Theatre critic Susan Down wades deep into the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, which runs until July 17 in venues across the city. Reviews include: Pitch Blond, Finally: An Epic Cycle, Mary’s Wedding, Man on My Face, The Godot Cycle, She Said What, and Limbo.
Venue: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace
Known for her roles as ditzy blondes, Hollywood actress Judy Holliday gave her best performance of all during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings. During her testimony she refused to name any communist sympathizers she may have known. University of Victoria grad Laura Anne Harris has created a gem of a play that offers a new angle on the McCarthy era communist witch hunts during the 1950s. Harris is also stellar in the title role as Holliday, the Brooklyn gal with the squeaky voice and the sound moral compass. Director Judith McDowell has polished the production until it shines, with carefully chosen props adding just the right amount of texture to the play. Don’t miss this fine production.
Finally: An Epic Cycle
Venue: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
Part romantic comedy and part fantasy (the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the Stanley Cup finals–how often does that happen?), Finally follows the heroic trials of Gen (playwright Sarah Cody) as she looks for lost hockey tickets, discovering some important truths about her life along the way. In her world, bicycle couriers, played by Cassie Muise and Derek Perks, are elevated to mythological winged messengers on critical missions. Light and funny, polished and professional, the show moves quickly through seamless scene changes thanks to tight direction from Joanne Williams. Playwright Cody, a University of Victoria theatre grad, has also surrounded herself with a strong cast including great character actors such as Perks and Luke Marty. She also ties the plot threads up neatly at the end, a feat that does not happen often enough in theatre. A real delight.
Venue: Factory Theatre Mainspace
Set in 1920 on the eve of Mary’s wedding, the play presents Mary’s memories of her first love, killed in World War I. Achingly beautiful , this swirling memory play by Ontario playwright Stephen Massicotte was first produced in 2002 to great acclaim. The Fringe production features excellent direction by Blair Haynes and fine performances by Blythe Haynes as Mary and Jesse Nerenberg as her beau, Charlie. Both are pitch perfect in their interpretation of the roles and enhanced by deceptively spare but effective set and lighting.
The Man on My Face
Venue: Studio 976
Newfoundland actor Torquil Colbo nails the straight man role as the Italian-Canadian barber, acting as a perfect foil for Stu (playwright Neil Cameron), a conflicted customer who wants more than a trim. He wants to know what it means to be a man. The play features some delightful tangents of repartee as well as a hilarious hallucinatory musical number detailing the hundred kinds of moustaches (from Undercover Brother to Jihad Jack). Cameron is an accomplished actor and truly funny writer who gets full marks for choosing an unusual setting – a real hair salon.
The Godot Cycle
Venue: Honest Ed’s Underground Parking Lot
Presenting a play over and over for 30 hours borders on the perverse, just like sword swallowing or being a Wipeout contestant. Samuel Beckett’s classic Waiting for Godot, with its absurdist dialogue and situations, is perfectly suited to this Iditerod of theatre. I dropped in three times over the course of the 30 hours, snacking on short segments of the play. Actors Eric Craig (Vladimir) and David Christo (Estragon) put on bravura performances in the demanding roles. Their support team of 75 actors, managers and volunteers are to be commended for pulling off this high wire act not on a stage but in Honest Ed’s underground parking garage of all places. Director Rona Waddington manages to make it all flow properly and compellingly on the plywood stage, and the concrete acoustics make for appropriately bleak echoes. That was just the warm-up however. On the final Fringe weekend they are back for 54 hours of Godot. The experience will make for impressive cocktail conversation (or bar bets) for years to come. You were on stage for how long?
She Said What Happened
Venue: Bathurst Street Theatre
From Tim Horton’s sipping hockey moms to rap singing bad-ass ballet dancers, the sketch troupe She Said What presented a high energy cocktail of comedy. While the three women (Marni Van Dyk, Emma Hunter and Meg Mack) all had solid comic pedigrees and delivered the material with aplomb, the writing missed the mark on several of the skits. The program overall seemed thinner and much shorter than expected.
Venue: The Solo Room
Andrew Bailey’s style of confessional monologue is appealing and well paced as he takes his own emotional pulse and shares the diagnosis with us. At times his confident presentation, ticklish humour and sharp insights were reminiscent of Fringe veteran TJ Dawe. But Bailey has chosen a big mystery-of-life theme which made the play so wide-angled it seemed out of focus. I look forward to seeing what he does next on a narrower subject.