This is the first production I’ve seen so far that I would say is a must see, but I can’t. There is no way around it, Water Choke is intense, difficult, and at times harrowing to watch. The production describes itself as “a collection of stories, moments, … concerning suicide, sexual abuse and survival” and that’s barely scratching the surface of this rich, dark, colourful, and rewarding piece of theatre. Among its fascinating complexities are an exploration of the impossibility of achieving, much less sustaining “normative masculinity” and the loss of personality caused by overwhelming depression. Projections and sound effects achieve epic scale in the tiny Living Room performance space, but the production is grounded on rock solid direction. There’s no attempt to hide the flicking of switches or the shifts by the author/actor Elliott Maxwell from character to narrator; a profoundly human performance.
If you’re grieving or recovering, be forewarned. But be assured that the intention of the creators is richly compassionate.
- Hugo Dann
This is Boring, Nothing is Happening
The year is 1992 and you’re invited to the serene and rustic Camp Spookynoise. It’s the perfect place for arts and crafts, board games, and fleeing from the notoriously reviled swamp monster. This Is Boring boasts fast-paced, hyperactive improvisation that breaks the mould with unbridled creativity. Featuring a new guest performer from other Fringe shows each day, this is the hidden comic gem you never knew you needed.
Performers Ryan Floyd and Sophie Nadeau are stellar, conjuring up ridiculously amusing sketches, songs, puppet shows, and a recurring horror theme based upon Friday the 13th and The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Standout acts include the bed monster Slime Breath, a ghost training program, and a chicken responding to an Avon Calling marketer. Nadeau shines in her comedic element. Her adorable awkwardness ensures the fluidity of many of the sketches, while Floyd’s goofy physicality and charm knock every scene out of the park.
While the show fizzles towards the end, this pair’s comedic chemistry allow them to play off each other beautifully. Improvisation is a medium that many artists struggle to pull off, but the young Floyd and Nadeau do it effortlessly. This is one summer camp Mom and Dad won’t have to force you to attend.
- Carey Bray
In Astrolabe, two philosophers, one a “Christian optimist”, the other a “rational mystic,” find themselves stranded on a South China Sea island (or at least they think that’s where they are, navigational niceties being one of their points of disagreement.)
It’s an intriguing idea, one that could lead to Beckettian absurdity, intellectual debate, intense drama, or some productive mixture of the three. While there are attempts at this mixture, nothing seems to quite gel here. With no strong underlying structure or rhythm to the play’s progress, we move from the absurdity to the debate to the drama without really experiencing any of them.
Part of the problem is the play’s tempo. Both the actors’ delivery and the establishment of plot points seems rushed—when the play’s abrupt conclusion comes, I at first thought it might be an intermission. (The guide lists 85 minutes for the play’s length, but the performance I attended couldn’t have been more than 45.)
The idea here is sound, but this seems a play needing further workshopping and not yet quite ready for performance.
- Martin Wallace
Empty Nest Syndrome
Trudy Fong’s has prowess as a storyteller. Decked in heels and sipping a vodka martini, you’d never suspect comedy wasn’t her natural calling. But we learn that her prolific, freelance experience was killed by the anonymous hands of internet writing. Rather than retreating into depression or defeat, Fong turned to comedy.
As opposed to other stand up acts thus far seen in Fringe, the sassy Trudy Fong of Empty Nest is a stage persona. While schticks are fine and have been used to great effect by many famous comedians, Fong’s words don’t possess as much gravitas and weight as other one-person shows that we’ve seen in Fringe. Additionally, with so many of Fong’s jokes geared towards males and her husband, things quickly went from chuckle-inducing to awkward. I love stand-up, but I kept getting to many punchlines before she did and it’s an odd sensation.
To her credit, Trudy spins beautiful yarns, laced with her fiery brand of wit and it is in these moments that her routine sparkles. Fong is a comic with great potential. By adding more weight to her words I think Empty Nest can be a show we will all flock to.
- Carey Bray
The Yellow Wallpaper
The late 19th C. American feminist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is not a writer I was familiar with, so I’m grateful to Lions Den Theatre for mounting Alison House's stage adaptation of her short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper". Director Jozel Bennet and actor Christine Daniels have mounted a commendable, albeit somewhat basic, production: simply staged, clearly told. Alas, it doesn't quite succeed. Ms. Gilman's writing is the star here. She recounts the descent into horrifying madness of a young woman, confined to an upstairs bedroom so she can "recover" from the birth of her child and ensuing post-partum depression. The setting is as gothic as anything imagined by the Bronte Sisters. The tension in the text increases all but unbearably as madness takes over the heroine, as inevitable, creepy, and chilling as a tale by Poe. If Lions Den decides to continue their exploration of this project I hope they'll take it more in the direction of gothic horror, there need be no weakening of the essential feminist perspective.
- Hugo Dann
Once You’ve Found It
In Once You’ve Found It, playwright and performer Donovan Jackson introduce us to Bruce, a child who has been abandoned by his parents into his grandmother’s care. As Bruce grows, this early rejection sets him up to be plagued by self-doubt and trust issues that come to him in the form of a black crow. The story plays out in a series of dreams and memories – a kind of cryptic fable, filled with mermaids, pirates and buried treasure.
While this may sound suited for a young audience, the show is actually very heavy. Bruce’s childhood has made relationships difficult, and the journey to finding love is dark and bleak at times.
The staging is visually interesting, combining multimedia, puppetry and dance to tell the story, but the small confines of The Living Room somewhat limit Jackson’s movements.
Jackson himself is an arresting performer. His stage presence, fluid movements and captivating boyish energy make him a pleasure to watch.
- Kate Watson
In Michael Burgos’ outstanding new play, we are informed Thomas has died. Chosen to give the eulogy is Thomas’ former roommate, Raul, who gives his dearly departed friend some final words. Raul is a fireball, highlighting Burgos’ skill as a physical acting aficionado. While Raul unleashes an array of accents and personalities that make him momentarily hard to follow, they never detract from the story or make Eulogy any less enjoyable.
Raul depicts Thomas as the worst kind of roommate. A merciless slob with an intense fondness for cottage cheese and fried eggs, it’s no wonder Thomas has died so early and so corpulently. Thomas is further smeared as a whiny, unloving husband and Raul openly hits on his widow without tarnishing his own name.
But it is the topic of death that allows Eulogy to live up to its name. From early onset, death is perceived to be a negative ultimate outcome derived from our negligence or mistakes. Through Raul’s hilariously grotesque ventriloquism with Thomas, Burgos shows how little we understand about something so important. The Eulogy is one of the funniest shows in Fringe and it’s also one of the smartest. It’s an existential nightmare. It’s a ballet with gasoline. It’s a heck of a send-off.
- Carey Bray
For information about show times, venues and costs, visit AtlanticFringe.ca