Your Cheat Sheet (and Map!) to the 2011 Fringe Festival
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Your Cheat Sheet (and Map!) to the 2011 Fringe Festival

Closing weekend! If you haven’t made out your Fringe schedule yet, here are our capsule reviews of the shows you shouldn’t miss.

Fringe patrons exchange stories and word of mouth tips at the outdoor club behind Honest Ed’s. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

We’ve seen a lot a lot of Fringe, friends—and not just the shows already on our radar. Our indefatigable reviewers, relying on early word of mouth, recommendations from fellow Fringers, and the early faves we had our eye on before the festival started, have seen more theatre than you can shake a stick at, and we’ve picked our favourites to date. Those shows that rated 3.5 stars or better from our reviewers have been compiled in this primer, for those who want to make sure they’re using their pass or Fringe cash wisely. We’ve also designed a handy map detailing the locations of those favoured picks.
Let us know in the comments if you concur (or disagree) with our choices, and also tell us what we’ve missed—because though it may not be physically possible to see everything worth seeing at the Fringe, we’re going to do our level best before the end of the week.

A Love, Virtually

Detail of a photo by aMuse Photography.

Working Title Artists Theatre Company
Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)
July 12, 3:00 p.m.
July 14, noon
July 15, 8:45 p.m.
July 17, 5:15 p.m.

Chloe Whitehorn uses the world of online dating as the backdrop for this story of love and dating, which delves much deeper than pithy critiques of how to compose the perfect profile. Bunmi Adeoye plays Laurel, an aspiring songwriter easing back into the dating world after a mysterious tragedy in a previous relationship. Aided by a duo of meddlesome friends (Krista Barzso and Eve Wylden), Laurel cycles through the usual clichés for the requisite laughs, while a series of well-integrated musical numbers are definite audience pleasers—but it’s the unfolding story of Laurel’s past, and her blossoming but complicated relationship with the earnest Matt (Alan Norman) that make the tale so engaging. Oh, and a surprisingly insightful theory on how online dating is like Schrödinger’s Cat. (Ryan West)

B Pitch Blonde

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Katie and Pearl Productions
Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)
July 12, 5:15 p.m.
July 14, 9:45 p.m.
July 16, 9:45 p.m.
July 17, 3:30 p.m.

Writer/performer Laura Anne Harris imbues her onstage portrayal of Judy Holliday with wit and charm in this one-woman show focusing on the screen legend’s early career and her appearance at the U.S. Senate’s McCarthy hearings. A few brief scenes where Harris/Holliday has one-sided conversations drag a little, in contrast to Holliday’s candid direct addresses to the audience, or her back-and-forth with pre-recorded (and presumably, historically accurate) foils. But when Holliday fences with a pre-recorded interrogator, using her on-screen ditz persona to deflect career-ending insinuations of communist sympathies, it’s deeply engrossing—and, despite the stakes for her career and family, very funny. (Steve Fisher)

C Trotsky and Hutch: On Patrol

Detail of a photo by Kevin Thom.

Impatient Theatre Company
Tarragon Theatre Extra Space (30 Bridgman Avenue)
July 14, 8:45 p.m.
July 15, 3:30 p.m.
July 16, 5:15 p.m.
July 17, 1:45 p.m.

Kevin Patrick Robbins and Sean Tabares (who was recently named Best Male Improviser at the Canadian Comedy Awards) are founding members of Impatient Theatre Co., and have been working on their long-form improv skills for a good long while (Impatient celebrates its 10th anniversary this year). The two have a close rapport on stage, and their boys in blue are continually surprising in their blue-collar observations, and their interactions with the (made-up) citizens they’re sworn to protect and serve. Despite Trotsky and Hutch’s quirks and foibles, the cop characters take their duties very seriously; it’s a briefly sobering thought to think that it’s two improv comics who’re giving the Toronto police force its most positive portrayal we’ve seen in some time. But once that thought comes and goes, you’ll spend the rest of the hour chuckling at how the bickering partners constantly one-up each other (and get a lot of humorous mileage out of the show-starting audience suggestions.) (Steve Fisher)

D Kim’s Convenience

Detail of a photo by Ian Liwanag.

Ins Choi
Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst Street)
July 6, 6:30 p.m.
July 8, 10:30 p.m.
July 10, 1:15 p.m.
July 11, 8:15 p.m.
July 12, 1:00 p.m.
July 15, 5:15 p.m.
July 17, 7 p.m.

Ins Choi’s debut script has gotten a lot of buzz, and rightfully so. Based on his own experiences growing up in the Korean community in Toronto, Kim’s Convenience takes a disappearing institution, the Korean general store, and uses it to tell a story of change, family, legacy, and honour. Mr. Kim is quite the character: a loving provider with a quick temper, racist, and out of touch with 21st Century North American norms, yet extremely street smart and sharp. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, and Choi deliver touching performances, though Esther Jun gives 30-year-old Janet the angst and slouch of a pre-teen. While the play’s love story feels forced and reveals Choi’s newness to playwriting, the complex family relationships (and Korean accent jokes) prove that he’s one to watch. (Carly Maga)

E Uncalled For presents… Hypnogogic Logic

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Uncalled For
Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst Street)
July 8, 8:45 p.m.
July 9, 1:45 p.m.
July 10, 10:30 p.m.
July 11, 6:30 p.m.
July 12, 3:15 p.m.
July 14, 7:30 p.m.
July 15, 3:30 p.m.

Hypnagogia is the “transitional state between waking and sleep,” wherein the mind is left in a treacherous no man’s land of reality and absurdity, unable to distinguish the rules of science, practicality, and the natural world. That’s where you typically find yourself transported from your one-bedroom walkup to your childhood babysitter’s kitchen, except it’s not really your childhood babysitter’s kitchen, it’s actually the spaceship from Starship Troopers and your babysitter’s douchey boyfriend is Casper Van Dien. That’s the kind of freedom the guys of Uncalled For have at their disposal with Hypnogogic Logic. And boy do they take advantage. If you like insomniac sheep, planting inanimate objects, and post-apocalyptic cuisine, book your tickets now. This show is not to be missed. (Carly Maga)

F Peter ‘n Chris Save The World!

Detail of a photo by Chris Kattner.

Peter n’ Chris
George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)
July 12, 8:45 p.m.
July 15, 11 p.m.
July 16, 2:15 p.m.

We hope that Vancouver-based comedy duo Peter ‘n Chris aren’t sick of the comparisons to Flight of the Concords yet, because although the two don’t actually play instruments in their show, those comparisons remains apt. The pair leap off on generally absurd tangents as they question their dreams, their purpose in life, and their friendship, weaving spot-on mockeries of Sarah McLachlan, trendy activists, and their generation’s attention span into their world-saving (alright, pal-saving) narrative. And though they don’t play any songs themselves, they do have a couple of pretty tight dance numbers. (Steve Fisher)

G The Premiere
Les 3 Garçons

Detail of a photo by Jacques Dutil.

St. Vladimir’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue)
July 12, 6:45 p.m.
July 13, 4:15 p.m.
July 14, 9:15 p.m.
July 15, 6:15 p.m.
July 17, 1 p.m.

These three no-nose clowns have brought a very polished show from La Belle Province, where they’ve obviously practiced much of their act as street performers—they play an audience like a lute. The comedy is broad, resolutely inoffensive, and far more reliant on slapstick and sight gags (including one pretty impressive display of double-jointedness) than witty lines. As physical comedy goes, it’s a pretty impressive display; we didn’t see a single one of the resounding knaps the performers use to simulate sharp blows, for instance. There are no boundaries being pushed here, but it’s a crowd-pleasing show that’s suitable for all ages, and it’s rare to be able to say that at the Fringe. (Steve Fisher)

H Raton Laveur

Detail of a photo by Jade Douris.

Fracas Theatre
St. Vladimir’s Theatre (620 Spadina Avenue)
July 13, 11:15 p.m.
July 15, 9:45 p.m.
July 17, 2:45 p.m.

David Patrick Flemming is irresistible as the sweet-but-bonkers Phil, whose paranoid fixation on a neighbourhood raccoon makes for a macabre comedic goldmine in this relationship cross-section–cum–hate letter to Toronto’s most infamous pest. Caitlin Stewart breathes deft dimension into the beleaguered Lily, Phil’s eternally forgiving girlfriend with a twist. Director Amos Crawley and his cast (who also co-wrote the play) could have named the show for a certain Haddaway song, but perhaps that gives away too much. (Kelli Korducki)

I Go F#$% Yourself (You Know What We Mean)

Detail of a photo, courtesy of Ted Hollister’s Cow.

Ted Hollister’s Cow
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79A St. George Street)
July 13, 7:30 p.m.
July 14, 4:15 p.m.
July 15, 9:15 p.m.
July 16, noon.

Nikki Payne and Terry Clement’s Fringe debut lives up to all the warnings in the program, and the one implicit in the show’s title; there was more cursing in the first couple of minutes than we saw in our first 15 Fringe shows combined. That might have been due in part to some early tech issues, but the two coarse yet likable comics eased past those early hiccups and delivered a perversely inspired mix of sketch and character monologues, plus several unique contests (there are… prizes), and the most original portrayal of Liz and Dick Burton we’ve ever seen. Now Magazine‘s Naomi Skwarna had an original song sung about her (and shawarma) in thanks for her generally positive review, so if you see the show, and they mention Torontoist, do let us know if we got a similar treatment, hmm? (Steve Fisher)

J Misprint (1st Issue)

Detail of a photo by David Leyes.

Spiel Players
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79A Saint George Street)
July 12 10:30 p.m.
July 15 3:30 p.m.
July 17 7:30 p.m.

Something is rotten in the comic strip world of Sunnydale, and it’s not just Wedgie’s attitude. Lauren Toffan and Yan Li use the familiar haven of Archie Comics‘ ’60s America for this metacomic send-up, in which Ellie (the story’s Betty analogue) realizes she’s living in a comic book. The rest of the townsfolk are in on the ruse, as paid characters in her very own Truman Show. Ellie’s bafflement as the hard lines of her simplified world begin to blur is charming, and becomes a grudging resolve to explore the mystery to its end—despite the deterring efforts of her peers. There is a darkness hidden behind the cheerful doo-wop numbers and it-never-rains small town smiles, particularly in a brief meeting with a stock background character with eyes for our heroine. Though the show is unfortunately only the first act, it gets the audience good and excited for the second issue. (Ryan West)

K Bursting Into Flames

Detail of a photo by KH Photographics.

Martin Dockery
Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street)
July 13, 9:30 p.m.
July 14, noon
July 15, 11:30 p.m.

American storyteller Martin Dockery is very, very good at what he does; he exudes exuberance and confidence in his delivery of this monologue about what heaven is actually (or should be) like. He touches on the flip side, too, and his description of flames and torment is just as evocative as the opening litany of all the best parts of eternity. Even in heaven, it turns out, relationships don’t always go smoothly, and as Dockery starts to reveal cracks in his sunny optimism, the show takes a startling and thought-provoking turn. (Steve Fisher)

L Suicide(s) in Vegas

Detail of a photo by NJ Calder.

M-W Productions
Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street)
July 14 1:45 p.m.
July 16 5:15 p.m.
July 17 9:00 p.m.

The City of Sin provides the backdrop for this touching tale of two women and an internet suicide pact. Lydia is a manically charismatic self-help guru lost in her own web of sensationalist lies, while Jane is a lonely romantic trapped in an Ohio toll booth. The story neatly avoids getting lost in the darker nature of the subject matter, instead exploring the factors that would drive two people full of life and hope towards such a desperate end. Elinza Pretorius’ Lydia makes an extravagant life feel claustrophobic, while Amber Green will break your heart as Jane, who eagerly looks for a happy ending in every face that passes through her toll gate. Director Margaret Whittum uses the vivacity of her performers to transform a bleak stage into the bright lights of Vegas, both a perfect and terrible place to die. (Ryan West)

M Tyumen, Then

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

October Theatre
Robert Gill Theatre (214 College Street)
July 12, 4:30 p.m.
July 13, 12:15 p.m.
July 14, 7 p.m.
July 15, 6:15 p.m.
July 16, 1:45 p.m.

Two Russian soldiers, a mismatched pair, find themselves stuck in a locked and stationary railcar with no food or water, and worst of all, nearly out of cigarettes. Plus, they both suspect the large crate they’re guarding contains the embalmed corpse of Lenin—who’s possibly as restless as they are. This dark comedy boasts a trio of fine performances, especially from Adam Lazarus as the undead and bemused Soviet figurehead, and a darkly funny script that takes some gruesome turns. (Steve Fisher)

N The LOVE Octagon

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Beefy Geek Productions
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
July 12, 6:15 p.m.
July 15, 2:15 p.m.
July 16, 10:30 p.m.

Master improvisers Chris Craddock and Ron Pederson may as well bill themselves as surgeons; guts will be busted in their wake, and they know it. Using audience members’ tales of love scored and soured as sketch-spinning springboards, Craddock and Pederson churn laughs like it’s R-rated butter. Rounding out the experience is musical director Waylen Miki, whose keyboard improv hits all the right notes. (Kelli Korducki)

O Sex, Religion & Other Hang-ups

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
July 8, 6:30 p.m.
July 9, 3:15 p.m.
July 10, 6:15 p.m.
July 11, 11 p.m.
July 12, 1:30 p.m.
July 13, 10 p.m.
July 15, 7 p.m.
July 17, 2:15 p.m.

First love, first loss, first times, and first communion—these make up the foundation of James Gangl’s debut solo show, a deeply personal and completely entertaining account of his struggles to reconcile his primal urges, a Catholic upbringing, an acting career, and the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. As honest as a boy in confession, Gangl is energetic, captivating, and hilarious as he leaves all his insecurities, triumphs, and disappointments on the stage, all of which are more relatable than we’d like to admit in public. But it’s not all sex jokes and religious jabs (though that’s a big part of it). While Gangl spends most of the hour in straightforward narration, bouncing from past to present, moments in spoken word and beat poetry are a surprising and impressive addition. We’ve all got hang-ups and stories of heartbreak, we just wish we could all tell them like Gangl. (Carly Maga)

P Swoon!

Detail of a photo by Alex Felipe.

The Nation of Brohams
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)
July 7, 10:30 p.m.
July 9, 1:45 p.m.
July 10, 7 p.m.
July 12, 4:45 p.m.
July 14, 9:15 p.m.
July 15, 2:15 p.m.
July 16, 9:45 p.m.

With a large ensemble of actors and another ensemble of writers, Swoon! varies in tone, mood, and quality. Luckily, the strongest moments have staying power: monologues about a quirky OCAD student with a pet ferret who falls for her neighbour during the building’s many fire alarms, and about the “other” woman who communicates with her beloved through tape-recorded messages, as well as a scene between two exes that can’t seem to lose each other (you know the one). We had a great time at Swoon!, it just wasn’t the love of our lives. (Carly Maga)

Q Boyfriends

Detail of a photo by Jonah Greenbaum-Shinder.

Le Carsonage
Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
July 6, 8:45 p.m.
July 9, 11:15 p.m.
July 11, 7 p.m.
July 12, 10:45 p.m.
July 13, 4 p.m.
July 14, 6 p.m.
July 16, 7 p.m.

Boyfriends is about one rainy night, one bet, and three bored best friends in Manhattan in the 1960s. Ben Gazara, Peter Falk, and John Cassavetes each play a role in their threesome: Gazzara is the loud funnyman, Falk is the sensitive soul, and Cassavetes is the cool mastermind. And together, they spend one night doing what “guys” do—drink, talk about baseball, poke fun at each other’s problems, and play with the mind of a young escort named Shirley. Think, if the movie Husbands happened in real life. This show would be best enjoyed by fans of these three filmmakers, especially male fans of these three filmmakers. But even if you’re not, the dialogue in the script and the performances from the three male leads is enough to keep anyone infatuated with this bromance. (Carly Maga)

R Dungeons & Dragons (Not) the Musical

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Praxis Theatre
Snakes and Lattes (600 Bloor Street West)
July 10, 4 p.m.
July 14, 7 p.m.
July 16, 5 p.m.

Dungeons and Dragons has all the makings for good theatre: complex characters, intrigue, high stakes, goals and strategies, compelling environments, and even a little improv. Now, director Aislinn Rose and Praxis Theatre have taken the game and really turned it into a full-out production: they’ve added lighting, sound design, illustrations, video, a cast of theatre makers, and, most importantly, provided an audience. The Dungeon Master takes it from there. Spacing is limited in the basement of Snakes and Lattes, and not all spots are equal. Make sure you’re sitting close enough to the game table to catch all the action and absorb all the added theatrical elements, more of which apparently will be added for the last two runs. Another tip: bring a fan and a water bottle. The D&D atmosphere is so accurate it even includes oppressive heat. (Carly Maga)

S The Godot Cycle

Detail of a photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.

Yes Let’s Go Productions
Honest Ed’s Underground Parking Lot (581 Bloor Street West)
July 15 6:00 p.m.–July 17, 11:59 p.m.
Eric Craig and David Christo take Beckett’s absurdism above and beyond with their marathon approach to the modern classic Waiting for Godot, which they performed on a constant, unceasing cycle for 30 straight hours in the underground parking lot of Honest Ed’s. Demonstrating an endurance and tenacity to boggle the mind, the two actors did not falter as they waited on their absent master for over a day. The two were joined by a rotating series of actors playing the secondary roles of Ponzo, Lucky, and Boy, each adding something new and exciting to the cycle while remaining completely faithful to the repetition. Craig and Christie never sagged, channeling their exhaustion into the frustration of their characters until nearly collapsing at curtain call. Hidden beneath the Fringe Tent, the performance makes a convenient and fascinating stop between shows, and a ticket will allow endless re-entry during their next challenge: a staggering 54 hours. (Ryan West)

T Shotgun Wedding

Detail of a photo by Leonard Cervantes.

Quixotic Theatre/Carlos Bulosan Theatre
Alexandra Park Community Centre (105 Grange Court)
July 12, 8 p.m.
July 13, 8 p.m.
July 14, 8 p.m.
July 15, 8 p.m.
July 16, 8 p.m.
July 17, 8 p.m.

Coming-of-age crises are denim-decked and dancing the running man in Leonard Cervantes’ exuberant musical ode to mid-’90s teendom and the traditional Filipino debut party (think debutante ball with Bar Mitzvah cheesiness), with a hearty sprinkling of John Singleton references thrown in for good measure. With audience members doubling as party guests, ethnic in-jokes flow as easily as the talented ensemble’s heartfelt Boyz II Men renditions, and to equally endearing effect. Jodinand Aguillon’s spot-on set and costumes are like the skin on a perfectly cooked lechón. (Kelli Korducki)
Icons courtesy of Nicolas Mollet and the Map Icons Collection