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Toronto Fringe Festival 2012 Reviews: Thursday, July 12

Not done yet! As Fringe enters its final weekend, we're still checking out new shows every day.

Kristin Mueller-Heaslip and Daniel Krolik perform in the naughty puppet musical The Enchanted Crackhouse, a PWYC show in the Fringe Alleyplay tent, behind Honest Ed's. Last performance: Sunday, 7 p.m. Detail of a photo by Eric Robinson.

Heading into the final three days of the Toronto Fringe Festival, the winners are becoming increasingly clearer. Last night, in a ceremony at the packed-to-capacity Fringe tent (there were many people lined up on Bathurst Street waiting for entry when we left), the Patron’s Pick shows were announced: those shows that sold best in their venues, earning them an additional Sunday performance, available 100 per cent in advance. The shows chosen for the Best of the Fringe holdover series, which runs all month at the Toronto Arts Centre, were also announced—and there was significant overlap between the two announcements.

We here at Torontoist are continuing to see shows right up until Sunday, trying to catch some of the gems we’ve possibly overlooked. We’ve got a couple more easy recommendations in this batch of reviews, and our favourite shows to date—those ranking five stars, or four and a half—will be featured later today in our own “Best of Fringe” roundup.

Grey Ground
Beasts of the Theatre

Caitie Graham. Photo by Jasper Savage.


PERFORMANCES:
Thursday, July 5, 10:30 p.m.
Friday, July 6, 3 p.m.
Sunday, July 8, 5 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 8:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 2 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 7 p.m.

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

The last two years have seen our media inundated with anti-bullying rhetoric, which often paints the problem in the blacks and whites of villains and victims. Lindsay Finnie’s bold script seeks out the rarely discussed grey areas of youth bullying through the story of Molly, a teenage girl who discovers that standing up for yourself can be a complicated thing.

Caitie Graham encapsulates the nervous bravado and inarticulate frustration of youth as Molly, whose intermittent webcam monologues are utterly charming. Ryan Bainbridge plays opposite as a frustrated journalist stuck between giving voice to Molly’s story and salvaging his relationship with his almost cartoonishly perfect girlfriend (Shanda Bezic). Molly’s charm and the absence of an actual bully’s voice on stage tend to veer the story away from the grey it seeks to explore, but there’s enough emotional depth to create a good conversation about where bravery stops and where rage begins.

(Ryan West)

Two Weird Ladies Bomb the Fringe
Two Weird Ladies

Laura Salvas and Mandy Sellers. Photo by Chris Besler.

PERFORMANCES:
Friday, July 6, 1:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 7, 9:15 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 10:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 4:45 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 9:30 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 5:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 1:45 p.m.

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

Improvisers and sketch comics Laura Salvas and Mandy Sellers’ show starts off strong, with a sketch about two women trying to butter up their elderly grandmother with entirely too-honest songs (“If you came back as a zombie, we’d shoot you in the head”), and keeps the comedic-hit ratio high throughout. Their schtick is high-energy without being frenetic, with a recurring sketch of ending the show with a big bang gradually taking over all of their sketches. The two give the show their all in many ways; Sellers’ left cheek was still red 20 minutes after a sketch with repeated face slaps. Sketch comedy seems to be less prevalent this year at the Fringe, but this particular show would rate pretty high for the form, even if there were more competition.

(Steve Fisher)

The Empire of the Magic Beanstalks
Vampire Frog Productions

Photo by Gavin Hughes.

PERFORMANCES:
, Thursday, July 5, 4 p.m.
Friday, July 6, 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 7, 11 a.m.
Sunday, July 8, 2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 11 a.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 4:30 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 11:15 a.m.
Saturday, July 14, 7:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Palmerston Library Theatre (560 Palmerston Avenue)

Almost everything about The Empire of the Magic Beanstalks is big, as big as the coveted giant vines at the centre of the story. There’s a huge cast of 17 actors, at least four different fairy tales woven into the plot, massive dance and fight scenes, and plot lines and political intrigue galore. The show we kept comparing it to while watching was Game of Thrones.

This is problematic for a children’s theatre show (even without the HBO series’ notorious R-rated content). While we don’t mean to underestimate young audiences, there was a lot to follow, from eco-consciousness themes to romantic subplots. The best moments in the show were simple gags, like heroine mer-princess Kaia (Natalie Metcalfe)’s wobbly new legs, or her constant covering up of her underwater heritage while on land. But these were significantly outweighed by the large ensemble’s many other goings-on.

The crowd we saw at the show with was mostly adult, with just a few children present—despite being in the KidsFringe venue, it seems this show found an older audience. But for future kids shows, the adage “less is more” might be appropriate.

(Steve Fisher)

The First Canadian President of the United States
Ashek Theatre

Priscilla Yakielashek as President Kimberley White-White. Photo courtesy of Ashek Theatre.

PERFORMANCES:
Thursday, July 5, 10:30 p.m.
Friday, July 6, 3 p.m.
Sunday, July 8, 5 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 8:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 2 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 7 p.m.

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

This one-woman show takes the form of a keynote address given by Kimberley White-White (Priscilla Yakielashek), aka the first Canadian president of the United States of America, 70 years in the future. White-White walks us through a life story in which a small-town Canadian girl winds up as the beloved leader of an exclusively conservative North America, largely by keeping her mouth shut and letting a puppetmaster manoeuvre her as necessary. When the brain chip she uses as an in-head teleprompter is hacked by a disgruntled former lover/employee, her speech becomes a bit more illuminating, though it never grows far beyond a broad critique of right-wing politics peppered with bimbo jokes. Playwright and Fringe darling Jem Rolls has made his career on his popular solo poetry shows, but his political satire still needs a fair bit of work.

(Ryan West)

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