Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Adult Entertainment

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Sex, violence and morality battle it out onstage in George F. Walker’s Adult Entertainment, produced by Triple ByPass Productions and playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Fastcar Man of Action

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Want to catch a show that completely encompasses the spirit of Fringe? Don’t let the prospect of a one-man show with audience participation scare you off;  Fastcar: Man of Action (produced by blind fool productions) is a delightful trip through the absurd, playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival . Learn more via my Mooney on Theatre review.

 

REVIEW: Everything Else Is Sold Out

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I was thrilled to see such a full house at a late performance of last night’s Everything Else Is Sold Out, a Dame Judy Dench sketch show currently running as a part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe. The show is flawlessly directed by Paul Bates (Canadian Comedy Awards, Best Male Improvisor – NOW Magazine, 2013, director – Second City’s Click Bait & Switch,  actor – Dan for Mayor, Puppets Who Kill, The Ron James Show) and features the talents of Claire Farmer (Second City, Bad Dog), Jessica Greco (The Animal Project, TIFF 2013, Rookie Blue, Bomb Girls) Shannon Lahaie (Wait Until Dark – Bygone Theatre, Insane – best actress nomination, FilmQuest 2014), Chris Leveille (Second City, Bad Dog), and Gavin Pounds (Barrie North Improv Team).

What really makes Everything Else stand out is how seamlessly the sketches flow from one to another; dynamic transitions keep the energy up and give a place to mini sight gags and jokes that lesser companies would try to drag out into a whole sketch. The technical elements are well executed and everyone’s timing (stage manager included) is perfectly on-point; no one misses a beat. While there isn’t exactly a theme to the show overall, just enough references are made to call back to other scenes and each time this is done it is done so cleverly; lots of laughs, none of the groans you come to expect from most sketch acts.

NOTE: I feel awful that I don’t know the names of most of these people (no pictures in the program), so apologies as I mention some favourite moments without crediting the specific performers;

Some favourite moments include a “Troller’s Support Group” (featuring of course, a literal troll); a new type of app, “Uber Walks”; a rather extravagant hat; a doctor’s visit that reveals a young woman (Lahaie) is suffering from “Montages”; a date that gets side-tracked when the man discovers a room full of jars (I know, sounds odd, but trust me); a guy dancing to bossanova beats who is DEFINITELY not a vampire and the cleverly book-ended scenes that start and finish the show. There are no weak links in this cast. While the scenes I listed were the strongest, I had a grin on my face throughout – this is far better than any sketch show I’ve seen on a Second City stage.

There are only 2 shows left!!! Check out my Fringe Picks Post for show dates & times.

The Verdict: Do not miss it. Go see it now.
Rating: 5/5 Stars

REVIEW: Dan’s Inferno

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You may have seen versions of Dante’s Inferno before, but I doubt you’ve seen one with a talking toilet, and while we’ve all seen plays about the regrets we have at the end of life, chances are you haven’t seen one as strangely funny and sincerely touching as Dan’s Inferno, playing now as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe.

The show comes from the minds of Toronto’s Fratwurst comedy troupe, and features the talents of Eric Miinch (Fratwurst), Josh Murray (Fratwurst, Second City Education Company), Evan Arppe (Fratwurst, Host of The Watchllist on CHCH), Natalie Metcalfe (2 Humans, CBC-True Dating Stories), Lance Byrd (The Weaker Vessels), Peyton LeBarr, (Twelfe Night- Ale House Theatre) and Chris Murray (Chaisse Gallerie- Red One Collective). It’s a story about Dan (Miinch), a young man who wasted his life on Earth but finds purpose in what comes after. Sound typical? A bit. But the twisted collection of characters (trolls, the aforementioned talking toilet, aptly named John) will keep you guessing and, frequently, laughing til it hurts.

The overall structure of the play is a little odd; at times it feels like sketch comedy, at times it’s a mini musical, and thrown together are cleverly crafted typical theatre moments (artistic transitions, moments of sweet sincerity) mixed in with absolutely absurd, almost improvised (sounding) comedy. As a whole it may require a little further polishing, but I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Highlights include some far-too-relatable songs by wannabe actress, Beatrice (Metcalfe); Purgatory babies soaring through the air and subsequently being torn limb-from-limb by Dan, desperate to go to Hell (Miinch); and a wonderfully timed lighting cue in which everything pauses so that a man and his dog can have a final goodbye before a second, sudden death (kudos to stage manager Maddox Campbell on the timing there).

I think this is the type of show best taken as-is and enjoyed. If I give it a lot of thought, I could pick out some issues, but the fact of it is I laughed through most of it and left with a smile on my face, something unfortunately difficult to do with many sketch shows, not to mention Fringe productions.

Verdict: Very weird, very fun – check it out.
Rating: 4/5 stars

Check out my Fringe Picks post for showtimes and more details.

REVIEW: Behold, The Barfly!

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If you’re looking for nudity, strobe lights and God himself, check out Spoon Vs Hammer’s Behold, The Barfly! playing now at the Monarch Tavern as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe. Written and directed by the very funny Justin Haigh, this laugh-out-loud sketch show features the talents of Elizabeth Anacleto (Mark Purvis Award winner, Toronto Festival of Clowns), Jeff Hanson (Edmund, Storefront Theatre), Steve Hobbs (writer for Second City, CBC Punchline), Marsha Mason (Second City National Touring Company), Kevin MacPherson (Sex T-Rex, Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy), Eric Miinch (sketch troupe Fratwurst, Bygone Theatre’s Wait Until Dark), Ned Petrie (CBC Radio, Second City, Teletoon’s Night Sweats) and Sarah Thorpe (HereticLove Is A Poverty You Can Sell); with a cast like that you know you’re in for a good time.

I won’t describe any of the scenes as I don’t want to give away punchlines, but I’ll say that highlights included a passionate but slightly misguided children’s face painter, a holy unicorn, probably the most terrifying comic you’ve ever seen, an unusual trip to the Science Centre and two news announcer types who very eagerly tell you all about things that “make no fucking sense”. Add to that some popular songs that will have you asking, “are those really the lyrics??” and Benedict Cumberbatch (really! well, sort of) and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Plus, it’s in a tavern, so you can drink!

Verdict: Definitely worth seeing
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Check out my Fringe Picks blog for show times & more details.

 

 

A Review of the LOT’s “Buddy Holly Story”

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Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens -photo Seanna Kennedy.

Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens – photo Seanna Kennedy.

The challenge of mounting any Jukebox Musical is that you are taking songs people know and love and putting them in the hands of performers who, regardless of how talented they are, are unlikely to live up to the image we have in our minds of what they should be. When you have the added challenge of working with performers who simply aren’t as talented as singers they’re portraying you end up with a show that is unfortunately lackluster. Sadly, this was the case for the majority of the performers in the Lower Ossington Theatre production of The Buddy Holly Story, however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

…a show that is unfortunately lackluster…however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

Alan Kinsella directed the show along with musical director Mike Ross. While I question some of the casting choices, the staging was effective and Mikael Kangas lighting and set design (Michael Galloro also worked on set) was simple but bold and engaging. They made excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights. As always, I’m going to be critical of the design; I found the costumes sub-par especially the women’s, and was surprised to see such a big name (Mark Boots) listed as “Wig Consultant” when I thought the wigs looked cheap and inaccurate.

…excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights.

Any performance that requires actors put on accents risks sounding cheesy or inauthentic; with the exception of Thomas Finn, whose Hi-Pockets & Big Bopper were spot on, this was a common issue for the show. As the title character, Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required. In fact, the majority of the cast was lacking in energy, and moments like the fight scene between The Crickets and a music producer felt very forced. Similarly, numbers like “Party” that should have had the audience on their feet fell flat due to pitchy vocals and a dull performance.

Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required.

Despite being too long and dragging much more than the first act (a fault of the writing, not performance), the second act was what made the show. Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper. Bursting onstage with all of the Bopper’s larger-than-life presence, Finn steals the show with on-the-spot vocals and contagious energy. You could feel the audience wake up during “Chantilly Lace”, and even less electric performances were given a much needed push with the help of Finn’s great stage presence.

Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper…Finn steals the show.

One number did stand out as a good Holly impersonation; “Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. That song has always been one of my favourites and I was happy to hear Irwin find his voice and channel Buddy beautifully in that song. Maybe some more work will add some consistency to his performance.

All in all the production has a definite amateurish feel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable night out. Upbeat, lovable music and a few stand out moments make it a fun time for anyone with a love of the oldies. For tickets and more information, check out www.lowerossingtontheatre.com.

-E.

A Review of the Summerworks Production of “Seams”

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing writer Polly Phokeev’s Seams at Summerworks Toronto. Directed by Mikaela Davies, the play starred Krystina Bojanowski (Ira), Clare Coutler (Old Frosya), Sochi Fried (Radya), Jesse La Vercombe (Anton), Caitlin Robson (Froysa), Elizabeth Stuart-Morris (Shura) and Ewa Wolniczek (Marina). Set in Moscow, 1939, the story revolves around a group of seamstresses (and one seamster) working for a theatre company in the time leading up to the war. While the show does explore the tensions of Communist Russia, and the fears of the approaching war, the play is essentially a personal memory piece, told through the older Frosya (Coulter) who is now living in Canada and spending her days reminiscing about the past. Their website states this nicely, so I’ll just quote that;

“Seams is a response to the inherited guilt and the chaos of identity that comes with being a Russian immigrant to Canada. It asks us to confront the cultural guilt we all inherit, regardless of where we come from, and whether we can find ways to overcome it.”

Caitlin Robson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Caitlin Robson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

I was impressed with several aspects of the production. The first thing of note was the staging and design; as a period piece lover, I am often frustrated by the inaccuracies in sets and costumes of lower-budget productions. Seams however, was beautifully dressed, and with the exception of a couple pairs of rather modern shoes, everything looked beautiful and historically accurate. Bravo to designer Shannon Lea Doyle, her assistant Kelly Anderson, and installation designer Jackie McClelland (whom I have worked with before and am always impressed by).

The lighting design by Steve Vargo was also very effective. Simple, but powerful, it beautifully complemented the design and staging. Director Mikaela Davies accomplished something that I rarely see in this level of theatre; her staging was unique and memorable, but never completed with the work of her actors, and enhanced the piece rather than attempted to be the main focus. A couple moments were a little drawn out (I think of the random and a little cliched frantic wandering around the stage), but for the most part she succeeded in creating authentic moments and beautifully stylized tableau’s, in particular with the slow-motion movements of the young actors while Old Frosya spoke to the audience, and the (**SPOILER ALERT) flood of reporting papers that filled the stage in the final moment of the play. I have not heard of or seen Davies work before, but I will be sure to keep any eye out for her future productions.

Clare Coulter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Clare Coulter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

There were no weak links in this cast. Some of the characters were better written than others, but each actor gave a committed and completely believable performance, with very natural pacing and authentic emotion. I think the script still requires some work, as the distribution of lines and scene time is a little off; some of the stories I wanted to learn more about were glazed over, while in a predictable fashion, the onstage love story was given more stage time than necessary. Still, every actor was given a chance to be featured in the spotlight, and the variety of characters was impressive. As Frosya, Caitlin Robson (who I had the pleasure of working with in Bygone Theatre’s, Rope) embodied the motherly, protective role of a character who I would have expected to be played by someone considerably older than herself. Through the knowing glances and ever-watchful eye of Robson’s character, it is clear there is more to her than she allows others to see, making the end, while still surprising, very believable. Other performances of note include Elizabeth Stuart-Morris as Shura, who’s larger-than-life character adds the majority of fun and laughs to the show, and Sochi Fried as Radya who certainly had the most realistic and tragic portrayal in the cast.

Sochi Fried. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Sochi Fried. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Again, the script could use some final tweaks, and I suspect the final product will be as much as 20 minutes shorter, but overall this was a strong production and one I look forward to seeing future incarnations of.

For tickets and more show information, check out the Seams Collective website.