Fringe Festival time is here again, and while I’m not producing a show this year, I am happy to get to experience the fest as a patron. I’ve toured the Fringe circuit every year since 2007, so I’ve got a good idea of how to spot the Fringe shows that are worth catching.
My first two recommendations are clients of mine. I’m handling the PR for both Jeff Leard’s The Show Must Go On (George Ignatieff Theatre) and Lorenzo Pagnotta’s Making Love With Espresso (Robert Gill Theatre).
In The Show Must Go On, Leard recounts his hilarious exploits as an actor in a children’s theatre company touring to remote schools in Northern BC. Leard’s a master of impressions, physical comedy, and captivating storytelling. The show has already earned rave reviews in London and Ottawa, and Leard was last seen in Toronto with his first solo show, Gametes & Gonads, which went on to tour across Canada. I’m also credited as dramaturg on The Show Must Go On, so fans of my writing/plotting have an extra reason to check it out.
In Making Love With Espresso, Lorenzo Pagnotta makes his stage debut with a solo show that takes a unique look at coming out and dating through the lens of an Italian boy growing up on the Canadian prairies. Pagnotta’s going to make a big splash with his insights into culture and community and his hilarious and poignant character work.
Next, I’m going through the Fringe Program by Venue, starting at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace, where Battle of the Bastards caught my eye. That’s just a great title, and it promises swordfighting and a skewering of King Lear – presumably from the perspective of one of my favourite Shakespearean characters, Edmund the Bastard.
Sticking with Shakespeare, I’m also curious about Death Married My Daughter, which sounds like a Theatre Smith-Gilmour show under another name with Michele Smith and Nina Gilmour teaming up with Dayna Bounastella to tell a tale about Ophelia and Desdemona coming back from the dead to seek revenge. I really enjoyed TSG’s As I Lay Dying earlier this year, so this looks like a safe bet.
If I have time, I’ll probably check out Radio: 30 and Stop Kiss there as well. Radio’s a remount of a past Fringe hit, and Stop Kiss is a new production of a hit play from New York. I tend to avoid remounts and published works at the Fringe out of a feeling of principle that I can’t really articulate because I know it doesn’t make much sense.
In the Tarragon Extra Space, I highly recommend Andrew Bailey’s solo show, The Adversary. Bailey’s been touring for years and is best known for Limbo and Putz, but I saw this show in Edmonton last year and personally think it’s his best. It’s the true tale of his work as a custodian at an inner city church whose lawn is frequently populated by homeless youth and drug users. The crux of the show comes through the tentative relationships Bailey forms with the transient community on his doorstep and the agonizing and terrifying decisions he must make when violence risks breaking out.
The annual WTF Award for Fringe Program Blurbs has to go to The Taliban Don’t Like My Knickers. It contains a warning that the production was made by dyslexics, which is bafflingly tantalizing (how does dyslexia manifest in theatre?). It also opens with this sentence: “Just like Taliban soldiers, journalists feel it is their God-given duty to search out the ‘one truth’.” Oh god, there’s also a serious warning about audience participation.
The Truth About Comets features Ingrid Hansen, whose solo show Little Orange Man I regretted missing last year but which has garnered really good reviews.
Tarragon’s Solo Room features Threads, by Tonya Jone Miller. If I recall correctly, it’s a story about Miller’s mother’s adventures in Vietnam during the war. This show played to raves in Winnipeg and Edmonton, but I missed it both times. Hoping to catch it now.
Lucas Brooks’ solo show VGL 5’4” Top played to good reviews at the Frigid Festival when I was there, but again, I missed it. Hoping to catch it now. It’s also not the only show about gay online dating at the Fringe this year….
…It’s joined by MSM [men seeking men], playing at the Randolph Theatre. lemonTree creations has created a dance piece inspired by actual online cruising transcripts. I’m not entirely sold on the concept, (and dance shows aren’t really my cup of tea) but I’m curious how they’ve put this together. It’s high on my list.
Around the corner at the Annex Theatre, I’ll be catching Laura Anne Harris’ The Homemaker (look under Liza Live! in the program). Harris had a big hit with Pitch Blond, which played at Next Stage last year. Full disclosure: I did the printing for Harris’ flyers for this show, but don’t have any other financial interest in it.
The Very Very Girl looks intriguing: a woman’s journey from a strict Sikh upbringing to strip clubs across Canada. With the gorgeous pictures Julie Brar has supplied, I’d be surprised if her pics don’t end up in every newspaper’s coverage of the fest building up buzz for the show.
Back to the George Ignatieff, there’s a bunch of Fringe stalwarts. John Grady’s been successful with Fear Factor: Canine Edition for years, although I’ve yet to see it (we were always at the same time in Vancouver last year, I think). Jem Rolls is back with his performance poetry. And crazy talented sketch duo Peter n’ Chris are back with Peter n’ Chris Explore Their Bodies. These guys are always big hits, although I don’t know if they’ve sold out a 180-seat theatre in Toronto before. Still, I’d recommend getting your tickets early.
Down the street at St. Vlad’s I’m really looking forward to Monster Theatre’s Assassinating Thomson, by Bruce Horak. Monster Theatre’s been doing fantastic comic historical plays for a decade now (Jesus Christ: The Lost Years, The Seven Lives of Louis Riel, The Shakespeare Show, Freud vs. His Ego) and Horak created the touching bouffon show This Is Cancer. Horak, who is legally blind, paints a portrait every show while uncovering the life and mysterious death of Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson.
Isaac Kessler and Ken Hall form the 2-man no-show sketch troupe, playing at Helen Gardiner. Haven’t seen them in a while, but they’re pretty hilarious.
The only dance show that really caught my eye was O(h), which opens with the line “If you’re tired of modern dance that takes itself way too seriously, O(h) is perfect for you.”
And Steven Gallagher is back with Stealing Sam, his first solo show, about approaching “gay middle age.” I loved Craplicker in 2010. His work was last on stage at the Next Stage Festival with Memorial.
A Young Lady’s Guide to Vivisection just has one of those titles that sounds intriguing. Although it looks suspiciously like a Queen’s Drama production, the company’s artistic director is actually a fourth-year student at Brock. Go figure.
Back to the Robert Gill, where I also recommend Tim Murphy’s Kuwaiti Moonshine. The show got great reviews in Winnipeg and Edmonton last year, although I was unable to catch it. The story of bootlegging, the Gulf War, regret, love, and hope was inspired by Murphy’s work teaching in Kuwait. Full Disclosure: I printed the shared Kuwaiti Moonshine and Fear Factor posters but have no further financial interest in the shows.
I’d also recommend Keir Cutler’s Teaching Hamlet, the latest in his Teaching Shakespeare series, although not quite a continuation. Here, Cutler’s character hires a down-on-his-luck actor to help lead a cause challenging Shakespeare’s authorship. Saw it last year in Winnipeg, and the verbal sparring between Cutler and Brett Watson was a joy to watch.
Over at TPM, you can catch the New Play Contest Winner The Oak Room – the new play contest winner usually sells out quickly so get your tickets early.
At the Factory, I’m looking forward to Adventure!, Matt Gorman’s new play that promises “an explosion of escapism” in a fantasy land with squires and knights. I always enjoy Gorman’s work so this should be fun. Full disclosure: I handled publicity for the last two shows Gorman’s Cart/Horse Theatre produced, but I have no involvement whatsoever in this show.
I also recommend Mike Delamont’s God Is A Scottish Drag Queen. Both Now and Xtra have classified this as queer theatre in their previews, which probably stems from the misleading title. The show is a stand up routine where Delamont riffs as God, who happens to be a Scottish man in a dress for no apparent reason other than the absurdity. But it’s a hilarious show and Delamont’s a great performer.
Now the site-specifics! Morro and Jasp are back with Go Bake Yourself, which they did at Next Stage and at Cahoots last year. While I’m glad for the opportunity to see this (I missed before), I’m really confused why Fringe allowed this in its site-specific category, since the show has been produced in a full production – which won a Dora – elsewhere, which ought to be proof that it’s not “site-specific”
Over at Glad Day Bookshop, Spencer Charles Smith and Sky Gilbert have the only show that’s ever included the phrase “inspired by the gender performance theories of Judith Butler” in its promotional materials, Spoon. Sounds fun.
Alex Eddington’s show Yarn is over at Majlis Multidisciplinary Arts and sounds interesting. The Edmonton Journal gave it four stars. Full disclosure: I also did the flyer printing for this one.
Finally, Theatre Brouhaha is back with We Are The Bomb, which is about time, since it’s been four whole months since Kat Sandler last debuted a new play of hers. Sandler’s last Fringe show won the play contest award and sold out the George Ignatieff and this venue’s much smaller, so expect tickets to go very fast.
And that’s it! Thirty shows on my “try to see list” plus three I’ve already seen and recommend. I’ll try and keep a running tally of how many shows I end up seeing on my Twitter feed @robsalerno.