Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Feature - Rafael Antonio Renderos

Originally from Saskatoon, SK, Rafael Antonio Renderos attended the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, BC where he studied musical theatre. During a stint back in Saskatoon, Rafael produced and starred in two shows under indie banner We Heart Heartbeats Productions: the self-written "Entropy Reigns", and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (co-produced by Saskatoon Pride as an official event), Rafael then made the move to Toronto to fully pursue a writing career. 

Since then, Rafael is proud to have collaborated on the original iteration of pre-school web series "Miss Persona and the Marvelous Melodies" (now available on, and written a short film "Atop Coat Mountain" (also serving as director and costume designer), which premiered at the Sudden Impulse Film Festival and is now available online. 

Rafael is proud to be a part of the Toronto Fringe thanks to the TD Culturally Diverse Artists Program. He plans to shoot a second, currently untitled short film, in the Fall. A revised version of "Salvador" will be given a reading in Vancouver at The Frank Theatre's Clean Sheets event, part of the Queer Arts Festival

This isn’t the kind of thing you’re supposed to admit, but when I applied for the Toronto Fringe and TD’s Culturally Diverse Artists Program, I had not a thing prepared. Not a glimmer, not a spark. Applying was a challenge to myself: if the impossible happens, you’ll figure it out, you’ll make it work, you’ll write up a storm and brilliance shall be yours. La-di-da. I jumped on a plane content in the knowledge that the challenge need never be met.

It was my last day in El Salvador when the impossible actually happened.

A family trip: first time we’d all ventured 'home' together and my first time back in 20 years. Eight versus 28 - completely different experiences. Especially since in those intervening years I had come out as a gay man. To my parents in grade seven, my friends in high school, most of my extended family shortly thereafter. So, I’d become accustomed to my sexuality and found few reasons to hide it except on only the rarest of occasions. And never because it felt unsafe to reveal it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review (Toronto) Bitch Salad

Bitch Salad
by Lauren Mitchell
Pride is always a great, albeit kind of insane time in Toronto, and this year is in no way the exception, as Toronto is the host of World Pride. When I got out of Wellesley subway station Friday evening, I am not really sure what I was expecting, but I did have to stop, look around and say “holy shit” to no one in particular. The village was PACKED, and with good reason, something was happening in every direction I managed to look in. This was pretty apt foreshadowing for what Bitch Salad, the brainchild of Andrew Johnston, was going to be like. The comedy show, which promotes Queer and female performers, started in 2007, and while it used to run more frequently, it does always come back for Pride. I showed up to Buddies in Bad Times just before 8pm, and there was a line down the street of people who had not even purchased tickets, and last I heard the show was sold out. People love the show, and with good reason, Johnston always puts forth a pretty stacked lineup (although I might argue too stacked, as the show clocked in at over three hours, a little long for my tastes). That being said, the main space at Buddies was packed, standing room only, and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves through the whole show. 

Review (Vancouver/Theatre) The Tempest

Art direction lets dramatic comedy brim with magic
Jennifer Lines is captivating as the sprite Ariel

by Chris Lane

One of Shakespeare’s most fantastical comedies is brought to life this summer at Bard on the Beach, in a performance sparkling with magic, along with plenty of humour and passion. Director Meg Roe, re-imagining the script after helming the same production at Bard in 2008, brings the audience under her spell with an immersive experience.

The play begins with a powerful tempest that appears to wreck a ship and leave all aboard to perish. But it is no normal storm, as it was created by a magician, Prospero, who lives with his daughter, Miranda, on an isolated island. He explains to her that he was once Duke of Milan, but was sent out to sea by his usurping brother, aided by the King of Naples – both of whom are trapped in Prospero’s storm. He allows them, and the others on the ship, to wash up on land – at his mercy.

Prospero has carefully laid out a plan for vengeance against those who sent him out to sea without even expecting him to survive. And yet once they arrive, they are the first humans he has met in years, and the most people his daughter has ever seen all at once. What remains to be seen is how much Prospero has changed in his time isolated on the island, and what his past still means to him.

His plan is largely carried out by a sprite, Ariel, who is in his service to repay him for rescuing her tortured soul. Jennifer Lines is delightful to watch as Ariel, giving a powerfully physical performance as she flits around the stage as the jittery and fair-natured sprite. She adds loads of energy and vivacity to every scene she’s in, which, fortunately for the audience, is quite a lot of scenes. While her character essentially plays second fiddle to Prospero (Allan Morgan), Lines’s very memorable performance makes Ariel the true star of the show.

Review (Toronto/Theatre) Company

                                                           (photo by Riyad Mustapha)

The People Aren’t Always Right, But It Is Still Good.
Despite a few bumps, Theatre20’s Company manages to find new meaning in an old story
by Stuart Munro

Directed by Gary Griffin for Theatre 20, Toronto’s (thankfully still kicking) new musical theatre company, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s classic musical Company follows Bobby, his three girlfriends, and his five couples of friends who all seem to be asking the same question: “Why aren’t you married, Robert?” The show won a handful of Tony Awards in 1970, and cemented Sondheim as a household name in American Musical Theatre.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first, because there isn’t much of it. The production has had a series of setbacks, including the loss of director Griffin two weeks into rehearsal due to injury (and commitments in Stratford). Directorial duties were taken over by Theatre 20 founder Adam Brazier. Whether because of this, or because it was on purpose, the pacing for the entire first act is too fast. Too often I found myself struggling to keep up with lyrics, actors seemed out of breath keeping up with the choreography, and too many important scenes couldn’t take the time to breathe that they needed. Admittedly, nothing was going horribly wrong, but nothing was going brilliantly well either – the solid writing was mostly keeping the boat floating. (And there was also a nice trope with Bobby and a camera that got lost after the second scene.) Certain things worked well in this first half. Brent Carver proved just what a national treasure he still is with his interpretation of “Sorry-Grateful” (in fact, I think he may be the man the song was waiting for to make it a real moment in the show). While, in general, Griffin’s naturalistic approach with the actors worked well, there were a few (David Keely, Nora McLellan and Nia Vardalos in particular) who had just a little too much of the musical theatre shtick about them. As Bobby, Dan Chameroy seemed to be doing the part well, but nothing about it was extraordinary.  The natural acoustic of the Berkeley Theatre, without microphones,  made some performers difficult to hear, and while the ensemble always sounded wonderful, they always seemed to be singing as loudly as possible. It wasn’t a bad sound, but a little more colour would’ve been nice.

However all this turned around during the final scene of Act I in which Carly Street delivered a true star turn with her rendition of “Getting Married Today.” Her mastery of the patter lyrics combined with a clearly thought-out character made this moment unforgettable. Her interaction with Jeff Lillico in the dialogue immediately following found that perfect balance between comedy and pathos, drama and desire that this show so badly needs to work. From the brilliant opening of Act II, solidly supported by Marc Kimelman’s wonderful choreography, the rest of the evening flowed wonderfully smoothly. I was very impressed with Marisa McIntyre’s quite different take on the usually-flighty April, and Louise Pitre’s Joanne was the perfect combination of sass, snark and joy. Not only is her “The Ladies Who Lunch” destined to be remembered for years to come, but her final conversation with our protagonist sets his character on a wonderful journey for “Being Alive.” One I didn’t expect.

You see, the last few times I’ve watched Company on video (whether it be the Raúl Esparza or Neil Patrick Harris version) I’ve gotten angry with it. Who was Bobby to tell me that the only way for me to “be alive” was to have “somebody to hold me too close, someone to hurt me too deep”?  I was beginning to wonder if the sentiment of the show was too far removed from the here and now to really resonate.

Full disclosure here – I’m a fella in my early-thirties, purposely single, who has spent the better part of the last four years eschewing relationships to pursue some academic goals, which have taken most of my time and energy. It may have cost me some friendships – it has certainly cost me some relationships. And by the time I decided I was probably going to pursue grad school outside of the country (which is now becoming a reality), the idea of a relationship seemed like the last thing I needed. And that was fine by me. So I figured me and Bobby might not have much in common anymore.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find in Dan Chameroy a Bobby I can absolutely relate with. Who’s willfully spent most of his life on the outside looking in, who’s tired of it, but who doesn’t equate being single with being alone. I imagine this Bobby going out into the world, on his own, but for once fully engaged with it and the people around him.

And maybe that how Bobby’s been seen for many people for many years. But for me, it was entirely new and refreshing. And that’s what’s so wonderful about good art – it defies simplicity and welcomes multiple interpretations. By no means is this Company groundbreaking, but it’s a solid and fresh approach to a well-worn classic. I’m so thrilled that my last review for CharPo was such a fresh look at a piece I know so well.

creating a/broad June 28, 2014

This Shit Is Just Starting
by Cameryn Moore

This tour isn’t over. It isn’t even half over. The halfway mark—I calculated it last week, in a brief but productive fit of homesickness—is July 1, and that’s just for my time in the UK. When I get back to Montreal, I will have a week of rest, and then it’s back on the road for another three months.

And then I’m planning more shows for April and May, and contemplating the merits of developing some fan base in the UK and expanding into northern Europe and…

… this shit is just starting.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review (Ottawa) The Devil's Circus (Fringe)

An Odd Love Story in a Cabaret
by Jim Murchison

The Devils Circus is a puppet show that combines marionettes, Japanese Bunraku inspired puppetry, shadow puppetry and some devilish music.

Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanei are the puppeteers. In the classic demon gets girl, demon loses girl it is as much cabaret as circus as Satan is Ed Sullivan to trick puppets inspired by Elvis, Eartha Kitt,  Mick Jagger and more. Some of the best storytelling occurred during the Shadow puppetry without any words at all.

Review: (Ottawa) Deranged Dating (Fringe)

Finding a Mate on Internet
by Sonia Blanchette

Recollecting some of my childhood memories, I can tell you that we (my family) had outings when the weather was bad. The logic behind this was if it was rainy, snowy and/or generally yucky, then nobody would be out and about. No headaches with line-ups, admissions, parking, and so on. I used that theory this evening to attend Deranged Dating and boy, was I in for a surprise. Having departed from home, with what I thought was a lot of time to kill, I could not find a parking spot to save my life, and once I found the venue (Avant Garde) with minutes to spare, the place was packed. I was lucky to score a bar stool. So I would have to say that this is where it was at!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: (Ottawa) Glengarry Glen Ross

Sleaze of The Deal
by Jim Murchison 

The Acting Company has mounted the classic play of the high pressure world of sales and salesmanship by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross. The nice thing about being a new company with old contacts is that you can put together a cast of veteran favourites and do the stuff you love and it’s clear that the cast relishes this material.

Review (Ottawa) Who Killed Gertrude Crump (Fringe)

The Puppets are Scariest Up Close
by Robyn Lester

Puppets! Puppets, puppets, puppets! If that hasn’t sold you, I guess I should talk about the show. Who Killed Gertrude Crump is a humorous murder mystery told through –you guessed it – puppets! And the puppeteer? Well, it’s none other than Agatha Christie (Tara Travis), posthumously telling the one mystery she never published.  

Review: (Toronto) MSM

                                                       (photo by Alejandro Santiago)

MSM A Great Achievement
by Beat Rice

Premiering last summer at the Toronto Fringe, MSM has been remounted into a full production at the Winchester Street Theatre for World Pride 2014. The show is a physical exploration of the world of online interactions of Gay men. Behind the profile pictures and abbreviated instant message jargon, there is desperation, desire, adventure and misadventure.

This brave project, conceived by Indrit Kasapi has eight males in the cast, accompanied by DJ John Caffery who mixes some incredible beats. The never-ending house music provides a pulsating energy that also underscores some text: through the piece we hear actual profiles and chats presented as monologues and dialogue.  These things are always more hilarious read aloud. Having an online presence often encourages one to be extremely straightforward about their wants and needs. The ‘forum’ provides one less barrier in meeting new people, and the context for chatting is predetermined as soon as you log in. Having a Username provides anonymity and mystery, which can double as a turn on and also something to hide behind.

Review: (Ottawa) Paco P. Put To Sleep (Fringe)

by Robyn Lester

I’m not sure what to say about Paco P. Put to Sleep. It was certainly interesting. But I’m still not sure if I liked it. I think I did. I laughed. But I also got really irritated with all the characters. Is that normal? All I know for sure is that by the end, I really wanted ice cream. 

Written by Martin Dockery, this play is about a friend who falls asleep, the five people who are left to wake him, and a world that is on fire. Sound strange? Well, it is. After Paco falls asleep on the couch, his friends have a brief moment of concern before getting annoyingly sidetracked by inconsequential details like, is it going to rain?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

First-Person - Leah Simone Bowen

Leah-Simone Bowen has worked across Canada as an improviser, playwright, director and arts administrator. She currently sits on the advisory boards for STAF, the Toronto Arts Council theatre committee and the PACT cultural diversity committee.  She is originally from Spruce Grove, Alberta.

The Gift of an Audience
by Leah Simone Bowen

When I first started playwrighting it was a joy. I would act out all the characters and imagine in my head, the audience reaction. In my head, (I wrote my first play when I was 12 and it was pretty terrible) the audience reaction was a mixture of incredulity at my enormous talent and ecstasy. Generally, the pretend standing ovation lasted hours.

By the time I got into University, my fake audience was growing weary of my writing and I realized that maybe it was time to show my work to a living breathing audience.  Sitting in the darkness on that first night in front of a real audience was terrifying.  “Is this terrible?”  “Will it make any sense?” “Oh my god! Why did I agree to do this?” were phrases that played in my head on repeat.

I had my answer as soon as the first words left the actors' mouths. Each phrase was tested and then answered by silence, laughter or tears. That’s how I care to remember it anyway. It is possible some of that writing may have been answered by snoring but nevertheless I had all the answers I was looking for.  

Every audience is a gift to a playwright.  They slice through boredom by walking out, tragedy by crying out and plays can meld and change from boos, sighs and silence. 

No critic can litmus test your work like a whole group of people united in laughter can. Too bad audience reaction can’t show up in Google searches.

This weekend, along with 6 other playwrights, I will take the risk and fling my thoughts out to a willing audience at the Cahoots LIFT OFF! Festival.  A festival intended to be for new, untested work, it is the opportunity to throw an idea into darkness and hear for better or worse if anything makes sense. I will be reading something new, really new, just an idea really.  I know those old phrases like 'Is this any good?'will come hurdling out again. Luckily for me, I’m going find out.

Review: (Ottawa) First Words (Fringe)

by Robyn Lester

I kicked off my 2014 Ottawa Fringe experience with Natalie Joy Quesnel’s solo show, First Words.

Inspired by true events, First Words tells the story of Me, the one child who, while still in utero, survived a fire that killed her five older siblings. Heart-broken, Me’s mother vowed to replace each child she lost, giving them the same names as the ones who were killed. Starting with Me.

But this play wasn’t focused on re-hashing past tragic events. Rather, it was a story documenting and exploring the protagonist’s own complicated emotions. The guilt she felt for not feeling guilty. The frustration of having a name that served as a constant reminder of the child who should have lived. The child she was replacing. The play addressed the issue of identity and self-discovery in a way that was relatable, even if the circumstances were not.

Review: (Ottawa) Great Battles in History (Fringe)

A one-man musical comedy about historical military battles?
by Robyn Lester

Going in, I had no idea what to expect. A one-man musical comedy about historical military battles? All right. I’ll give it a go.

And am I glad I did!

Mark Shyzer’s Great Battles in History was absolutely hilarious, yet complex and multi-layered enough that I left feeling like I just saw something really special. There’s always that one play at Fringe that makes me want to hop inside the brain of the writer. This year it was Great Battles in History.

Simply stated, it’s a not-so-musical comedy about a production gone terribly wrong and the one man left to pick up all the pieces. Like war itself this play was chaotic, non-linear, and confusing. In a good way, I assure you. Unlike war, it was laugh-out-loud funny and had a ukulele.

The acting was delightful, the humour was right up my alley, and the use of little figurines was just…well, c’mon!  Who doesn’t want to see a play that uses little plastic made in China toys as characters?   

So come see Great Battles in History to hear all about the musical you could have seen if things went right. What? That doesn’t make sense? Yeah, well it will when you see it. So see it! It’s a lot of fun, and will leave you wondering what the hell you just watched. Again, in a good way!

Review: (Ottawa) 2 Ruby Knockers 1 Jaded Dick (Fringe)

Mystery Solved
by Jim Murchison

St Paul's Eastern United Church is an odd venue for a play that searches for clues in the dark murky underworld peppered with slick sleazy criminals, 1 hot dame and 1 very jaded private eye, Dirk Darrow.

Tim Motley as Dirk doesn't attempt to play all of the characters to set the table for this tale of intrigue. Instead he assaults the audience with 1 liners, distracts them with predictions, a wonderful card trick and a final reveal that is very impressive.

Review: (Ottawa) Rachel and Zoe (Fringe)

...Those Are Some Of The Questions...

by Sonia Blanchette

How is it that these two are BFFs? You would think that at the core, they would loathe one another considering their such diverse lifestyles. Not so. 

Both Zoe and Rachel are besties. This is made clear by their loving, non-judgmental acceptance of each other. Their conversations about happiness, sexuality and self identity are important and heartfelt. Could their choice of "red, white or whatever you have" have weakened inhibitions and loosened lips have anything to do with it? If so, I say bottoms up! 

There continue to be, as much as my generation would choose to ignore and disagree, taboos surrounding sex and relationships. e.g., what happens (or doesn't happen) in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom. To fake or not to fake? To settle or not to settle? ... those are some of the questions. 

These actresses are formidable. I don't know if they are BFFs in real life. I would hate to think that they are mortal enemies as their interaction/connection with one another could not have been more real and sincere. And the audience feels it.

Last but not least, the Don Juan, the Jason, the Mark, the guy of long ago, the best never forgotten lay who sometimes appears in my Harlequin dreams... all played by Chris Wyllie. Dang! Mothers, lock up your daughters! If it wasn't for him, the play wouldn't have quite satisfied as it did. His performance is quite, ummmmmm, solid.   

Is it hot in here?

June 19 - 29

Review: (Ottawa) Love + Hate (Fringe)

PepTides Play It Up

by Jim Murchison

Bass player Andrew Burns, drummer Alex Wickham, keyboardist Scott Irving, guitarist David Campbell with vocalists Claude Marquis, Olexandra Prudnicky, DeeDee Butters, Rebecca Noelle and Dale Waterman perform Love and Hate at the Mercury Lounge as part of the Fringe Festival. If the individual names don’t inform you of the show’s quality, would it make a difference if I said The PepTides. Many people in Ottawa and indeed Canada know that name means that you are going to be seduced by lush, sexy harmonies and jazzy instrumental support that is so intoxicating that you want to take a bath in it as much as listen to it.
Love and Hate explores hate and negativity until a helpful optometrist prescribes the right glasses and then the story jolts over to love, goes through the drudgery of corporate employment, drugs as therapy, the ecstasy of love, the bitter solitude of lost love and back again. 
It is a theatrical device to weave some delicious stage shenanigans by the players with the band’s seductive sound that has been compared with Manhattan Transfer and the B-52’s, but is pure PepTides. This show will delight their tried and true fans and create new ones …. If they’re able to get in.

After Dark, June 24, 2014

Why We're Changing
CharPo will not be the same in the autumn
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
[This article has been modified]

As of September 1 September 10, CharPo will be covering dance and opera exclusively.

Now, as requested on Facebook and Twitter, the whys.

1) CharPo is at that moment of success where the only place to go is up. The problem is that it would require expansion. In an explosion of circumstances, expansion has become virtually impossible: we are sad to be losing our Editor in Chief in Toronto, Émilie Charlebois, and her associate editor, Dave Ross, who for three years have been working almost thankless jobs. Meanhwhile, Estelle Rosen, our National Editor in Chief and I have been putting in 40 hours of volunteer work per week (which jump to 50 and 60 hours during Fringe season). We cannot do more work. Recruiting, for an all-volunteer organization, is almost a full time job and we cannot put in the time simply because it does not exist.

2) So we examined the lay of the land. Despite the cutbacks at newspapers across the country (and their disappearance in some cities) theatre has managed to carve itself a media presence. There are blogs in virtually every city in the country with honest-to-goodness theatre writers of all sorts (from populist to academic) and they are, often, doing a job that CharPo aspires to. Moreover, after four years of desperate attempts CharPo has never been able to find writers in Edmonton and Halifax which makes a lie of claims to national coverage. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: (Ottawa) A Mind Full of Dopamine (Fringe)


by Jim Murchison
Twitter @JimMurchison

Rory Ledbetter is certainly among the most engaging and upbeat performers at this year’s Fringe. Very often a play that is about addiction shows people at their very bottom robbed of their dignity and generally brings the audience so down that they shut themselves off before they learn anything about it.

Ledbetter takes you through the rite of passage into manhood that gambling is and the brain induced chemical high, that surge of dopamine. It is the same high that thrill seekers who bungee jump or take a ride on a roller coaster feel. It is appropriate because at the crest of every peak there is a descent.

The approach is so successful because Rory is so completely honest and heartfelt that the audience quite literally gasps and cries, “Oh no.” when they feel he is on the wrong path.

By choosing not to preach and by exploring every sinew and nerve, and exposing his heart and soul he ultimately makes the show about perseverance and recovery and reaches into the hearts of the audience as well. This is an incredibly entertaining show and an important one as well. By the way with a last name like Ledbetter you might imagine he plays harmonica and you’d be right.

Review: (Ottawa) Can't Argue With Pussy (Fringe)


by Jim Murchison

It was an odd time to see two stand up comediennes: 1:00 pm Sunday. But 10 brave souls went to see Can’t Argue with Pussy and found out why. I even got to do a cameo. I had to play an asshole which I was told I did quite effectively proving that casting against type is not always a bad thing.

The whole premise of the play is really to give two women stand up comedians an opportunity to do material that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do at the male operated venues. You might think that in the world of stand up that it is no holds barred but apparently not. 

Rebecca Reeds and Jennifer Hayward don’t pull any punches. I don’t think I need put in a disclaimer that this is adult themed humour as the title is pretty much a give away. It was pretty well received which is not always the case with deprecating jokes of all varieties with a small crowd in attendance, but this group wasn’t overly reserved so a lot of the material hit the mark. 

Thankfully, the rest of the run are all evening shows with the Thursday one being at 11:00 pm and the larger house should definitely be a boon to a show that deserves and should have a larger audience. Don’t take it too seriously or be offended by a little bit of raunchiness and you should have a good time.  

Review: (Ottawa) Chase & Stacey's Joyride (Fringe)

Fasten Your Seat Belts

by Jim Murchison
Twitter @JimMurchison

Chase Padgett returns this year with his new playmate Stacey Hallal. The word play was never more appropriate to describe what performers do. This is a play that is all about playing. Hallal and Padgett are skilled improvisers and the structure of Joyride provides a framework that allows them to know their final destination with a map that has some holes in it. In fact the audience with a word provides the critical info on where the start point of the Joyride is and that substantially changes where Chase and Stacey are from night to night.

Every audience will get Padgett's brilliant musical overlays, Hallal's wildly exuberant search for contact with the other side and the duo's hilarious attempt at nasty sex without naughty words, which if it were dance would be a pas de dirt.

For laughs Joyride is a sure bet and because of the improvisational aspect it will never be the same twice. The chemistry they have with each other is equally as potent as the connection they have with the audience.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: (Ottawa) Oceans Apart (Fringe)

About Coming Home

by Jim Murchison

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something that we are becoming increasingly conscious of. In my parent's day it was likely a sign of weakness to even hint that you needed help. Keep a stiff upper lip, don't let them see you cry are still probably good pieces of advice in certain moments when you need focus to get you through, but afterwards when the dust settles and the things that you have seen and done haunt you what do you do about it?

Author Alain G Chauvin plays Cpl Patrick McLachlin, a young man that has to deal with fears and worries of his family and the more devastating  smiles and silence. Daniel Groleau Landry plays friend Lt Joe Braddock who suffers the physical trauma and Rebecca Laviolette is the woman just trying to be supportive.

You can't cover the entire spectrum of pain and healing that one goes through after being in circumstances that the men and women in Afghanistan and other war zones endure. Patrick it appears just needs to keep moving and we go along for the ride experiencing his anger and anguish. With all the fun and silliness that is available  Fringe offers something a little more serious to sink your teeth into.

The cast is honest and sincere. This would be a show that could turn into a longer play as there is so much to explore.

Review: (Ottawa) Burnt at the Steak (Fringe)

Burnt at the Steak or 'The Best 10 Dollars You Will Ever Spend"

by David Currie

See Burnt at the Steak. Go see it, tonight.  Why are you still reading this, you should be watching Burnt at the Steak.  From the life experience of Carolann Valentino, comes the greatest musical comedy I have seen in years. This is a delightful play.  Every joke lands, you get to see song Parody at its finest.  This is why people like one woman shows.  This is a show with a very simple message “follow your dreams,” and it doesn’t feel trite in the least.

The story centers around Carolann’s life managing a very classy New York City Steak House.  She performs as 18 hilarious characters.  Her personality carries you through an exciting evening that has the audience laughing and looking around to make sure other people are laughing. She invites audience members to join her on stage and uses them in her stories.  The musical numbers are perfect, an exquisite use of musical theatre. They are all parodies and, again, the audience is invited to sing along. With titles like “No Nickers” and “Big Fat Daddy” it is hard not to.  Carolann only allows herself one moment to indulge in saccharine sentimentality and then quickly pulls back and ends the show by doing what she does best, tell jokes.

This is going to be the best show of the Fringe Festival, see it as soon as you can - so that you can see it a second time.

Review: (Ottawa) Fucking Carl (Fringe)

Les Lavigueurs and Trailer Park Boys come to mind

by Sonia Blanchette

Of the few francophone performances being presented at Fringe this year, I definitely did not know what to expect. 

Through an ad on Kijiji, Jay/Jason (Caroline Yergeau) meets Jess/Jessica (Louis-Philippe Roy) to discuss the sale of her gran-pa's pick-up truck. A hot romance quickly ensues, no thanks to the Blue 24-pack they just polished off.  

Is it wrong of me to say that a mix of Les Lavigueurs and Trailer Park Boys came to mind? Where the locals in bum-fuck nowhere Quebec* or Ontario (or insert locale here) can't wait for the yearly poutine fest, carnival rides and Monster Truck rally to come to town?  

As simpletons with a sudden opportunity of introducing a 'kid' into their lives, they strive not to only persuade themselves but also the audience that they are a respectable, deserving and loving couple. Their re-enactments of pivotal events in their relationship to convince you of just this are bang on.  

Having lived in * for a good part of my teenage years, I so related. How could I not? Waking up in the bed of a pick-up truck after a well liquored night - no, not ever! 

There's nothing wrong with simple living and loving just as long as you are happy. And if your convictions are solid, who are we to judge if someone is worthy of parenthood?

Both masterfully portray a complicated yet comical relationship - Caroline and Louis-Philippe perform wholeheartedly. Couples young, old, franco, anglo or otherwise, will relate to the struggles and challenges. Four years crammed into 65 minutes flew by and didn't disappoint. The venue was particularly quaint and made the connection much more special. 

Review: (Ottawa) Wunderjammer (Fringe)

Wunderjammer or I Banged Your Doppleganger (for over a half century)
by David Currie

It would be interesting to see what playwright Richard Hemphill and his cast could do with some of these sketches in a longer format.  As it is, this sketch comedy uses stock jokes and stock characters quite well, though it certainly breaks no new ground.  It is an enjoyable show and revisiting the same characters throughout the show does bond the audience to them but the show is something of an exercise in diminishing returns. 

There is a Aristocracy sketch, in the vein of Monty Python that tickled me, I don’t think I laughed out loud but I did like it.  Then there was the Bunnyland, children’s park sketch that goes dark quickly and was the highlight of the show for me.  The directing often feels happenstance, and the acting is good though inconsistent.  Each one of the actors at times seeming confused by their comedic function within the sketches.  All of this is ok, the show works - it gets laughs if you are in the mood to laugh.  Good.

The problem with Wunderjammer, and I find it difficult to bring this up, is that it looks for comedy in uncomfortable old places.   One sketch has women trying to sell men to a horny middle easterner.  There isn’t really any context given for this, so it just comes across as an uncomfortable cultural critique.  Then there are the dumb-girl model sketches.  The writing in these is incredibly good, one- liners soar through the air but at the end of the day, it seems sexist.  Especially, as that sketch is paired with a sketch about dumb girl scientists. Both sketches feel like they have been pulled straight out of the 1950s or 60s.  There are countless gay jokes and the play ends on a transphobic one-liner.  And that’s the problem, Wunderjammer at times feels like watching a minstrel show.

The brilliance of Bunnyland and the potential of the Aristocracy sketches get washed a way in a sea of tired homophobia, sexism and one instance of transphobia.

Review: (Ottawa) Silent Party Interlude (Fringe))

Silent Party Interlude or Counting Breaths

by David Currie

If you are in your 40s and own at least one copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” (in any format) this show will appeal to you.  If you aren’t, well, it is still kind of a nice way to spend an hour.  The well told story of a woman who becomes an ascetic for 10 days, Silent Party Interlude can be extremely compelling.  It can also be funny.  It was also pretty annoying. The problem Silent Party Interlude (besides the impossible to remember title), is that every time the play gets into a narrative track and one begins to share in the meditative experience of its performer, the very talented Devon More plays a song.

Let me be perfectly clear, this is not a musical. These songs have little to do with the action on stage.  These songs force a broken-up concert, by a talented musician, into quite a good show - seemingly with the objective of selling CDs. 

That being said, there is a lot to like here.  The very deliberate use of props and lighting was exemplary.  The props so well chosen so minimalist that they blend seamlessly into the theme.  The lighting fluctuating perfectly with the moods of the protagonist.   The acting in this thing is superb, Devon begins by pushing histrionics well beyond what is considered safe and then slowly through out the show dials it back.  The dialing back, I believe, is why by day two of her meditation experience I not only wanted her to succeed but felt like I was watching a friend.  Which is good, because at the end of the day this play is just an exercise in narcissism that you either forgive and buy into and follow on a journey of self discovery through meditation, or you sit for an hour counting your breaths.

Review: (Ottawa) Against Gravity (Fringe)

Shadow Puppet Musical
by David Currie

There should be a disclaimer before this show - Warning: Show Contains Absolutely No Narrative Flow.  If you understand that in advance you might enjoy this shadow puppet musical a little better.  There also has to be a good audience, this show requires a high level of audience participation in-order to help suspend disbelief otherwise it will be an unbearably trite and a naive experience.

Which is too bad because Against Gravity obviously took work, thought and so much gumption.  It is the kind of show I really want to like.  Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel are obviously very talented people.  Their sound design and puppetry choices were delightful, they are both charismatic and really brought as many people as they could through their art with them. Technically, this show is magnificent, charming even.

“Follow your heart.” said the Snail

“Ok, might as well.” said the man.

When the show begins, it feels like fun incarnate.  The performers introduce it as a “Sound blob Puppet show.”  For several minutes, I loved it.  However, the show stagnates very quickly. Evidently suffering from a lack of writing experience, the sounds and visuals do simply blob together. There is nothing really to care about.  No reason to be there.  And that’s when you realize you are watching two people play with a projector they probably stole from their high school.  When they finally get to their second act, completely abandoning the story they were telling, the hilarious antics of human being versus puppet cannot save the experience.

Look, these people seem wonderful, go support them.  Invite 20 of your friends, if you smoke marijuana then do that and have a fluffy, vapid shadow puppet show musical experience with your friends.

Review: (Ottawa) Wasteland Radio (Fringe))

Post Apocalyptic World

by Jim Murchison

There is a lot of promise in the premise of Wasteland Radio. In the post apocalyptic world the landscape has little pips of lone survivors clinging to survival, not knowing if they might be the last person on earth, creating their own little universes to help them cling to sanity and hope.

There is more of a set for Wasteland Radio than most of the Fringe shows and Emily Soussana has done a good job representing a refuge of recycled mementoes. Scavenged items adorn the walls of the small radio station, scattered tapes and trinkets on the desk and in the large travel trunk are important links to the world when there was indeed a world.

Sam Dietrich does a credible job as a lone beacon broadcasting blindly into the wasteland looking for a voice back although I think I preferred the brief performance of Marc-Alexandre Hudson as the visitor. Things never seemed to completely connect with the audience however. It may have been that the balance between hope and desperation was a little off or perhaps an infusion of humour would have increased the empathy.

I don't think that the audience wasn't as surprised with the ending as what was hoped for and they were a little confused with the choice of an unconventional curtain call but that was just an exclamation on a piece that hasn't quite made it to its potential.

Review: (Ottawa) Dicky Dicky (Fringe)

Making People Feel Bad Is The Essence Of Comedy
by David Currie

Over the snowless peak of the tall bald man’s head sitting in front of me, I had my first great Fringe experience last night. Yes, it was the first play I saw but Dicky Dicky is a must see showcase of new work by funny people.  Billed as sketch comedy, to experience this play is closer to watching seven rapid fire one act plays by seven different playwrights and it is delightful.

Comedy duo Ray Besherah and Dave Brown have really done something with their latest work.  In the format they created they have guaranteed that their audience is active and engaged. With two tokens in hand, every member of the audience has the opportunity to vote for the best short plays.   At the end of the night, the playwright with the most votes gets a share of the profits. It is an unusual responsibility for an audience member to feel, so it is likely wise that to ease us into our role Dave and Ray begin their show with a penis-baloon-ballet.

It would be impossible to discuss all of the short plays individually so I will select my two favourite.  At the midway point of the show, after three short plays that while good (and they were good) left me wanting, Dicky Dicky took a Ionesco-esque turn with “Patent Office.”  Had I hated every other play but this one, Dicky Dicky still would have been worth the price of admission.  “How do tits improve a hat?” the play asks and yet, leaves each member of the audience to find the answer for themselves.

As a showcase Dicky Dicky finishes strong with “This is Not a Metaphor,” a tragicomedy that begins with the beating of an adult diapered son by his shirtless father and then turns, as one actor injures the other, into a conversation that questions the nature of theatre and acting itself, and then back into an adult diapered son being beaten by his shirtless father.  I know, this sounds crazy but see it. It is a master’s class in 4th wall playfulness.  It really is exceptionally good.

As is everything in Dicky Dicky, even the short plays I didn’t love, I liked because Ray and Dave liked them.  The respect these two bring to each of the works they present is infectious, a palpable feeling built into the staging and striking of each play.  I hope Dicky Dicky turns out to be something of a microcosm for this year's Fringe, see five things you like and two things you love, then go to the courtyard and get a beer.