gazoo. Verbal fumbles swiftly turn into running jokes—without a momentary miscue, there wouldn’t have been numerous references to that all-but-forgotten Napoleonic weapon, the mucket.

(Jamie Bradburn)

jem rolls: TEN STARTS AND AN END
big word performance poetry

Jem Rolls. Photo courtesy of big word performance poetry.

PERFORMANCES:

Tuesday, July 10, 6:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 10:15 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 6:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 7:45 p.m.

VENUE:
George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)

“In the beginning was the word.” Once the lights rise on Fringe vet Jem Rolls, there is no stopping the flow of words that emerge from his animated presence. Through a series of poems, Rolls tackles subjects ranging from drug-addled acquaintances you don’t want to spend a weekend afternoon with to the nicest things anyone’s every said about our fair city. It helps to watch with an audience attuned to his freewheeling way of tapping into his anger at the state of the world and those who brought us to our current state of affairs. As for the advertised tongue-twister, let’s just say you’d be lucky to get through it once at the speed Rolls reels it off, let alone try to say it five times.

(Jamie Bradburn)

Camp Schecky
Sassy Roo Productions

Photo by Chris Frampton.

PERFORMANCES:
Sunday, July 8, 2 p.m.
Sunday, July 8, 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 2 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 10 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 2 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 3 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 2 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 3 p.m.

VENUE:
Honest Ed’s Parking Lot (18 Lennox Street)

The plot for this tour through Little Italy on a big yellow school bus is paper thin and predictable: colourful camp counselors deal with a new camp director who has plans to change their summer haven. There are a few crush subplots and audience participation elements mixed in, but those aren’t the big draw for the show, of course. The reason you’ll want to get on the bus is to sing songs and soak in the first-day-heading-to-summer-camp atmosphere, and in this, the spirited cast (and their rotating bemused drivers) delivers. All are adept improvisors who deserve kudos for thinking on their feet in on-the-fly audience interaction, and just keeping on their feet in the aisles as the bus rumbles along. This is the sort of show that thrives at Fringe—a clever concept for theatrical interaction, away from a stage—and Camp Schecky‘s apt to have record enrollment over the next week.

(Steve Fisher)

Speare (Parts 1 and 2)
Bear Productions

Photo courtesy of Ray Kennington.

PERFORMANCES:
Sunday, July 8, 10:30 p.m. (Part 1)
Tuesday, July 10, 3:00 p.m. (Part 2)
Wednesday, July 11, 1:45 p.m. (Part 1)
Thursday, July 12, 2:15 p.m. (Part 2)
Saturday, July 14, 2:15 p.m. (Part 1)

VENUE:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

Several of Shakespeare’s great works begin to intertwine in Bear Productions’ ambitious two-part project, which sees a coterie of of the Bard’s greatest villains joining forces to exact their various revenges. The plot is largely driven by King Lear‘s Edmund (Ryan McKeen) and Othello‘s Iago (Edward Kennington) as they seek to raise an army to support Macbeth‘s Prince Malcolm (Brendan Shoreman) in his bid to retake Scotland, and serve their own interests in the meantime.

Unfortunately, while the shows are big on ambition, they fall flat on stage, with too many plot lines to follow, particularly across two separate performances. Too few performers take on too many roles, with too little effort to distinguish one from the other. The exception to the rule is Roger McKeen, who transforms completely from one villain to the next. Speare is a creative effort in fan fiction, but requires much work before it does justice to its namesake.

(Ryan West)

Crashland
Hangman

Photo courtesy of company.

PERFORMANCES:

Sunday, July 8, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 8:45 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 9:15 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 2:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 9:45 p.m.

VENUE:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

Nominally a story about a plane crash in suburbia, Crashland is nothing short of a disaster. With a script that crosses the line from nonlinear to nonsensical and a cast that can’t differentiate between emoting and shouting, it’s hard to find anything good to say about Crashland. They do have nice posters, though.

(Chris Dart)

Comments

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.facebook.com/sylvia.smith.397501 Sylvia Smith

    I totally disagree with your commentary that The players in Speare had too many roles and were not distinguishable from each other. Iagos role was spot on and I thought that the play was easy to follow and very entertaining. Shylock, I mean come on…he was so great and I really thought that Brian Kennington deserves a standing ovation for all the attention to detail that he displayed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Louis-Train/100002417079232 Louis Train

    There’s another possible contender for zero stars: Quantum Taxis in the parking garage. I saw it only because I was volunteering and had to be there, but there several instances even so in which I desperately wanted to walk out.
    It’s almost an hour and a half of pure dialogue of what I’d hoped were the musings of a stoned thirteen-year-old but turned out to be a very sincere attempt by the playwright/director to discuss quantum physics.

  • Denis

    Honestly I’m uncomfortable with anyone getting zero stars. It doesn’t feel like the spirit of fringe. At least give them half a star for trying!

    • Lorna

      I understand what you are saying but they are charging money!!! Audiences deserve good theatre.