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Toronto Fringe Festival 2013: Plays We Love So Far

Reviews of some of the best shows we've seen at the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival.

The annual poster run that kicked off the Toronto Fringe Festival on Wednesday, July 3.

The annual poster run that kicked off the Toronto Fringe Festival on Wednesday, July 3.

  • Multiple venues
  • July 3–14
  • $10

We should have known that the 25th-annual Toronto Fringe Festival would be one for the books. Now, after almost one week of theatre-going, beer-tenting, and underground dancing, the Torontoist team has put the fest to the test, to see which plays shone like diamonds in the rough. We were pleasantly surprised with the results. Below, we’ve got some reviews of our favourite shows so far.

Another test, however, was not part of the plan: a waterproofing test. Monday night’s storm cancelled shows at Factory Theatre, Randolph Theatre, and the Annex Pawn. Theatre Passe Muraille was out for half the night, but regained power before its final two shows. Some site-specific plays had to call it off too, and others lost their actors to water-logged locations. But do you think that’s going to stop the notoriously scrappy Fringe Festival? Nope, everything is back on!

So go ahead, rain on our parade (but not like that again, please). The shows listed here are still worth a little dampness—unless it’s really unsafe, in which case please proceed with caution and stay safe.


We Are the Bomb
Theatre Brouhaha
5stars

Photo by Zaiden.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 10; 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 2 p.m.

VENUE:
The Paddock Tavern (178 Bathurst Street)

With modern prohibition about to turn Canada dry, a group of would-be revolutionaries declare the historic Paddock Tavern to be a sovereign nation. Writer/director Kat Sandler displays the same fast-paced wit that has become a staple of her shows. This time, it’s delivered perfectly by a talented cast. The Paddock is one of the most interesting Fringe venues this year, with the action unfolding throughout (and atop) the bar while everyone sips their drinks. Filled with hilarious political satire and commentary on a generation desperate for a cause worth fighting for, We Are the Bomb is a show not to be missed.

(Ryan West)

Love Is a Poverty You Can Sell 2: Kisses for a Pfennig
Soup Can Theatre
5stars

Photo by Lauren Vanderbrook.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 7 p.m.
Wednesday, July 10; 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 7 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 7 p.m.

VENUE:
Bite (423 College Street)

Soup Can Theatre has managed the impressive task of improving upon the first iteration of their 2010 Fringe hit with this sequel, which immerses its audience in the sordid cabaret culture of 1920s Berlin. The move from the now-defunct Bread & Circus to the far-more-spacious Bite gives both the audience and ten-piece band room to stretch their legs, while also allowing more elaborate choreography. A lineup of talented performers tour through the works of Kurt Weill and beyond, giving several modern musical numbers a Brechtian flare. Ryan Anning and Scott Dermody oversee the spectacle as saucy emcees Hans and Jodel. They’ll have you singing along in no time.

(Ryan West)

O(h)
casebolt and smith
stars 4andahalf24

Photo by Jeff D. Larson.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 10:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 4:15 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 9:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 13, 3:30 p.m.

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

Not entirely dance, not entirely comedy, but a fascinating combination of the two artforms, Liz Casebolt and Joel Smith’s O(h) is certainly the funniest dance show we’ve ever seen, and the most educational for dance duffers, too. The pair “pull back the curtain” as they perform and explain everything, even speaking through some challenging dance sequences. Stylistically, their direct address to the audience is reminiscent of local theatre company Small Wooden Shoe’s projects, but there’s also singing, improv, and more. This is the one show we wish other dancers would see. It may just send neophytes out in search of more dance, fresh with new insight.

(Steve Fisher)

Tales of Whoa!
Not Bad Abe Productions
stars 4andahalf

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Stuart Vaughan, Lara Johnson, Leigh Cameron, and Kyle Scott. Photo by Quantel Wronski.

PERFORMANCES:
Wednesday, July 10; 12 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 11:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 4 p.m.

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

A journey into the board-game world of Tales of Whoa! uncovers a side-splitting collection of sharply written sketches that provides equal opportunity for all of the play’s performers to shine. An early scenario in which Kyle Scott pleads dramatically (and romantically) with Leigh Cameron’s walk-in doctor to become his family physician establishes a finely tuned chemistry. Other notable skits include a racially diverse game of Guess Who, Lara Johnson’s incredibly committed performance as an old woman on the subway, and Stuart Vaughan’s unfortunate anatomical impediment to sex. A madcap energy and some inventive transitions keep the hilarity moving swiftly along.

(Kevin Scott)

The Oak Room
Fracas Theatre
20111004Raystars 4andahalf24

Photo courtesy of Peter Genoway.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 10; 2 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 2:25 p.m.
Sunday, July 14,; 4:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

It’s easy to see why Peter Genoway’s script won the 2013 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest. Its dialogue-heavy explosion of machismo and hostility channels the best of Mamet. When a small-town outcast returns to his hometown bar in the midst of a snowstorm and offers to pay debts owed to the abrasive owner with a story, you can’t help but be hooked. Momentum sags a little in the middle of this story-within-a-story, but Nigel Hamer sets things right with booming, cruel swagger in the role of not-so-reformed bully and bar owner Paul.

(Ryan West)

Callaghan! And the Wings of the Butterfly
Sex T-Rex
stars 4andahalf24

Kaitlin Morrow as adventurer Muriel Winters and Colin Munch as Jack Callaghan in the 2012 production of Callaghan. Munch plays a supporting role in this year’s Fringe production. Photo courtesy of Sex T-Rex.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 8:45 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 5:45 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 5:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 3:30 p.m.

VENUE:
George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)

Improv troupe Sex T-Rex’s first fully scripted show, Callaghan is an action-packed sendup of the adventurer-archeologist archetype, best exemplified by the Indiana Jones films and the Uncharted video game series. (There are even some sly references to bugs in Uncharted.) But it also has a swiftly paced and very funny storyline, and some great back-and-forth between the title character (played with cool aplomb by Etan Muskat) and his gruff mentor/sidekick Sal (Conor Bradbury). Even some of the doomed henchmen get hilarious backstories, before they’re dispatched in enjoyably ludicrous fight scenes.

(Steve Fisher)

This Play Is Like _____
Tiny House Productions
4 Stars

Photo by Paul Mosey.

PERFORMANCES:
Wednesday, July 10; 11 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 1:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 9:15 p.m.

VENUE:
Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst Street)

The Fringe is renowned as a forum for new talent, and it doesn’t get much newer than the exclusively teenaged cast and crew of Tiny House ProductionsThis Play Is Like _____. Writer/director Glenys Robinson will make you cringe at the memory of the bad poetry you wrote at eighteen as she effortlessly guides you through stories of the life of an average teen girl, as well as a dark fable told through puppetry. Robinson eschews the Diablo Cody/Joss Whedon teen uberwit in favour of real talk, as masterfully delivered by 17-year-old Kya Mosey, who plays the sardonic lead, Jane. To make a hyperbolic promise: this show will give you hope for the future of theatre in Toronto.

(Ryan West)

Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare BASH’d 

4 Stars 

Amelia Sargisson and James Wallis. Photo by James MacDonald. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare BASH’d.

PERFORMANCES: 
Tuesday, July 9; 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 7 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 5 p.m.

VENUE: 
Victory Cafe (581 Markham Street


Hell is sitting through poorly spoken iambic pentameter. The Shakespeare BASH’d ensemble has a knack for avoiding this pitfall, making the bard’s words sound as natural as everyday conversation. Energetic pacing helps, making this production’s 90 minutes glide right by. The World War II setting adds to the relaxed feel, with the ensemble encouraging the audience to sing along to period hits like “Pistol Packin’ Mama” as they enter the venue. Lead couple Amelia Sargisson and James Wallis set the tone with their screwball-comedy-inspired sniping.

(Jamie Bradburn)

 
 



Assassinating Thomson
Monster Theatre 
 
4 Stars

Bruce Horak. Photo courtesy of Monster Theatre.

PERFORMANCES: 
Tuesday, July 9; 8:30 p.m
Wednesday, July 10; 12:15 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 4 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 10:30 p.m.

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


Mixing personal stories and the mystery of artist Tom Thomson’s death like paints on a palette, Bruce Horak illustrates more than what’s developing on his easel. His genial storytelling style enhances hilarious takes on his development as an artist and employs a lighthearted look at Canadian art history (Lawren “Moneybags” Harris, anyone?). A play that deals with matters of life and creativity could easily fall prey to jarring heavy-handedness, but Horak’s relaxed manner prevents this from happening here. 

(Jamie Bradburn)

 
 


Peter n’ Chris Explore Their Bodies
Peter n’ Chris
stars 4

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Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson. Photo by Peter Carlone.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 1:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 10; 11 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 8 p.m.

VENUE:
George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)

Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson make goofing off in front of a crowd appear effortless and infectious. A plot in which Chris must enter his own body and overthrow its evil overlord gives the Canadian Comedy Award–nominated duo the chance to play two major characters each. What ensues is an epic journey of the imagination. In fact, one of the greatest pleasures of the show is how much mileage the pair get out of creating their own sound effects and pantomiming one horrific act after another. It’s a rare brand of silliness and irreverence, and it inspires huge belly laughs and giggle fits.

(Kevin Scott)

Almost, Maine
Wolverine Theatre Company

stars 4

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Neal Kelley and Quinn Scillian. Photo courtesy of The Wolverine Theatre Company.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 6:45p.m.
Wednesday, July 10; 9:30p.m.
Friday, July 12; 6:15p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 1:45p.m.

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

A character named Glory has come to Almost, Maine, and her hardened heart is pieces of slate inside a sack. Gayle is tired of waiting for Lendall to propose and decides to return all of the love he gave her (which looks like balloons in many bags). These surreal elements are the backbone of John Cariani’s immensely popular play, and this truncated production by current and former students of the University of Michigan turns them into something funny, sweet, and touching. Madeline Sharton and Emily Shimskey are especially worthy of praise. They’re able to turn a comic scene on its head to mine the pathos lying beneath the surface.

(Kevin Scott)

My High-Heeled Life: Or, How I Learned to Keep Worrying and Love My Stilettos
Sparking Fuse
4 Stars

PERFORMANCES:
Wednesday, July 10; 6:30 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 6:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 12:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Solo Room (30 Bridgman Avenue)

Wittier and more clever than one might expect, this 58-minute monologue ventures in and out of shoe territory, discussing footwear facts, etiquette, and lust. (It also gets into themes related to socioeconomic status, gender inequality, and current events.) Katharine McLeod’s performance manages to hold the audience’s attention. Watching her feels very much like listening to your funniest friend captivating a crowd at cocktail hour. Part confessional, part rant, and many parts humour, McLeod puts on a show that speaks to her keen social observational skills, which come to life through strong writing and delivery.

(Jess Davidson)

Liza Live!
Total Betty Productions
4 Stars

Photo by Jacklyn Atlas.

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 10:15 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 2:15 p.m.

VENUE:
Annex Theatre (730 Bathurst Street)

Given a much larger stage than the cramped bar space where Liza Live! played the Next Stage Festival, creator/performer Jennifer Walls and her musical accompanists have really upgraded this tribute show. Walls now has a hall in which she can belt some of Minnelli’s signature tunes, and the dead-on impression is played for both pathos and laughs. With more audience participation and anecdotes added since last time, seeing Wells is now unquestionably the next best thing to spending an hour in the company of the Cabaret star.

(Steve Fisher)

CORRECTION: July 10, 2013, 2:10 PM This listing originally misspelled Jennifer Walls’s last name, as well as Liza Minnelli’s. They have both been corrected.


Play Actually–a non rom com
iDiot Presents
4 Stars

PERFORMANCES:
Tuesday, July 9; 6:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 10:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 10:30 p.m.

VENUE:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)

Funny, cute, and most definitely NSFW (so maybe don’t bring your boss as your date), this two-man show examines the tragicomedy that is the modern-day love story. Poking fun at contemporary mating rituals, from online dating to seeking out relationship advice in self-help books, Play Actually skillfully (and not too subtly) crushes the romantic one-true-love-that-is-forever-and-ever myth through Portlandia-esque sketches and screwball physical comedy. Tim Monley and Katy Houska have excellent chemistry and energy to spare. By breaking down the fourth wall (kind of), they make the audience feel as though everyone’s in this thing together.

(Jess Davidson)

Kill, Sister, Kill
Kid Switchblade
4 Stars

Photo by Stephen J. Crosby.

PERFORMANCES:
Wednesday, July 10; 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 11; 4 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 2:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 14; 1:45 p.m.

VENUE:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)

Usually, when you read the description for a Fringe show like Kill, Sister, Kill, you expect hyperbole—that the mature language might just be the word “fuck” a few times, or the graphic violence might be a bad stage slap. So we were delighted at the utter depravity of the script here, and the artery-spurting cuts made on stage. More death and mayhem would be a welcome addition to the new musical, but that can easily be added in an expanded run; as it stands, the book is clever and wonderfully perverse, the actors all sing like angels (and chew scenery like devils), and the music, while it may not be instantly hummable, gives the cast plenty of chances to shine.

(Steve Fisher)

Radio :30
night kitchen theatre
stars 4andahalf

Photo courtesy of the Fringe Festival.

PERFORMANCES:
Thursday, July 11; 9:45 p.m.
Friday, July 12; 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13; 2:15 p.m.

VENUE:
Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)

Having a radio voice is in part a matter of physical luck—a question of anatomy. But not everyone who can turn out a pleasant-sounding line is cut out for radio, which is also a matter of skill, and especially, of control. It’s the ability to make minute adjustments in pitch, pacing, and emphasis that distinguish the radio greats, a capacity to shade your delivery of a line just so.

So what happens to a radio guy when he starts to lose control, when cracks start breaking up the smooth, friendly facade he’s built up over years?

Radio :30 is a portrait of a voiceover artist named Ron, whose carefully honed radio personality—”warm, friendly, sincere”—is uncomfortably at odds with his actual life. Haunted by past mistakes, Ron’s real world starts piercing the veneer he’s so skilled at creating in studio, until it erodes almost completely in the course of a single studio session. By turns funny and touching, this reprisal of the hit from 1999 is a standout.

(Hamutal Dotan)

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