NOBODY'S BUSINESS THEATRE BRINGS TWO SHOWS TO THE TORONTO FRINGE FOR THEIR TENTH ANNIVERSARY
The first time I saw Johnnie Walker perform Redheaded Stepchild was years ago and I still remember it intricately. I had just finished a run of my own solo show which was centered around bullying and I had generated a true appreciation for work that all at once makes audiences reminisce, laugh and re-assert their goodwill-attitudes. To write a meaningful story and to tell it for the sake of entertainment is a tricky thing. But, while watching Walker's piece it came to me: there is power in precision. Throughout the show, Walker steadily makes his way over a number of very precise quirks, details, magical mini-micro moments that contribute to much bigger elements which contribute to an even larger mountain of message-ry. As we wind through this tragic "queer coming-of-age story", we're dazzled by the precise imaginings of an angsty tween, his dress-up box and the unfortunately creative and kid-like ingenious crafts of his schoolyard bullies. Having toured Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, and New York City, Walker suggests that Redheaded Stepchild is their company's most successful show but it isn't the only show they're bringing to the Fringe this year. In an unconventional move and in celebration of their tenth anniversary, NBT also brings they're much-appreciated hit Amusement to the same venue.
TREVOR POELMAN POKES FUN AT FAMILY LIFE IN A PLEASANT ODE TO THE PEOPLE WE LOVE
Family comedies are their own kind of craft. They're a different breed from the family drama or, as I like to call them, "The Play About All The Things That Went Wrong On That One Day in That One House To Those Poor People" and they're a different breed from most other types of comedies (which I have no other name for and no reason to ridicule). Like the classic drama but unlike the classic comedy, most family comedies still center around an inciting dramatic event (or several). However, like classic comedies and unlike dramas, the family comedy tackles dark subject matter by asserting the personalities of quirky characters and exaggerating the absurdities of inherent situations. The formula is specific and easily disastrous but Trevor Poelman has absolutely found a way to keep it together while keeping it fresh and, together with his company, Books Are Boring, he's presenting his glorious comedic accomplishments to us in his current Fringe Festival entry, If It's Not Too Much Trouble.
A TRIUMPH OF HILARITY GOES A STOMPING LONG WAY
Sketch comedy is a whole new kind of writing. Pace must be perfectly edited, topics must be relevant, jokes must be performable. Of course, above and beyond that, the show must be performed with an adoring amount of charm, the kind that you cannot paint on with makeup or exercise with a flirtatious flip of the leg. It’s the kind of charm that only skilled comedians can muster up for the sake of outrageous hilarity. It’s the kind of charm that the folk at Good Samaritan share with us in their newest Toronto Fringe Entry, Summer Hot, Some Are Not.
The show is set up like a classic Sketch review: A sequence of short, punchy pieces with (some) live musical interludes and the odd musical number in the mix. The troupe includes the talents of Magdalena Barys, Filipe Dimas, Nicole Dunn, Christopher Martin and Simon McCamus. Each comedian, in this case, debuted some kind of solo number if not a dominance in a duo scene but the highlight, for me, were the full-group numbers. Once all five members were on stage, the amount of energy rushing towards me was unstoppable. In particular, their physical commitment to both the opening and closing numbers bookended the show with fortitude.
ADAM BAILEY MIXES HILARITY WITH SEVERITY FOR A TIME-TRAVELLED CABARET-ESQUE STORY OF THE OLD WEST
I know that comedy breaks tension. As a writer and also as a human being, I have not only a feeling but insurance that if I find the humour in something really uncomfortable, I can allow people to listen to me, no matter the topic. Adam Bailey obviously shares in this knowledge. His current entry in the Toronto Fringe The Assassination of Robert Ford: Dirty Little Coward strongly exhibits Bailey’s sense of humour, sense of timing and sensitivity to political universals. Didn’t see that last one coming in a play with Rob Ford’s name in the title? I don’t know if I did either but, thematically, this play is as strong as it is stylistically and as delightfully sensitive as baby's cranium.
Toronto Fringe Feature: Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near Post-Apocalyptic Future
Remember when we were young and the future seemed infinite? Some people do. Kathleen Greenfield (co-creator/director/stage manager), Ingrid Hansen (co creator/performer – Kitt) and Rod Peter Jr. (co creator/performer – Jane) do not recollect such fondness. From a young age, Hansen has been fascinated with the demise of our meager planet and, together with Greenfield and Peter, they've come to Toronto Fringe to indulge us in all their learnings. In a charming and dynamic stand-alone sequel to their Montreal Fringe smash success, Little Orange Man, SNAFU Dance Theatre brings us Kitt and Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near Post-Apocalyptic Future wherein we're led by two socially-awkward, environmentally engaged fourteen year olds through their pleasantly hilarious and never too informative presentation on survival training for our impending doom.
ARTICHOKE HEART COLLECTIVE BENDS TIMEPIECES INTO PUPPETS
Time is a really sad thing. The story of the old lady alone with time? That's a sad story. And it can be done to death (pardon the pun) if we're not careful about sentimentalizing age too much, too typically. How do we, as young writers, write for older characters without reducing them down to just their age and the stigma we've attached to their demographic? After watching Artichoke Heart Collective's current Fringe entry, Cirqular, I believe I've been taught a lesson or two. Though the agony and inertia of old age and the sprite confusion of young age is superbly demonstrated, it's done so with the use of out-of-this-world puppets that I have never seen anything like, a twist of enchantment, a powerful dose of delight that stirs the audience member into suddenly wanting to be a part of her life. Is it because she's adorable? Or is it because we have all of a sudden access into the details, the little magical happenings of her world. We see what she sees. The inventiveness of the production turns her imagination in on us and suddenly, she's not so tragic and scary-old-lady-like. Suddenly she's a hero. That's real writerly magic, as far as I can tell. That's actual creative intuition.
We caught up with Artichoke Heart and they told us their story in beautiful summary:
"Cirqular tells the story of twin sisters one of whom has, to the dismay of the other, discovered a way to cheat death by turning back the clock (literally) one full day, every day, on the eve of their fateful end. Over years of reliving the same day again and again, the sisters grew apart. One built an industrial empire around a clock manufacturing plant; the other retreated to the fringes to live in the simplicity of the natural world and try to find within its biology a way to put an end to her misery.
MARK CORREIA MAKES MAGIC HAPPEN TO RAISE $25,000 FOR PARKINSON'S RESEARCH
How do you know you're a great performer? Maybe oohs and aahs would give it away? Laughter? People yelling things like "that's insane" at you as you pull a thread out of your eye? Or jumping to their feet as you guess a participants card based on telepathic, concentrated mind-reading oddities? Would that make us believe you're a great performer?
A Little Horror At This Year's Fringe
Live horror shows rarely happen. Maybe a haunted house or a really terrible sibling or maybe a really terrible musical but actual live horror is a rarity. It takes an invested writer. It takes someone who loves to explore genre for the sake of experimentation, writerly girth and a pure fascination with how to bend reality subtly and artfully. It takes a writer like Jonathan Goldberg, hailing all the way from New York with his company Shelby Company to bring us an usual sixty minutes of ghoulish glee in his Toronto Fringe entry, Real Dead Ghosts.
DANIEL WISHES WILL BLOW YOU UNDER WITH MARIONETTES, SHADOW PUPPETS AND MUSICAL NUMBERS
I knew this would be an enthralling show. The sheer prospect of a Satan puppet and marionettes performing circus acts had me out to opening night instantly. What I witnessed, however, blew me to Hell and back in a way I didn't expect: My jaw dropped open, I smiled with childish glee and I laughed at every puppet-performed musical number like I really haven't laughed in a while. Just delight. I watched with dumb-delight as Daniel Wishes displayed his hand-made creations, each crafted with intense detail and love, each performing things I never knew puppets could do. The result is dizzying. It's like: puppets? DEVIL puppets? Devil puppets that SING, FLY, JUGGLE AND DO CIRCUS TRICKS while TELLING AN EPIC LOVE STORY WHAT IS HAPPENING???
This is what happened:
Daniel Wishes, crazy-creative-puppetry master has hailed all the way from Winnipeg to spectacular-ize a gentle (but NOT gentle) story about a heartbroken tight-rope walker. Actually, the story is quite tragic and dark (re: Devils) but what is most impressive and lovable about Wishes' work is how lightly he handles dark content. Turning darkness into light is one of our jobs as theatre creators and Wishes has mastered the craft. He pulls style and story from all kinds of places and the result is a really brilliantly crafted arrangement of the best of the best theatre components out there. The craft that goes into Wishes' show is seamless and rewarding. Hard to notice, sort of, because it's so dazzling, but I think I have him figured out.
SPUR-OF-THE-MOMENT-SHAKESPEARE TAKES A KNIFE TO AN OLD CLASSIC IN A GENDER-SWAPPED EXPLORATION OF POWER
There's more than one way to skin a play. Particularly, a Shakespearean play. How many times have you seen the same text done differently? Back up: I don't expect you to have seen a ton of Shakespeare and I don't mind displaying my own ignorance by publicly announcing that I'm much more familiar with and interested in new works rather than classical...but even I have been seduced by the prospect of a young theatre practitioner re-enlivening a classical work. I get why they do it: Because the greatest love story ever told will always be the greatest love story ever told. I accept that. But really great storytellers and artists bring something new to the piece, a new score, dance number, context, fairy princess, masturbation scene...WHATEVER...new things for better or for worse to revive the story. Really great artists resuscitate the voice and the breathe of the dying-old-man-texts of before-your-time Europe by twisting them just a little. Such an artist is Victoria Urquhart.