Review: 10,000 DIGITS OF PI – Toronto Fringe Festival

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If you had the ability to memorize thousands of numbers in sequence, what would you use that talent for? For Vinay Sagar, it’s to race the clock and face absurd punishments at every mistake – the perfect bit of ridiculousness to add to your Fringing experience.

Using a technique called the “memory palace” (Sherlock fans will recognize the term, and as he explains it in his show, I won’t go into detail here) Vinay Sagar has attempted to memorize 10,000 digits of PI, and has even programmed a device to track his progress and stats. Whether the premise catches your interest or not, you have to admit, you haven’t seen anything like it before, have you?

It’s hard to give a detailed review to something that will change drastically each show, as much of the comedy comes from Sagar’s interactions with the audience and the bizarre “punishments” they come up with for him. The performance I saw really had a range – from drawing a “detailed picture of his grandmother”, to sharing his “biggest epic fail”, Sagar approaches each task with complete openness and sincerity, sometimes leading to really intimate, even sad moments onstage. Interestingly, this makes for a brilliant comedy show. The gags start off ridiculous, and the reciting of numbers may sound like it’s monotonous, but you quickly get behind him as you watch him share deep feelings and past secrets, struggle at times to find his way back to his “palace”, and approach each punishment with a complete lack of shame or hesitation: this guy will do anything (well, almost) for a laugh, and it works.

By the last 20 minutes audience members were cheering him on, telling him to skip past punishments eager to see just how far he could get. And while he didn’t get anywhere near his goal of 1250 for the night, he really did get incredibly far, and I challenge anyone who questions the point of this to try it for themselves – how much of art is just doing something different that no one has before?

If you’re someone who needs a strong narrative to pay attention then maybe this one isn’t for you, and relying so much on the audience is risky business, but I really think seeing the show with a terrible crowd would be fun in its own way as well. This show makes me think of the old Vaudeville acts in-between the larger sets – strange novelty bits that may not have a wide appeal or many places to perform, but are still thoroughly enjoyable and something you will remember for a long time. And what is Fringe if not a place to experiment?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Venue: Tarragon Theatre solo room, 30 Bridgman Ave.
Venue Info: Air conditioned, indoor, accessible, masks required, each performance is considered “relaxed”, meaning there are minimal tech changes and audience members are free to come late, leave and reenter for any reason at any time.
Remaining Shows:
15th July 2:15pm
16th July 4:45pm
17th July 2:45pm
Tickets Here
More Info Here

Review: Carson & Taylor Promise To Do A Bunch of Flips – Toronto Fringe Festival

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Carson Pinch and Taylor Davis do indeed do a bunch of flips in this side-achingly funny sketch show directed by Paul Bates.

When I saw Paul Bates was directing another Fringe show, I knew it would be top of my list. Having seen him direct what may be my all-time favourite sketch show several years back (32 Short Sketches About Bees) I went in with high expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The premise is simple: comedians Carson Pinch and Taylor Davis do flips. Like, a lot of flips. And each sketch in some way ties into them. Like any good sketch show, there is a general theme throughout that keeps things flowing, but the range of sketches is wildly varied and shows off the actors’ comedic talents. From the annoying wasp we’ve all met at the park to a figure skating pair having an emotional moment, the sketches somehow make the most ridiculous premise feel relatable and I literally laughed at each one (not something I can say for many comedy shows I’ve seen). Normally I’d go into more detail on a few favourite moments but I can’t really do that without risking giving away a punch line and they’re too good to risk that, so I’ll just say go see it for yourself, you will definitely leave with a few lines stuck in your head (and may just learn something important about wasps).

Special mentions go out to stage manager Andrea Miller – I don’t know how many cues those SFX and music bits were broken into, but the tech was flawless as was the timing, so kudos to whoever contributed to that – and my buddy Caleb who turned out to be a helper as well – see the show and you’ll see what I mean.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Venue: Ada Slaight Hall, 585 Dundas St. E., Daniels Spectrum Building
Venue Info: Air conditioned, indoor, accessible, masks required
Remaining Shows:
12th July 3:45pm
14th July 8:30pm
15th July 1:15pm
16th July 1pm
Tickets Here.
More Info Here

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: The Joy of Sax

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What makes the Fringe Festival so fun is that you really never know what you’re going to get when you shuffle into the theatre at some odd time of day: I certainly wasn’t expecting what I saw this afternoon at The Joy of Sax, Flash in the Deadpan’s Toronto Fringe production. Described by the company as fitting into the “new genre of saxploitation comedy”, The Joy of Sax is a bizarre tale of a young man named Luke (Cam Parkes) who inherits his father’s saxophone and finds that he has a special gift – no, not a musical talent (much to my dismay, the only sounds to come out of the horn were loud, blasting screeches), but the inexplicable ability to arouse and lead to orgasm any who are within earshot of his “music”. Can’t say that it’s not original! Continue reading

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: 32 Short Sketches About Bees

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Clear Glass Productions’s performance of 32 Short Sketches About Bees is a fast-paced mash-up of ridiculous scenes all tied together through the incredibly simple (but surprisingly diverse) theme of “bees” (or “Bea”, “B”, “be”… you get the idea). 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: Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up

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“You can’t be that attractive and funny” — well, not unless you’re Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch. Catch the comedic duo in Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up, produced by Squeaky Wheel, 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: 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: 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.

 

 

My Top 5, 2016 Toronto Fringe Picks

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Every year at the Fringe those of us in the theatre community get very excited & very overwhelmed; it’s a chance to see everyone (many describe it as “Christmas for actors”) but also a time when you try frantically to fit into your schedule all the shows you feel you “must” see. I know there’s already a lot of “must see” lists out there but, hell, why not throw one more into the mix? These are 5 that I know will rock because of the fantastic people involved.

Behold, The Barfly!

Where: Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street (Site Specific)

When: 
buy tickets  June 29th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  June 30th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 2nd at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 7th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 3:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 7:00 PM

What: From the writer of the smash hit ‘Love is a Poverty You Can Sell’ (★★★★★ / NNNNN) comes a surreal and cerebral sketch spectacular featuring some of Toronto’s finest comedy talent! Peer into the pickled subconscious of a slumbering barfly and behold the wonders within: Mirth! Adventure! Mediocre Poetry! Sober contemplation of life choices! Dinosaurs?

Why: Writer Justin Haigh is hilarious and the very talented Eric Miinch is in this show as well (his own show comes later on this list). Who doesn’t love clever sketch comedy?

Bright Lights

Where: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

When:
buy tickets  June 29th at 10:30 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 8:45 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 3:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 6:30 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 12:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 6:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 11:30 PM

What: From Kat Sandler, Theatre Brouhaha, and the creative minds behind the Fringe smash hits Punch Up, Morro and Jasp, Peter n’ Chris, and Shakey-Shake & Friends comes a new dark comedy about survival, trust, and an alien abduction support group thrown into chaos by the suggestion that someone in their midst may not be as human as they seem.

Why: See the ladies behind Morro & Jasp perform without their clown personas (something I personally am very interested in) and check out the latest from Kat Sandler who recently won the Dora for her new production of Mustard at Tarragon.

Dan’s Inferno

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse

When:
buy tickets  June 30th at 8:45 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 11:00 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 1:00 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 2:30 PM
buy tickets  July 7th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 9:45 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 5:15 PM

What: Based loosely on Dante’s famous poems, we seek explore the modern interpretation of what comes after death. Dan lived his life unremarkably and now he is dead. Don’t feel bad for him, dear reader. In death, Dan finds himself free to visit heaven and hell, purgatory too. He will find more meaning in his afterlife than he ever found in his beforelife.

Why: You may have seen a version of The Inferno before, but I’m sure you haven’t seen one like this. I know what was on their costume list, and it sounds like one hell of a show. Plus, Eric Miinch (recently seen as Roat in Bygone’s Wait Until Dark) is one of the funniest people I know; if you have a chance to see something of his, don’t miss it.

Everything Else Is Sold Out

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse

When:
buy tickets  June 30th at 10:30 PM
buy tickets  July 2nd at 7:30 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 4:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 6:00 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 11:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 12:00 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 3:30 PM

What: Bad News! All those hot ticket shows are sold out (don’t bother checking, they definitely are). Good News! Dame Judy Dench is back with an all new sketch revue! Covering everything from situations to other situations, it’s a show you’ve gotta see, especially since Everything Else Is Sold Out!
Past Reviews “Outstanding Ensemble and Production”, NNNNN, NOW Magazine

Why: While she didn’t get to show off her comedy-chops in Wait Until Dark, Shannon Lahaie is an extremely funny lady, and the range she showed in WUD proves her to be a talented actress as well. Dame Judy Dench has gotten great buzz for their past sketch shows and I’m sure this will be no different, definitely one I can’t wait to see.

Mullet’s Ghost Story

Where: Harbord House, 150 Harbord Street (Site Specific)

When:
buy tickets  June 29th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  June 30th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 2nd at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 4th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 7th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 9:30 PM

What: A haunting tale about the dead, as told by the undead, for you, the living. Zombie clown Mullet wants nothing more than to never be alone. Be careful what you wish for. Starring Toronto’s Best Male Improviser (2015 NOW Magazine Reader’s Choice). Directed by 2x Canadian Comedy Award winner. Written by 3x Canadian National Playwriting Competition winner.

Why: Mullet was recently seen in Bygone’s Vaudeville Revue where he performed one of the most unique bits in the show. A clever writer and performer, I can’t wait to see what one of his full-length shows is like.

Check out the Fringe website for complete show listings.

Review of “A Woman Is A Secret”

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TC15011_AWoman_slider_G1-page-001-800x302Friday night was the opening of the world premiere of the new John Patrick Shanley play, A Woman Is A Secret. The show is a joint production between The Storefront Theatre and Rip Jaw Productions, and is being presented at the Theatre Centre on Queen St. in Toronto.

The writing was brilliant – I wasn’t surprised. This is coming from the man who wrote Moonstruck and Doubt: A Parable among many, many others. Shanley is well known for his deeply complex, honest and often funny female characters, something that was in no short supply in this production. Skillfully played by some of Toronto’s top female talents, the play was well cast, but while story and actors were top-notch, confusing design and weak directing made for only an alright overall experience.

Skillfully played by some of Toronto’s top female talents…story and actors were top-notch.

I have been unable to find any photos of the set but the premise is basic; downstage centre is a vintage styled bar table and two bar chairs that are used in every scene. Generally they are just that – a bar set – but in the second act they are moved around and also act as a couch, maybe a bed. Despite the fact that 99% of the action occurs in a small area downstage, the entire stage was decorated with fake trees and an abundance of dead leaves on the ground. While the look was interesting and something we discussed before the show opened, there was absolutely no reference to it, no use made of it, and I was left feeling like it was a concept that the designer came up with before even reading the script. The costumes as well, were lacking. Singer Matthew Barber accompanied the show, playing guitar and singing beautiful renditions of some great 50s love songs. Unfortunately, the funky burgundy jacket he had been outfitted in was ill-fitting, and as someone who often does costumes, I found myself distracted by the tight shoulders and rolled up sleeves. I was disappointed by the dress the sexy and seductive Sparkles (Molly Flood) was wearing as well, but it was less ridiculous looking than the shoes that Blanche (Anna Hardwick) had to wear in the first scene; for a woman who was supposed to “walk slow”, glide across the stage in a sexy, sultry fashion, she was put in the wrong shoes. Her movements were unfortunately stilted in those heels, and while I initially thought that was part of the performance, I quickly realized it was just another poor costuming choice. All in all the look of the show reminded me of a college production. I think I would have preferred to see a work-shopped version where the focus was only on the actors and writing, as those elements were spot-on.

Confusing design and weak directing…the look of the show reminded me of a college production.

In a play about women, it’s no surprise that the female parts were the stand-out roles, and the casting of greats like Martha Burns, Anna Hardwick and Karen Knox made for a thoroughly enjoyable performance. Knox’s Kasia, (a sultry Polish woman looking to have an affair) was hilarious, with each line delivered with a practiced dry wit that got the audience every time. While her accent wavered on some lines, her performance was strong and in-keeping with what I’ve come to expect from this Toronto-staple. While costume issues weakened her performance in the first scene, Anna Hardwick was outstanding as the embittered newlywed in the second act. The chemistry between Hardwick and Anand Rajaram was electric, and made for a not only funny, but very touching scene. Rajaram is not an actor I am familiar with, but one I will certainly be seeking out in the future; he was the stand-out male performer in this show. Katie Swift was another notable performer; her comedic timing made-up for an unfortunately weak performance by Jade Hassouné, in one of the less interesting scenes in the play. Martha Burns was hilarious as the Banshee Genevieve, and Tony Nappo matched her performance in energy and sincerity. However, it was the scene between Sparkles (Molly Flood) and Hank (Trent Pardy) that had me on the floor. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for the old-school Noir dialogue, but even writing that good could have been wasted if not performed by actors who understood the style & could handle the delivery. Flood & Pardy made for a scene that was both funny and honestly, very sexy.

It was the scene between Sparkles and Hank…that had me on the floor…Flood & Pardy made for a scene that was both funny and honestly, very sexy.

When I first learned that the world premiere of a show by such an established playwright was not only being produced here in Toronto, but by a couple indie companies (rather than a large force like Factory, or Mirvish) I was surprised and excited. Unfortunately, despite having an exceptionally strong cast, the show felt lacking, and I wish that it had been put in the hands of a stronger director and design team. Despite its flaws, it really is an enjoyable show. You’ll spend much of it laughing, and if you’re like me, may find a few moments bring you close to tears. Definitely worth the trip.

A Woman Is A Secret runs March 19 – April 5, 2015 at
The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West, Toronto.
Tickets are $20-$30 and can be purchased at 416-538-0988 or online.