Toronto Fringe Festival 2012 Reviews: Friday July 6
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Toronto Fringe Festival 2012 Reviews: Friday July 6

Our first five-star reviews as Fringe's opening weekend gets underway.

Actor Jeff Henderson performs in Monkeyman Production's Headshots and Healing Potions, one of the free "AlleyPlays" staged at the south end of the Honest Ed's alley. Photo by Corbin Smith.

As of last night, every show has now opened at the Toronto Fringe Festival, and Torontoist‘s Fringe team is dashing from venue to venue each day to see as many as possible. Here’s our latest batch of reviews, including our first five star picks.

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

Photo by Alex Nirta.

Thursday, July 5, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, July 6, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 8, 4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 5:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 5:45 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 5:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 11:30 p.m.

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)

Soup Can Theatre

Photo by Scarlet O'Neill.

Wednesday, July 4, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, July 6, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 8, 1:15 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 8:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 1 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 5:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m.

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.

Sunday, July 8, 8 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 9 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 9 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 8 p.m.

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

Saturday, July 7, 5:45 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 12:15 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 4 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 10:30 p.m.

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.

Sunday, July 8, 1 p.m.
Monday, July 9, 2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 6:45 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 4:45 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 1:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 9:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 15, 12:30 p.m.

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.

Sunday, July 8, 7:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 4 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 6 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 11 p.m.
Saturday, July 15, 5:45 p.m.

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)

Beefy Geek Productions

Photo by Aviva Armour‐Ostroff.

Tuesday, July 9, 2:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 11, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 12, 2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 14, 9:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 15, 3:30 p.m.

Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue)

Mousy Albertan librarian Esther (Amy Lee) receives an email notifying her that she has been nominated for an award in amateur pornography, thus setting off a chain of events in this new play by Fringe favourite Chris Craddock. Brought along on Esther’s odyssey are her evangelical Palin-obsessed mother (Lynne Griffin) and a mischievous sex advice columnist (Sarah Mennell), as well as Esther’s deceased sister (Heather Marie Annis) whose escape from Hell is a curious side-plot.

Craddock’s script is imbued with his usual up-tempo wit and Lee in particular shines as the hapless Esther, but unfortunately the themes of sexual awakening and religious oppression gets somewhat lost in its own jauntiness.

(Ryan West)

Mark Shyzer

Photo by Tanja Tiziana

Sunday, July 8, 1:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 11 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 7:45 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 1:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 14, 3:30 p.m.

Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St George Street)

Toronto actor/writer Mark Shyzer has had plenty of time to hone his one-man show since it premiered at Buddies in Bad Times in 2010, and though it may have been shortened for Fringe by about 20 minutes, it retains all of the biting humour that audiences and critics enjoyed the first time around. Shyzer establishes his four characters at the outset by undergoing a quick costume change for each, before simply relying on his voice and mannerisms to distinguish between the comic creations.

The structure and rhythm may be somewhat redundant after a while, but a slew of pithy one-liners keep things from ever becoming too stale. The writing is sharp and the performance nuanced enough that it would be a trial to decide on a favourite of the four roles he embodies, as they all possess their own hilarious idiosyncrasies. Though an attempt to weave all of the tangents together at the end feels like a bit of an afterthought, it barely detracts from the thrill of seeing a young talent like Shyzer come into his own.

(Kevin Scott)

Theatre Stendhal

Photo by Mark Basque.

Saturday, July 7, 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 10, 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 11, 2:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 13, 2:30 p.m.

Walmer Road Baptist Church (188 Lowther Avenue)

Theatre Stendahl’s CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST, a fourth wall–free play about three men who are convinced they are the second coming of Christ, gets off to an interesting, if somewhat aggressive, start. The play begins with a series of stern warnings from the head nurse at the fictional St. Rita’s Psychiatric Hospital, who then hands out visitors badges and guides us in to meet the patients. Unfortunately, that promising start is one of the highlights of a play that has a strong concept, some good performances, and a few compelling moments, but ultimately proves inconsistent.

Rather than a beginning, middle, and end, CHRISTCHRISTCHRIST has a lecture-like introduction, a long group therapy session, and a sudden, abrupt finish. The traumas that lead these men to think they were Jesus are hinted at, but never explored. They don’t talk about how they got there, or where they’re going. The Christs just argue with each other while the staff get more and more exasperated. Jamie Ebbs, Max Tepper, and Mark Johnson all deliver solid performances as the would-be saviours, and Susannah McKay, who plays the head nurse, has few lines but a strong presence. Regrettably, all those strong performances are wasted on script that doesn’t go anywhere, to the point that the confused audience actually had to be told when the play was over.

(Chris Dart)

CORRECTION: July 7, 2012, 4:05 PM This article originally contained incorrect showtimes for Antigone; those dates and times have now been amended, and the above schedule is correct.