Quarter Life Calamity

Quarter Life Calamity

Theatre critic Jory Brophy takes a look at a collection of plays from the 2009 Toronto Fringe Festival, which runs until July 12 in numerous venues across the city. Reviews include: Lockdown, Quarter Life Calamity, Icarus Redux, Weaverville Waltz, Things Base and Weill, Moving Along, Pen Pals, TransCanada ’69, Head First, and Bad Skater, Good Hands.

Lockdown
Rated: 6 out of 10
Venue 10: George Ignatieff Theatre

It’s a situation every parent fears: the announcement that the high school is locked down after a violent incident has occurred. In this new play, that’s just the beginning before the action flashes back to the events leading up to the lockdown. This is Degrassi High with an extra edge, featuring the nastiest trio of fist-fighting, double-crossing girls (Nikola Gorolova, Chrystelle Robinson and Gena Joella Sylvester) you’re likely to see outside of prison. Written and directed by award-winning Toronto film producer Frances-Anne Solomon, the play includes a strong ensemble cast of students including bad boy Vusani (played by rapper Lameck Williams).

The fight scenes were exceptionally well choreographed and the characters sketched carefully in this 90-minute production. That said, the play could still use a good pruning, eliminating awkward scene transitions that would move the action along more seamlessly. Character motivations and relationships were sometimes confusing, especially considering there were a dozen actors.

Unfortunately the play doesn’t make full use of the talented Jamaican actress Leonie Forbes as the principal. However, Michael Miller is the glue in the play, handling the dual and opposing roles as the teacher and also the newly-paroled older brother of one of the students.

Quarter Life Calamity
Rated: 7 out of 10
Venue 3: Theatre Passe Muraille

Finished university. Check. What next? That’s the question pondered by five friends as they gather at a bachelor party. Some like the groom (Kyle Villeneuve) who has a career as a data analyst, are moving into the next stage, while others (Nick Aiello) are stalled, still living at home, or worse, taking a sharp career tangent into porn (Roy Wol). The five friends (including the exceptionally rubber-faced Ryan Brownlee and the smooth Kyle Waterman) talk about everything from careers to the most unusual places they’ve had sex to what they would name their penises (if they could use movie titles). Written performed and produced by the collective, known as Lonely Cake, Quarter Life is laden with comedic calories with extra helpings of frenzied physical comedy. The sketches reach hysterical heights as high as a slice of meringue pie.

Icarus Redux
Rated: 9 out of 10
Venue 1: St. Vladimir’s Theatre

Recent theatre graduate Alex Fiddes is powerful as the hyperactive troubled Icarus (referred to as “The Boy”) while stage and screen veteran Jonathan Whittaker his father Daedalus in this In the hands of talented playwright Sean O’Neill, the myth becomes a platform for an examination of the troubled father-son relationship. Attention to detail is what makes this production fly. Tightly directed, the production is also stylishly presented – something you don’t always see at the Fringe – with monochromatic grey props and punctuated with touches of bright red to further give this a surreal air. A must-see.

Weaverville Waltz
Rated: 9 out of 10
Venue 1: St. Vladimir’s Theatre

Randy Rutherford’s tale of growing up in Northern California is filled with humour and pathos. A superb storyteller, at times he populates the stage with the young boy’s circle of characters from his loving mother, his cheerleader girlfriend to his macho stepfather. Like a carefully calibrated instrument, his stories (and songs) resonate with pitch-perfect timing as he delivers poignant tales of football games, schoolyard hard knocks and young love. Rutherford was a highlight of last year’s Toronto Fringe with his show, Singing at the Edge of the World, about his years as a folksinger before progressive hearing loss forced him to give up the career. This show is another hit.

Things Base and Weill
Rated: 8 out of 10
Venue 3: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

Mix the Bard’s best lines about lust and other baser human instincts with some Kurt Weill tunes and you have the whimsical cabaret from the six actors of Theatre Counterpoise. The production creatively and juxtaposes drama and song. For example, a scene from Midsummer Night’s Dream is followed by a Weill musical number, Mr Right (“tender as a flower, he’ll look like Tyrone Power”). Thoroughly professional , these Stratford Festival veterans and talented actors (including Stuart Constable, Christina Gordon, David Kirby, Eileen Smith and Matt and Siobhan Richardson) are triple threats, able not only to belt out a tune or a line but engage in a little swordplay as well. Delightful and humorous entertainment.

Moving Along
Rated: 7 out of 10
Venue 7: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

Edmonton comedian Chris Craddock is back again with what could be called stand-up comedy, except that he sits in what looks like an electric chair, operating the lights around him to punctuate the riffs on teen angst and other human trials. The title refers to the repeated phrase like a verbal ellipsis, that connects the monologues. A little disjointed perhaps, the fast-paced show is still full of laughs.

Pen Pals
Rated: 5 out of 10
Venue 2: Robert Gill Theatre

Funny actors and funny idea – two writing pals tired of endlessly pitching their latest screenplay ideas rehash their old material to make desperate plea to the network suits. But despite the promise, somehow the magic glue isn’t there and the production is a bit loose and sloppy. Andrew Patterson plays the slob of the duo, a writer who lives on cheese doodles and can spout MacGyver and Dr. Who trivia effortlessly. Holm Bradwell is the preppier marketing face of the pair. The two banter back and forth, pitching outrageous ideas (think The Producers) as they try to win the studios over. A nice twist at the end.

TransCanada ’69
Rated: 8 out of 10
Venue 9: Royal St/ George’s Auditorium

Singer songwriter Colin Godbout is clearly a brilliant guitarist as well as a musical interpreter. In his hands the guitar becomes a whole rhythm section. His interpretation of works by Leonard Cohen, Sylvia Tyson, Judi Collins and Neil Young were nuanced and beautiful, but this production would benefit by a little storytelling thrown in. The venue was wrong as well. I’d rather hear this performance while sitting in a comfortable chair in a cafe with a glass of wine at hand.

Head First
Rated: 8 out of 10
Venue 3: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

Exuberant and original, this dance performance by Femmes du Feu (Sabrina Pringle, Holly Treddenick, Andrea Ciacci, Lara Ebata, Natalie Fullerton, Jamie Holmes and Maria Flavia Litwin) features feats on aerial silks set to a background of hard rocking indie music from Feist to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This show is like Cirque du Soleil meets Superwoman. No self-indulgent dance here but fiery feminist GRRL power.

Bad Skater, Good Hands
Rated: 5 out of 10
Venue 3: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace

Award-winning writer Gregor Robinson has elements of something in this new play. But I’m not sure what they are. Michael Cooper as the main character, hockey player Tillman Grady, has the right amount of swagger and even has the right hair for this 1980s tale of love and betrayal . Veteran Canadian character actor Sean McCann as The Dutchman adds some weight to his role, but the young women in the play are out of their depth. The play hasn’t found its centre yet.

About The Author

has seen some extraordinary theatre at Fringe Festivals in Canada, Ireland and Scotland. She is a former daily newspaper arts reviewer who lives in Toronto.

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