Theatre

Frost Bites Reviews

Frost Bites 2020 marked the fifth anniversary for the mid winter theatre festival presented by the Hamilton Fringe organization.

Frost Bites Reviews

by Gregory Cruikshank and Allison M. Jones

Frost Bites 2020 marked the fifth anniversary for the mid winter theatre festival presented by the Hamilton Fringe organization. Called ‘Hamilton’s only site specific winter performance festival,’ this year’s four day event (Jan. 30 - Feb. 2) was held at the Hamilton Waterfront Trust Centre, in partnership with Winterfest, which spans 80 events over 19 days from Jan. 30 to Feb. 17.

Seven short, immersive performance pieces were presented multiple times during each evening’s schedule, along with the musical and dance talents of special guests Rod Nettagog and Kyra Jean Green, who graced the main gathering space. Each of the companies took inspiration from the nearby Hamilton Harbour, the particular spaces found within the Waterfront Trust Centre, or both. VIEW writers Gregory Cruikshank and Allison M. Jones took in each of the shows, and share both their impressions of the pieces and their favourite Frost Bites experiences.

Conversations Around the Table
(Open Heart Theatre)
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

The only show requiring its audience to brave the cold outdoors, Kelly Wolf offers an “outside–looking–in” perspective as the audience must wait to enter an occupied conference room, before being joined by a homeless woman (the always compelling Kit Simmons) who shares with us her story. It’s a heartfelt reminder that many factors can contribute to homelessness, and standing in the cold, the lakeside windchill a factor, one can’t help sympathizing even more with the woman’s plight, to the point where one isn’t sure how interactive the performance is meant to be — blankets are provided to keep you warm, and at a certain point, one feels compelled to offer one to the woman.


REVIEWER’S PICK
Reviewer: Allison M. Jones

Creator Kelly Wolf does something unique with her piece; she has the audience leave the building and venture into the chill. Against a silent scene inside, where three people converse over a boardroom table, a lone, dishevelled girl appears. For several moments, it’s unclear whether she’s an actor or simply a street involved person who has wandered onto the festival grounds. With a few quiet questions, Kit Simmons’s character breaches our silence to engage us, then confronts us with her trauma by recounting her history with shattering directness and economy. When one of the board room’s occupants tries the locks, lowers the blinds, and shuts the lights in her face, tellingly, we are literally as well as figuratively on her side.


Migrant Story
(Bee Right Back Productions/Mixed Theatre Hamilton)
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

In the wake of an epidemic in the not–so–distant future, a UN cleanup crew performing a sweep in Hamilton comes upon an interesting discovery… Apart from offering up the importance of the telling of stories to maintaining one’s identity over time, Bryan Boodhoo and Luis Arrojo also make smart use of audio recording to present an outdoor performance to an indoor crowd, the audience observing a “holographic display” through the windows.


Reviewer: Allison M. Jones

There are many fascinating components to this apocalyptic tableau: an all–too–imaginable future in which a pandemic has decimated the population; a pair of investigators in hazmat gear picking through a wasteland; the tangible artifacts of people who have disappeared, left behind to represent them. There’s a beautiful sentiment about the importance of stories to mark our time on this plane. Bryan Boodhoo and Luis Arrojo share a natural banter. Unfortunately, despite the technician’s best efforts, poor audio dogged the performance I attended. Even though I pressed my hands against the headphones, I had trouble hearing the conversations, and noise from other parts of the building encroached on the experience.

Key Words Include:
(DeVision)
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

Though perhaps not the most easily accessible piece, the text being as layered and obliquely constructed as it is, Key Words Include: is easily the most thought–provoking of this year’s entries, incorporating prose, poetry, and movement to raise questions on how certain resources and peoples are consumed by others. It’s an intense piece, with its four performers — Jamie Milay Kasiama, Claudia Spadafora, Maddie Krusto, and Adeline Okoyo — all delivering haunting performances and recitations, their collective traumatic scream not to be forgotten any time soon.


Reviewer: Allison M. Jones

Jamie Milay Kasiama, Claudia Spadafora, Maddie Krusto, and Adeline Okoyo give unfettered commitment to their piece, the longest in the Frost Bites schedule. It’s a serious, multilayered and ethereal fever dream, and the cast evoke anguish, nostalgia, pain, and anger as their voices intermingle in a highly poetic and creative performance. At times, however, it feels like the poeticism and overlapping voices obscure the overarching narrative in a way that makes it a challenge to follow. It’s an intense, and intensely symbolic, experience.


Seasons
(Jade Forest Productions)
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

More of an experience than an actual show, Seasons offers two very different soundscapes in two connected rooms: one, a blue–lit wintery space where the music is pretty and harmonious, though the more musically–inclined will notice the creation of certain tonal dissonances between musician and pre–recorded song; the other, decorated to reflect an underwater seascape, an overwhelming cacophony of the bass–tones from the first room. It’s hard to say whether director Jessica Marshall and her musicians (Thomas Kember and Ian Cognito of the band 12CC) achieve the level of environmental reflection suggested in the program, but it’s still worth taking a little time to close your eyes and let the music wash over you.


Reviewer: Allison M. Jones

Despite the obvious attention paid by its creators to the assembly of an immersive visual environment and soundscape, this piece left me feeling unsatisfied and unsure of its intended message. Director Jessica Marshall has created a dimly lit, dreamy setting from two small rooms atop a set of stairs. In the second room, plastic debris pokes through lengths of fish net in a haunting and evocative way. A lone guitarist (Thomas Kember) plays while a disembodied voice speaks over audio. All the while, a man and woman stand silently by, occasionally shifting position but having no clear purpose. The scene is set, yet there’s something missing.

Amo, Amas, Amat
(Flint & amp; Steel Productions)
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

The most traditional narrative of the show, Annalee Flint’s Amo, Amas, Amat is a memory play, a love story of linguistics, with just enough movement elements added to keep things from being too static. Granted, some of the spoken poetry may lose its impact if you aren’t bilingual, and there’s a lingering suspicion, once the Shakespeare text creeps in, that Flint mainly wrote this as a vehicle to perform certain sonnets. None of this takes away from the charming chemistry between Flint and costar Kyle Guglielmo, and that chemistry (coupled with smart, witty dialogue) helps to keep this one an enjoyable watch.


Reviewer: Allison M. Jones

Annalee Flint and Kyle Guglielmo play two young lovers in a performance that begins by evoking the romance of an epic love ballad (think Tennyson), and continues on into a rougher modernity. Flint plays creatively with the threads of poetry and language to spin a story about love: the birth of love, the growth of love, and the death of love. Love is a story that draws us all, and Flint and Guglielmo capably embody its ebb, flow, and flirtations.  


Elevator Pitch
(Chasing Shadows Productions)
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

Perhaps best enjoyed at the end of a long night of watching shows, as this reviewer did, Elevator Pitch is the lightest and silliest of the bunch: a “supernatural comedy” allowing audiences to eavesdrop on a conversation in an elevator (actually a converted storage room, though some spectators swore they felt it moving) between an executive and a supposed elevator operator. Creator Will Gillespie and partner Susan Robinson are clearly having fun in their deliciously cartoonish roles, and combined with genuinely witty dialogue and the close quarters of the space, that sense of fun becomes infectious, and by the time the five minutes are up, you’re leaving with a smile on your face.


Reviewer: Allison M. Jones
HONOURABLE MENTION

In one of the shortest pieces in the line up, Will Gillespie and Susan Robinson infuse a palpable sense of (fiendish) joy into their performance within a closet standing in for an elevator car. This is the show that seemed to leave everyone smiling and chuckling. Gillespie chews the scenery delightfully as the very odd ‘Peter,’ while Robinson gives as good as she gets as an former exec whose outrageously blissful memories of her time managing child labourers caused shocked titters. Whether planned or coincidental, it worked perfectly into the plot that, gathered in the small space in our winter coats, we were actually starting to sweat as the tale made its way to its ‘hellish’ conclusion.


The Smartest Person in the Room
(Okay Grace Productions)
REVIEWER’S PICK
Reviewer: Gregory Cruikshank

Grace Smith invites you to attend a lecture by Professor Crawford on the subject of Jungian archetypes, one which gradually and hilariously morphs into a nightmare for anyone who’s experienced Imposter Syndrome — the feeling that any successes or achievements you’ve made are undeserved, and that it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out. The lecture hall setting allows for the incorporation of slide projections which help to enhance the comedic elements, while Smith, garbed in her pajamas and a blazer, offers up a mesmerizing performance of a woman struggling to keep it together in the face of mounting pressures and unearthed secrets. It runs the full emotional
gamut, follows a very clear character arc, and makes excellent use of its chosen space, leaving its audience thoroughly satisfied and entertained by piece’s end.


Reviewer: Allison M. Jones

As a long time academic, I found Grace Smith’s lecture hall nightmare uncomfortably apt yet entertaining. Except for the (real? imagined?) homicide, there were moments that hit a little too close to home! As the story unfolds, she captures many recognizable elements of professorial angst, and the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ that keeps many people up at night: the worry that your credibility is unfounded; that you can’t keep up with your peers; that you ultimately don’t know what you’re talking about or doing; and that if people could see behind the scenes they’d know what a sad fraud you really are. As Professor Crawford’s abrasive manner judders into indignation and increasing desperation, Smith takes the story into unexpected territory. The projections, audio, and supporting performance of Crawford’s ‘TA’ work well to give the piece a sense of awkward realism. V

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