Theatre

Hamilton Fringe Reviews 2019

The Fringe Festival continues in force, so make sure to check out these reviews and enjoy some fine theatre

Staircase – Bright Room


Animal Show

Those who love animals or have treasured their pets are hereby warned: Katie Hood’s Animal Show will break your heart in all the best ways. Based on her real life experiences as an animal rescue professional (despite having up to that point never even held a cat in her life), Hood – a consummate performer, high energy from the start, with a strong physicality and highly expressive face, switching in and out of other characters’ skins as easily as one changes their shirt – wastes no time in getting to the heart of things as she re-enacts her first call to disentangle two hawks from each other. From there, coupled with expert use of lighting to denote time, place and mood, we are treated to a series of tales and observations, all at once funny, heartbreaking, and even sickening (this last involving the sorts of people who get rid of their pets, as well as a particular rescue operation in an unassuming townhouse) as you share in her panics, her triumphs, her outrages, and even her heartbroken exhaustion and resignation as she faces the reality of what animal rescue entails.

By Gregory Cruikshank


Jimmy Hogg: Like A Virgin 

It begins with a dance party to get the audience’s blood pumping, followed by an hilarious costume-change-based gag that is repeated at least once more during the show. From there, storyteller Jimmy Hogg recounts various tales of his youthful experiences with sex, from the discovery of his father’s porn mags in his garage, to a tumultuous relationship passing notes in a math class, to his first handling of a woman’s breast, culminating in the loss of his virginity. Frequently, the narrative will halt as Hogg goes on a lengthy tangent about any number of subjects, from footballers to deconstructing a joke at his expense; rather than distract, these tangents serve only to enhance the experience, reinforcing the rapid-fire delivery and astonishingly high energy of Hogg as a performer as much as his candid and laugh-out-loud hilarious descriptions of kissing and other physical experiences. The opening night crowd, this reviewer included, were in stitches, which allowed some of the more sweet and tender-hearted moments to come through even more effectively. Fans of standup, storytelling, and sex are all encouraged to give this one a listen.

By Gregory Cruikshank


The Greatest Minds

Francesca Brugnano has a knack for exploring the darker impulses of the human psyche, and The Greatest Minds is another fine example of that, as a group of scientists find their loyalties divided and their moral compasses splintered upon discovering the ultimate weapon against the human mind. It’s a slow burn of a story, and admittedly, this does result in a few earlier scenes coming off a bit dry, with the overall pacing interrupted by awkward blackout scene transitions. Moments of characters alone onstage switching from public lecturing to self-reflective flashbacks might also benefit from a clearer shift in the lights. Nonetheless, the payoff is absolutely worth it, as Brugnano’s deft characterization and surprising twists in storytelling help to build tension and anticipation of what’s to come, leading to a climax at once terrifying and heartbreaking. Sara Laux’s Victoria carries the bulk of the story’s dramatic weight on her shoulders (and bears the burden excellently), but everyone, from Kimberly Jonasson’s sarcastic yet reactively desperate Jillian, to Rebekah Pullen’s sublimely arrogant and deliciously sinister Marla, to Jamie Taylor’s quietly tragic Shane, deliver top-notch performances that all explore the entire range of emotional intensity and audience sympathy. An absolute must-see.

By Gregory Cruikshank


Staircase – Elaine Mae Theatre


David Brennan Exhumed

After a long absence from the Hamilton theatre scene, David Brennan returns as the Gravedigger, a shambling, drunken, musical version of the Cryptkeeper. Following an amusing musical introduction, he proceeds to relay a number of stories, some lesser remembered than others, from across Canadian history, from the true crime tale of Toronto’s Eight-Day Bride, to the shipwreck of one Susannah Buckler, to the infamously tragic fates of those who sought the fabled Northwest Passage. Though each character is only slightly differentiated from each other, Brennan slides in and out of each with ease, commanding audience attention with his highly expressive face and smooth, fluid physicality as much as he does his masterful storytelling, his every use of song, rhyming prose, and conversational monologue. The play is a definite of labour of love, and Brennan relishes every moment, commanding his audience’s attention, drawing out as much laughter as possible (particularly as concerns the Gravedigger’s drink of choice), playfully riffing on his audience’s reactions. David Brennan Exhumed is a tour de force performance not to be missed.

By Gregory Cruikshank



Me as Well as Also

There’s potential in Me as Well as Also to be a great show – Bridget Odette’s script is filled with lovely prose and clever wordplay, its two lead performers (Chris Stotle and Sebastian Magie) are eminently likeable and share excellent chemistry, and co-directors Odette and Victoria Caravaggio have a clear understanding of pace and atmosphere. There are, however, obstacles in its path. The first is the curiously ambiguous nature of the characters’ relationship, and what exactly they’re trying to accomplish in their competitions – to say nothing of “Shadow” (portrayed by the silent yet captivating Sophia Foss), a complete enigma, even by play’s end, in terms of who or what she is to the others. Palpable as the cast’s chemistry is, it’s difficult to connect with the characters when it’s unclear how they connect to each other. The second obstacle is that, even as a workshop presentation, the show seems underprepared – it’s always noticeable if a tech cue comes in at the wrong time, or if an actor dries on their lines and not-so-discreetly seeks prompting from a director in the front row. The potential for greatness is there – it just needs more time to reach it.

By Gregory Cruikshank



Swipe Right for Love: A Musical Improv Show

Since its last Fringe presentation, the Understudies’ improv comedy examination of the foils and foibles of dating in the age of apps and the internet, Swipe Right For Love, has evolved to incorporate more of their inclination towards musical improv, as seen in the likes of Waaay Off Broadway. On the one hand, the results of their efforts are as hilarious as ever, with maestro keyboardist Steve MacRae clearly having a ball getting the troupe to sing along to whatever accompaniment he supplies, while each member delivers consistently amusing characters and scenarios from audience suggestion. On the other, with the tragic true tales of their own embarrassing experiences with online dating dropped from the show, it feels as if something has been lost – an undercurrent of shared life experience, that connected performer and audience just as much as the laughs and suggestions. Regardless, attendees of the show are guaranteed a full night of merriment, music, and surprisingly imaginative sexual innuendo, with no two nights ever repeating, so seeing this show is still more than worth it.

By Gregory Cruikshank


Staircase – Mainspace


Clit Wit! A Feminisit Rude Awakening/Shoddy Feminist 

How does one define – and redefine – themselves as a feminist? The Staircase’s own Colette Kendall explores this question as she offers us a glimpse into a variety of formative experiences and people throughout her life, from family to childhood bullies to summertime lovers on the lake. The play isn’t all serious reflection and feminist contemplation, of course – one of Colette’s strengths as a performer is her comic timing and sense of humour, and starting with the dream sequence that kicks the show off, it’s made clear that this is a funny show. Clever use of multimedia projection (in particular, a brilliantly hysterical slideshow accompanying a recitation of “rules” taught to keep young women safe from harm) reinforce all of the show’s many dimensions, and through it all, Colette keeps our attention with her confident presence, high energy, precision comic timing, and willingness to bear her heart and soul on her sleeve as she takes us throughout her life’s assorted stories.

By Gregory Cruikshank



Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton 

REVIEWER’S PICK

A story of love, literacy, snobbery, fingering (of the piano forte), and the biggest balls in the region, Promise and Promiscuity is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek musical homage to the writings of Jane Austen, replete with original songs applied to classic tunes like Greensleeves or the music of Beethoven. Penny Ashton portrays her show’s full cast of characters, from its witty writer protagonist, to her bouncy little sister, to her extroverted suitor, to the suitor’s overly proper mother, and beyond, each one with their own distinctive physical carriage, manner of speech, and facial expressiveness, presenting entire scenes across the entire stage with only herself to play with. The show’s comedy stylings range from pop culture references to bawdy innuendoes, from punny wordplay to skewering the prejudices and sensibilities of the age, but often the funniest moments stem from Ashton’s unexpected improvizations, from her playing off a delayed sound or lighting cue without breaking character, to her interactions with especially rowdy audience members, including a randomly selected dance partner. It’s a show that will leave you grinning ear to ear from start to finish, whether you’re an Austen aficionado, a theatregoer of any stripe, or any other sort of human.

By Gregory Cruikshank



Squeeze My Cans

Cathy Schenkelberg’s recounting of her experience with Scientology – getting in, living under it, and eventually escaping – is at once hilarious, educational, uncomfortable, harrowing, and heartbreaking. Schenkelberg more than capably illustrates her own evolution from a wide-eyed ingénue, to an increasingly uncertain yet ever eager disciple, to a financially strained and emotionally exhausted woman whose life seems to have completely passed her by. Her versatility as a voice actor proves beneficial in this – 23-year-old Cathy is very different from present-day Cathy in accent and demeanor – as well as in portraying the robotic, indifferent tones of her assorted “auditors” through the years. The use of slide projections helps reinforce some of her points, whether establishing a location, providing a convenient visual metaphor, or simply in depicting an ever-increasing dollar value for all the money she put into Scientology. The performance I attended was interrupted in its final minutes by an unexpected rain-related leak in the theatre, yet Schenkelberg (with the consent of a more-than-willing audience) persevered, briefly switching to a more casual, conversational elaboration on this point in her Scientology journey, before ultimately finishing over the sound and bustle surrounding said leak. A survivor’s story not to be missed.

By Gregory Cruikshank



Lost Lake

Lost Lake is a story about unlikely friends: one is an African-American mother renting a lakeside cabin, and the other is the rural “ne’er do well” who owns it. They are the only people seen or heard throughout the entire play, and the cabin’s interior is the only visible setting. As a result, each scene boils down to the two of them having a conversation, and the narrative revolves around the way their relationship develops. Each of the two is a complex, three-dimensional character, and the character development that both of them grow through is very entertaining to watch. Much of the show’s humour is driven by the contrast between them, while the most poignant moments come when they are able to find common ground. Unfortunately, while no other characters appear onstage, many of them are discussed at length. The biggest example is that of the mother’s two children, who are strangely absent despite accompanying her to the cabin. Lost Lake is good at making the most of what it has, but it would benefit from a larger cast and a wider range of locations; it is better to show than to tell.



La Nuit Du Vagabond

La Nuit Du Vagabond is a stunning work of performance art that shows the Hamilton Aerial Group at their best, transforming feats of acrobatic skill into a form of interpretive dance. The performers are clearly very good at what they do, but their show this year does more than simply demonstrate their abilities. Their performance tells the story of a group of people fleeing from a malevolent entity, searching for a better life. Although there is no form of dialogue, the HAG tells a compelling story through physical performance, making excellent use of the Cotton Factory’s theatre space. High ceilings make room for rope swings and aerial silk, while performers on stilts dance freely across a large, open stage. At the back of the room, a projector screen adds context with vibrant backgrounds and occasional quotations. In the wrong hands, symbolic artwork can easily devolve into pretentious absurdity, but every motion in La Nuit Du Vagabond feels meaningful. The Hamilton Aerial Group tells a compelling story – albeit an implicit one – and it is well worth an hour of your time. 

By Arthur Bullock



Tiny Bill Cody Sees the Devil

It is not always easy to make a true story entertaining, but Tor Lukasik-Foss does it exceptionally well. The storytelling itself is delivered in Lukasik-Foss’s signature style, using movement, voice and facial expressions to turn the mundane into something hilarious. Where an ordinary man might simply hesitate to offer money, Lukasik-Foss depicts a fierce internal battle with his own social anxiety. In-between each section of storytelling is an original song by Lukasik-Foss, dramatizing the events of the story and foreshadowing what is yet to come. Not only are these songs entertaining on their own merits, but they also serve as clever transitions, giving the audience some time to reflect on what they’ve heard. Being a story that is at least mostly true, Tiny Bill Cody Sees the Devil deals with everyday human experiences: the feeling of becoming a “deer in the headlights”, the fear of social judgement by your peers, and the all-too-common urge to beat yourself up for past mistakes. In recounting these experiences, Lukasik-Foss shows us how we might overcome them, and he makes absolutely sure that we have fun hearing about it.

By Arthur Bullock



Charly’s Piano

Charly’s Piano is a charming true story of empathy and compassion, set in early-1970s Toronto. The protagonist and storyteller, Charly Chiarelli, recounts his time at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, working as a psychiatric assistant. Throughout the course of the story, Charly gets to know the staff and patients of the institute, forming close bonds with all of them. Each patient is treated like an individual, with the dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. As a Fringe storyteller, Chiarelli is friendly and energetic, speaking to the audience as though he was having a warm conversation with them. Chiarelli also incorporates live music into his act: he will periodically sing a blues tune and play the harmonica, while Ronald Weihs accompanies him on the acoustic guitar. Charly’s Piano is not just a story: more than anything else, it is an invitation to step into someone else’s shoes. It sheds light on the lives of mental health patients just as much as it recounts Chiarelli’s own life, and it reminds us of the incredible potential for change that one person can have. 

By Arthur Bullock



Bungalow

At first glance, Bungalow is a play that appears to be relatable. It describes itself as “a play you might find happening in your front yard”, and dialogue reveals that it is actually set in Hamilton. Kiefer and Lloyd are neighbours sharing a wall, with the former reluctantly getting to know the latter. The two are able to play off each other fairly well, and at first the humour is rooted in their differences as characters. However, the jokes become increasingly crude as the story progresses, and it is not long before the shock value wears off. The character of Lloyd ostensibly represents Hamilton working class, yet he is an unpleasant, two-dimensional misogynist. The upper-class Kiefer is repulsed by him at first, but he does far too little to disavow Lloyd’s sexist behaviour. To top all of this off, the show does very little to build up or foreshadow its conflicts. Anything that serves to complicate the story comes completely out of nowhere, and the abrupt ending leaves many plot threads unresolved. The idea that Bungalow in any way reflects the city of Hamilton is laughable at best and insulting at worst. 

By Arthur Bullock



Come to the Edge!

In describing the content of Come to the Edge, the self-proclaimed Watchers of the Edge make many bold claims. They promise to “challenge what you believe is possible”, and to deliver an interactive performance that will “take your imagination to the edge of the unknown.” Yet as much as they seem to take pride in their work, the experience for an attendee is more than a little disappointing. Those who pay to watch the show – or arrive to review it, as the case may be – are reduced to props in make-believe games, and then largely ignored once their part has been played. An improvised story forms the bulk of the 90 minutes, but at no point does it feel like you’re watching a show. For all intents and purposes, it is designed to entertain the performers themselves, while the paying attendees are treated like unimportant bystanders. I hesitate to use the term “audience member”, because being in an audience means having a performance directed towards you – and whatever Come to the Edge may have been, it was clearly not produced for the benefit of outside observers.

By Arthur Bullock



Journey to the East 

REVIEWER’S PICK

Many plays are designed to tell a story, but it is rare to see one that can truly immerse you into the world it creates. Journey to the East is one such play, combining well-choreographed physical theatre with a brilliant combination of lighting and sound. The story of the play depicts the metaphysical journey of a world-war 1 veteran named Herman, accompanied by his own older self. After losing track of a fellow soldier named Leo, he meets another man who closely resembles him. The two of them join a procession of people walking eastward, but Herman continues to be haunted by his past. A description of the play is nothing in comparison to the experience of watching it; even the most detailed synopsis would fail to capture the incredible depth of the experience. The play’s narrative is admittedly complex, but it is more than worth your time. This is a performance that should not be missed, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone with time in their schedule.

By Arthur Bullock



Bad Ideas

Bad Ideas has some very good ideas, but they aren’t quite ready to be more than that just yet. The latest from Hamilton’s Notapom Productions is a series of vignettes that run the genre gamut from sci-if and western to drama and comedy. The four performers bringing these stories to life, Kyle Billie, Bil Cho, Maddie Krusto, and Mykola Paskaruk, make a strong team, their versatility lending credence to the ever-changing characters they play, though Paskaruk is hard to hear at times.  And while the writing has many moments of wit and poignancy, the goofier gags tend to go too far, the scenes too long. Indeed, this 90-minute production could easily be whittled down by a good thirty minutes and made the stronger for it. There also seems to be a lack of direction here. In many scenes there was little-to-no blocking, rendering the actors stagnant and tempering otherwise dynamic performances. With fine-tuning, the gems strewn throughout these skits could be brought to the fore and really made to shine.

By Maxie Dara



Diamond in the Rough

When the devoted patrons of a Hamilton watering hole learn of its impending closure, they drown their sorrows in booze and tunes, but among the regulars at Big Shotz is a face from out of town, and a voice from the Billboard charts. Diamond in the Rough’s writer, director, and Neil Diamond himself, Will Gillespie, looks and sounds the part of the singing sensation. The original songs he croons alongside the quirky grab bag of bar regulars are as charming as the other characters themselves, from Michelle La Haise’s sultry Back-Alley Sally and Susan Leonard Cain’s skillfully portrayed multitude of roles. The story itself is rather thin, and mostly acts as an excuse to transition from song to song. This becomes especially apparent during more dramatic scenes, as they tended to lack the impact of their lighthearted counterparts. Truly, this is a show that shines the most when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. From the enormous energy of the cast to the clever one-liners and toe-tapping tunes, this show would be a treat for any Neil Diamond fan.

By Maxie Dara



Back Home

An understated two-hander about family dynamics, nostalgia, and immigration, Back Home follows a drunken father (Dayjan Lesmond) during his last moments with his daughter (Jennah Foster-Catlack) before his ex-wife takes custody. Through a series of flashbacks, monologues, and father-daughter conversations, Forbes recounts the struggles of his life in Canada after growing up in the Caribbean. The dynamics at play here are very much a reversal of roles, with 13-year-old Keenya the patient voice of reason to her father’s self-pitying rants. Foster-Catlack has a sparkling stage presence and gives Keenya an interesting balance of beyond-her-years maturity and youthful quirks. Lesmond does his best with Forbes, despite difficulties adhering to a Caribbean accent, though the character doesn’t engender much sympathy even though the play revolves around him. From laughing at the drunkenness that led to his lost custody to his immaturity and the derogatory way he often speaks about his ex-wife, Forbes’s characterization makes it difficult to feel for him or his journey, which is the very thing this play hinges on. 

By Maxie Dara


Knitting Pilgrim

Kirk Dunn is a knitting genius. Oh, his tapestries are breathtaking masterpieces to be sure, but beyond the fine touch of his needles, Dunn also manages to seamlessly knit his life story, the story of his life’s work, and delicate topics like religion, politics, and philosophy into his one-man show with effortless artistry. Knitting Pilgrim is the multimedia history of three religious tapestries knit by Dunn in an effort to bring the three Abrahamic faiths together. Doesn’t sound compelling? You’d be surprised. The established actor is an inescapably engaging storyteller, weaving innovative projection into his tale and engaging the audience in a knitting lesson throughout the show. It’s hard not to be captivated by Dunn’s warmth and enthusiasm for his project, and the stakes of completing this work of art for the sake of unity and in the face of numerous struggles feel as high as any. The stunning backdrop of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church only serve to enhance this beautiful exploration of religion and the threads that connect us all.

By Maxie Dara



A Time of Future Tales

REVIEWER’S PICK

If an apocalypse is going to result in anything close to A Time of Future Tales, bring it on. A folksy musical set in the junkyard commune of a collapsed society, Future Tales is a triumph of creativity and talent. The ragtag members of this dystopian community invite you to a party full of tales about the way things are and used to be. Bursting with imagination, a stunning original soundtrack, and goosebump-inducing harmonies, this play engages head and heart in equal measure. Liam Crober-Best and Tevra Plamondon are rocks as parental figures, while Meghan Caine is endearing as a girl who wants to know the truth, and Alexa MacDougall is a true songbird. An undeniable standout in this exceptional cast, Russel Niessen has the voice and stage presence for Broadway. This group doesn’t have a single weak link, the acting and singing abilities of the cast even more impressive when paired with the various instruments they play throughout. The show’s creator, Eudes La Roche-Francoeur, has something truly beautiful and unique here, with the potential for more. This show may be about the end of the world, but could be the start of something big.

By Maxie Dara



Bushtits, Shihtzus & Private Dicks: All’s Fur in Love and Noir

If you want to change your life, get a new hat. At least, that’s how it works for Trevor Matheson’s meek leading man in Bushtits, Shihtzus & Private Dicks: All’s Fur in Love and Noir. When the film noir-obsessed dollar store employee puts on an old Hollywood prop hat, he changes from mild-mannered to suave detective, and just in time, too. Someone is stealing pets from his apartment complex, and there’s no one better to solve the crime than a noir detective. Melissa Dorsey must be powered by the Energizer Bunny, her energy unmatchable as she runs about the stage, transforming into a small nation’s-worth of characters with ease. Matheson keeps pace in his own way, his comedic timing and switches between alter egos seamless. This show is a masterclass in directing. With brilliant use of space, staging, props and costumes, sound and lighting, Bushtits achieves an incredibly polished, professional result. The script is a clever one, full of laugh-out-loud moments and groan-worthy (in the best possible way) puns. An innovative crowd pleaser helmed by a very dynamic duo, this is a show worth investigating. 

By Maxie Dara



We’ve Come From Away (Toronto): A Sketch Comedy

Despite the title’s homage to a certain musical, We’ve Come From Away (Toronto): A Sketch Comedy trades songs for laughs. A series of skits that cover everything from aging and dating to politics and motherhood, We’ve Come From Away hits the mark in a way not every sketch show can. The writing is tight, each sketch fine-tuned and ending just where it should. The six performers themselves are equally polished, their experience and prowess evident with the ease in which they perform sketches that are as insightful as they are hilarious. Though some sketches land stronger than others, all offer fresh, creative concepts you aren’t likely to have seen before. This hour of comedy is an endlessly enjoyable one and We’ve Come From Away goes away once again far too soon. 

By Maxie Dara



One Last Toast to the Schafer Street Queen

One Last Toast to the Schafer Street Queen begins as a musical send-off to a beloved fictional bar slated for closure before taking a hard left and veering off the road into uncharted territory. The twist that starts to trickle in roughly a quarter of the way through is unexpected, to say the least, and, without spoiling anything, the show abandons any semblance of what it first purported itself to be. It’s an ambitious undertaking, though there’s no clear purpose for it. The characters don’t grow, storylines don’t resolve, choices aren’t explained, and at times it feels odd for the sake of oddness. There is some fun music from writer/composer Jordan May, performed with spirit by the cast-turned-band, and the ensemble-work throughout is strong. Jesse Manou is a wonderful comic relief, and Bill Reill a solid presence. Though by contrast, Matt Morrison as the show’s lead and the Queen’s bartender, Tony, hovers outside of his character, never sinking into the role in an organic way. But the Fringe Festival is all about taking risks, and, successfully or not, One Last Toast was certainly brave enough to step outside of expectations.

By Maxie Dara



The Westdale Cinema


A Two Piece

A Two Piece, as advertised, is two separate but thematically related dance performances, one choreographed by Georgi DiRocco, the other a collaboration between DiRocco and Jake Poloz. The cast and creators are all experienced young adult dance professionals. In the first performance, I was fascinated by the rapid, juddering, machine like movements of the female dancer (Carleen Zouboules), and charmed by the way the male dancer (Christian Lavigne) embodied the insecurity and bashfulness of a would be suitor. I find dance most compelling when I can clearly identify the narrative behind the movement, and feel frustrated when I’m told there is one and I can’t find it. In this show I found that I could follow the purpose behind the movement, especially in the second piece, which starts with a group of young women swiping left or right on Tinder. Later, I was amazed how two of the dancers coordinated their movements while having their vision obscured by masks. I am no expert when it comes to dance, but I was intrigued by the finely tuned physicality on stage. It felt fresh and thought provoking. 

By Allison M. Jones



Fuckboys the Musical

When I originally heard the title, I thought, ‘this will either be really good, or really bad.’ I’m pleased to report that the former is true. Fuckboys the Musical, with its ‘take no prisoners’ name, has more to it plot-wise than first meets the eye, and a wealth of sharp and clever dialogue. Hailing from Orlando, this seven member cast features four girlfriends who regularly hang out at their favourite watering hole. If you’re thinking it sounds a little ‘Sex in the City,’ it’s more down to earth than that. Each of the women has a persona, loosely speaking: sweet, New Agey, sarcastic, snarky, but thankfully they are more relatable in appearance and experience than those TV gals. More choreographed numbers, and no Manolo Blahniks. And can I just say (as a larger gal), how lovely it is to see larger bodies onstage, male and especially female, where it isn’t a plot point or a character determinant? Hallelujah! It’s a musical tale of trying to find your way in life while negotiating the minefield of dating, and it’s relatable no matter if you’re experiencing that now or long before the term ‘fuckboy’ was coined. 

By Allison M. Jones



Infinite Sequels

One man. A violinist with a kind face. A room scattered with balled up paper. Many visits to a tall bottle of scotch. This show is, I would hazard to say, a theatrical experience at the opposite end of the spectrum from You Want It What Way?, the boy band musical. I saw both in the same afternoon with another show wedged in between. I enjoyed them both, but in completely different ways. David Stone’s Infinite Sequels is a meticulously assembled and rehearsed experience. We’re witnesses to a man contemplating life, love and the passage of time to the accompaniment of lovely live violin alongside recorded music reminiscent of the Titanic soundtrack. It is a poetic accounting of one man’s life, without much in the way of narration help segue from one poem to another. I would have enjoyed more prose storytelling to link the recitations. An hour of poetry is an intense thing, even for those who (like myself) do enjoy poetry and relish wordplay. For me, the performance occasionally felt a little overwrought, though no one could deny Stone’s commitment. In its best moments, it began to transcend the space, and emerging into the mundane world again seemed jarring. The audience I shared skewed rather older and many were moved, remarking about it with admiration as they walked away.

By Allison M. Jones


not_ALL? Filetype:Unknown

Like a kind of Sisyphus, cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, ‘Them’ (Jordan M. Burns) is shackled not only to a boulder of his own, representing the harsh realities of gender expectations, but bound also to ‘She’ (Katherine Basile) and ‘He’ (Daniel Sutherland). Neither make for good company: ‘She’ alternates between slyly and seductively ingratiating herself with ‘Them,’ and raging & shrieking like a harpy at both ‘Them’ and ‘He.’ Only fleetingly does she seem happy with ‘He.’ Meanwhile, ‘He’ is no better a companion; ‘He’ is by turns sinister with aggression, blunt and crude in his swagger, showing glimpses of something more vulnerable and emotional. This is a physical yet highly symbolic exploration of gender norms and social constraints. Sometimes the narrative gets a bit muddy and meaning lost in the shouting, but it’s a provocative piece.

By Allison M. Jones



The Promised Land

Like an old time radio drama come to life, a classic film noir for the stage, The Promised Land features clever wordplay and quips galore. The action’s split between a sleepy town in Indiana, and a Chicago nightclub. There’s all the usual characters: the mysterious newcomer, the stalwart gal, her traditional father, and the lovable misfit who loves telling a tale. There’s also the shady business partner, the dangerous dame, the sweet waitress, the affable young musician, and the sexy singer on the make. It’s a hell of play with a large cast and lots of intricate dialogue, and the actors all do an excellent job. You can’t possibly feel you haven’t gotten your money’s worth at the end of this show. It’s an ambitious undertaking, literally an old movie acted live, and it’s solidly executed. If I had one qualm, it’d be the 90 minute run time. The plot in the first half builds so very slowly that the play kind of lumbers along. Perhaps the pacing could be reconsidered. I found out later that Erica May-Wood, the understudy for the role of ‘Mira Ziegler,’ performed when I saw the show. So well prepared was the actor (especially given her involvement in another Fringe production), that I was amazed. I would never have known she wasn’t the usual performer.

By Allison M. Jones



We All Got Lost

REVIEWER’S PICK

Winner of the Hamilton Fringe New Play Contest, this production has already elicited a lot of attention. It has a young local playwright (Camille Intson), and an all female ensemble cast. The audience was chock full of supportive friends and family when I attended its opening night performance. We All Got Lost is billed as a coming of age tale, and follows a group of Northern Ontario Catholic schoolgirls attempting to navigate, as best as they can, the rigors of school, adolescence, family, and identity. They turn to each other, and to the woods where they start spinning tales among the trees. Play acting like girls, yet grappling with ever more mature and troubling issues, the act of their storytelling itself symbolizes the uneasy transitions they are each trying to make in their lives. At times ethereal and atmospheric, the production values, including lighting and sound, are excellent. Stage Manager David Faulkner-Rundle has done an exceptional job. The things that dissatisfy me somewhat about the play involve mostly unanswered questions or issues not fully resolved: about the origins of Kate’s silence; the aftermath of a character’s death; the intersection of Nicole’s religiosity and sexuality; Maeve’s home life and the fall out from the climactic death of her friend. But the saying, ‘always leave them wanting more,’ may very well be true here. This story gives much to ponder after the actors have left the stage.

By Allison M. Jones



You Want It What Way? A Boy Band Tale

I took in this show after seeing its polar opposite, Infinite Sequels, earlier in the day. It’s one of the great things about Fringe: patrons can enjoy a wide range of shows, often without leaving a single venue. You Want It What Way? is a romp. It’s a happy Golden Retriever puppy of a show. It’s a little messy around the edges, and has no deep thinking to impart. But it’s a lot of fun, and it’s hard to ignore its charm and high energy. In this time of anxiety fuelling geopolitics and general irritability, it may be exactly what you want. Given the well attended performance, it fit the bill for many folks! Running the gamut of largely American boy bands from the last four decades, even paying its respects to the 60’s and 70’s, YWIWW? features four men loosely embodying the stereotypical members of a boy band (e.g. ‘The Bad Boy,’ ‘The Heartthrob). There are a handful of sketches to break up the mostly lip synced dance numbers, and some play more successfully than others. Mostly though, the focus is on the dance numbers, and while they may not be entirely perfect in their execution, they bring plenty of enthusiasm and encourage the audience to sing and clap along. The audience had men and women of every age group, and as I got up to leave, I overheard an older woman remark, “I had a really great time! Wasn’t it amazing?”

By Allison M. Jones


Site-Specific #2: Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts


HCA Teen Creation Collective: Connections

The Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts figures centrally in this offering by a team of teenage thespians. Connections is the result of a two week devised theatre program, creating small vignettes and larger ensemble pieces. Two guides (Alex Sirman & Mara Rumley) lead visitors upstairs, the former spinning tall tales about the space while the latter corrects him with long-suffering impatience. On arrival, patrons have received a small stamp on one hand corresponding to one of four rooms in which short scenes are performed with two or three performers. Visitors cycle through the rooms, eavesdropping on scenes from various incarnations of the building: as a conservatory, youth home, and vacant space. The vignette between a pianist (Bianca Soskic) and a ghost (Adriana Capistrano) is particularly well done with humour and a dash of pathos. I was impressed by all the actors’ obvious preparation, and the way they carried out their scenes nicely within the time allotted. I also admired the confidence with which they inhabited both the smaller rooms and then the stage in the auditorium. A few performers need to work on projecting their voices, while others must remember that louder doesn’t necessarily mean more resonant (and that there’s more to strong emotion than volume). I liked the collision of past and present in the stories, and the positive message of believing in oneself. This was a worthwhile experience that I’d enjoy seeing at future Fringes. 

By Allison M. Jones


Theatre Aquarius


(Sex) Cult: A Musical (S)explosion

Fresh from the London Fringe, Becka Jay and Leete Stetson are a polished duo with oodles of creativity and talent. Musically precise, they share their journey as a “Cult of two” casting ironies onto organized religions, propaganda (or should I say parables), and even the conundrum of the centaur. Who knew the mystique of the centaur really lies in his innards? Full of energy and charm, they tell the tale of their voyage from disillusioned arts grads to emancipated former Cult members all in 60 minutes. Though they bicker about the role of sex in their quest for belonging, they stick together in a joyful and sweet production well worth your fringe dollars.

By Tamara Kamermans



Monster

Twitches and Itches Theatre from St. Catharines presents this one man show starring Colin Bruce Athens. One actor and a black box fills the auditorium with tales of human perversities and dark inner obsessions. Two things keep us listening: an actor who can tell a story, and the human instinct that draws us toward, at least a peak, at the tragedies and bloodshed in the lives of others. Athens is certainly impressive but with so many roles to play a least a few start to blend together and this blurs the audiences understanding. Some stories are mesmerizing and some distract as we try to piece together the plots and characters. That said he does a fantastic job with movement and levels with a single piece of furniture and has diction like no other. It’s a both remarkable and disturbing production.

By Tamara Kamermans



How to Confront a Rhinoceros

Tinkerspace Theatre from London was the winner of the 2015 Fringiest Show Award. Brought to you by Tyler and Jocelyn Graham, it lies solidly in the political message genre. It ironically touches on current uprisings in our own city and may help to illuminate those who are interested in the activities outside our very own city Hall. Perhaps, loosely inspired by Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, it provides an animal allegory of politics and at least one beautiful explanation for the mystery of spontaneous consent in the proletariat. Artistically, I applaud the crafty visuals and suggest that you try working other casts members into the production. If politics is your bag then this is your show.

By Tamara Kamermans


Final Log

Written by and starring Jim McCaskill, the production is brought to the Fringe by Dreamers of Deep all the way from North Bay. My impression is that this is a good piece of writing that just hasn’t found its stage legs yet. It might have worked better as just a reading without the dramatization. I feel like it wants to be a novel or even a film but not a barebones presentation. McCaskill knows his material well which sometimes works against a performer as assumptions are made about what we can grasp. In the end, I don’t think the audience is able to take on the depth of what is offered and is left pondering a lot of unknowns. A great story better for listening than watching this time around.

By Tamara Kamermans



Izzy and the Naz

Izzy Ferguson and Briane Nasimok bring their considerable writing and acting talent to the stage as a last minute entry to the Fringe. Their position wasn’t confirmed until July 1st but you’d never know it. Nasimok is a Canadian Comedy Award recipient and Ferguson a five time CBC Literary Prize Finalist and it shows in their professional and easy style on stage. Just two men, two chairs and a collection of compelling and delightful tales about crushes, first dates, flying and working in the comedy business: failures become laughter and losses lessons. The hour breezes by and leaves you only wanting more. Storytelling is at its finest in this production.

By Tamara Kamermans



The Merry Musings of a Mediocre Woman

Playwright, director and performer Tammy McCleod-Casey tells it like it is in this one woman rant with musical interludes. As well as getting a last minute spot in the Fringe, she self-confesses that with her busy life, she has set aside exactly 21 minutes a day to work on this project excluding Mondays. It’s bare bones but presented with such passion and bang on timing that you can’t help but be swept away into her hysterical rendering of the life of a mother of three with a bad case of the “as of yet undiagnosed” spins. To me this show most represents the spirit of Fringe: not perfect but there in spirit in spades. Alert: If you are Generation X, this is perhaps your musical manifesto.

By Tamara Kamermans



Fairytale Femdom

Caitlin Robson is director/actress and playwright on this production from Squeakywheel productions in Toronto. This show is problematic. First, it isn’t complete. It presents as a meandering improv with the occasional insertion of sex trade terminology to somehow gain the audiences interest through shock value.   Second, it relies on the titillation of sex, nudity, and the Dom subculture to lure in an audience. I would love to hear a true story of empowerment of someone who works/lives in this subculture. What I don’t what to watch is someone sensationalizing and taking away the authenticity of someone else’s existence in order to tell stories about dating….not that there’s anything wrong with stories about dating especially if they are your dates. Good things about this show: They have donated proceeds to sex trade workers and so they should. 

By Tamara Kamermans



Leila LIVE

REVIEWER'S PICK

Izad Etemadi runs away with the Fringe again! This one woman/man show brought to you by Bad Girl Leila productions in Toronto is absolutely the pinnacle of social cultural commentary and good “feels” laughter. Leila for Mayor! Leila for Prime Minister!! Wherever Leila is going from here, you need to follow her. A little bird tells me she’s off to the Edinburgh Fringe next year and I confirm she’d be worth the flight. She can sing; she can dance; she can make a puppet from an oven mit. She recites Christina Aguilera like only Shakespeare intended and for the first time, you know what it’s like to be a Genie in Bottle. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll cry laughing and then she’ll make you dance.

By Tamara Kamermans


Slow Dancing With Mediocre Boys

Slow Dancing With Mediocre Boys hit home for me in unexpected and poignant ways.  Grace Smith’s one woman show (with pre-recorded other characters in voiceover) covers the life of a young girl growing up in Canada in the late 90s/early 2000s from middle school to university.  First kisses, social awkwardness, knowing what you actually want and how to get it and how easy it is to convince yourself that all you need is a boyfriend and you’ll finally be complete are all themes that resonate; Smith is funny and vulnerable and her work manages to avoid trite clichés.  I never lost the sense that this was one girl’s story, and it never stopped reminding me of mine.  I laughed in the moment and it lingered with me after I left. Well worth the price of a Fringe ticket.

By Rachel More


Bedwetter

Tamlynn Bryson is so funny.  I want her to be my friend because she is so so funny.  But since I’m not a stalker, I’ll have to settle for laughing uproariously at everything she does on stage.  Bedwetter was 100% more than I was expecting, and I was expecting a lot.  I laughed, I learned, I quoted after the show.  Please go see Bedwetter; you’ll be so glad you did.  There’s not a lot to say without giving it all away, but it’s a one-woman show (sort of) about wetting the bed and it’s really really funny.  If you’re not convinced yet I’ll say that it’s a one-woman show about so much more than wetting the bed and it’s really really really funny.  Now go already!

By Rachel More



Black Wool Jacket

Black Wool Jacket was not my cup of tea – maybe it’s the fact that it was the third one-woman show I saw in a row or maybe it’s the fact that I found Natalie Frijia hard to hear from the back of the house and my attention wandered, but I didn’t find her stories of life as a nightclub coat check girl particularly compelling.  That said, my companion enjoyed it very much and so did several others in the audience, and I learned a number of interesting things about elephants.  If you’re curious about how elephants and nightclubs go together, I guess you’re going to have to see Black Wool Jacket.

By Rachel More



Confessions of an Operatic Mute

Briane Nasimok has the old school storyteller vibe down pat.  His tales of his career as a supernumerary (non-singing extra) for the Canadian Opera Company in the 1970s are a fascinating glimpse into a mostly un-chronicled world and according to my mother who also worked at the COC at the same time, likely true.  He has the seasoned delivery of a professional funnyman, which indeed he is, with a career in Canadian comedy going back decades.   Confessions feels like getting drunk with your most interesting uncle.

By Rachel More



Mercury Man: The Last Performance of Orson Welles

REVIEWER'S PICK

Mercury Man is a play with all the elements and it’s very good.  It’s passionate, well-crafted, funny, and sad, there’s newsreel footage and original animation, the make-up and costuming are smart and spot-on.  The actors are all great and it’s impossible to pick a standout.  There are two Orson Welles (Joel Pettigrew and Rod McTaggart) on stage and they are very different men and yet it’s completely possible to believe they are also the same man.  Cora Matheson and Adrian Gorrissen round out the rest of the ensemble but they’re not spear-carriers, they’re integral parts.  Matheson in particular brings a lot of depth to her Georgie.  With a lesser script, Georgie could be a straight-up audience surrogate, but Mercury Man the play is a very good script.  It’s a non-linear memory play that never confuses and it’s a fine and fitting (and honest) tribute to Orson Welles.

By Rachel More



The Easter Bunny

This is a tough review to write.  I can’t say much about the plot of the Easter Bunny except to say it purports to take you into the mind of a serial sexual predator.  I have no possible way of knowing how successful it is in that aim, but it made me uncomfortable and I didn’t enjoy it.  However there is no violence or disturbing imagery except that created by the words.  Fringe Festivals are a place to see things that might never be seen again (though this is at least its second outing after the TO Fringe in 2018) and I would never suggest that you shouldn’t see something just because it’s dark and unsettling, but you should know that’s what you’re in for.

By Rachel More



A Woman of A Certain Age

I’m going through a lot right now and it seems fitting that my fringe experience was bookended two one-woman shows that really rang true for me in very different ways.  While Slow Dancing with Mediocre Boys brought me back to my youth, A Woman of A Certain Age made me think about my future.  Luckily, Wendy Froberg is warm and funny and while she isn’t glossing over the fact that patriarchy and capitalism are working together to render women over 55 “invisible” she also isn’t presenting a show anywhere near as bleak as this sentence started.  I appreciate the choice to play multiple characters – A Woman of A Certain Age felt theatrical in the right way.  None of us deserve to become invisible and Wendy Froberg is fighting back in the best way.

By Rachel More


Family Fringe Aquarius


TiBert in Hamilton

Rob Malo as TiBert is completely comfortable with an audience. He is skilled at weaving storytelling with imaginative play, hands-on activities, juggling skills and music. He gently encouraged audience participation. I would have said the life-sized cartoon of TiBert wasn’t necessary-but a child in the audience was delighted, so who am I to say? I did think some clever set pieces could help him, but the tired blanket was used so skillfully I could only enjoy the show. This is the kind of magic that works with kids- a skilled storyteller bringing them in to a warm experience.

By Liz Writ



The Butler: A Superhero Detective Story

I will admit a bias against superhero stories. I find them too complex and didactic. I will say I appreciated the energy and talent of the young cast. However, I did not like the use of the screen. Live theatre for kids, it seems to me, should be live. There were some long scene changes that feel really long to a young audience. The message was heartfelt but complicated. I also think no humour involving people getting hit on the head is appropriate. Still, if your child is used to such stories, it may be an easy entry into live theatre.

By Liz Writ



Dungee the Dragon &the Just-Okay Juggler

Dan Boyer uses the well-known tropes of fairy tales to tell a fun story of persistence and communication. He has a lot of good storyteller tricks- audience involvement, props and voices to delineate characters, use of repetition, juggling and a dragon puppet.  While not as intimate an experience as TiBert, Boyer has the skills to bring the story to life. When the puppet dragon chased him across the stage on his own arm the kids laughed with delight. They understood the silliness but were enchanted with the story. What more could you want?

By Liz Writ


Tourism Hamilton


Equity Rules

This play made me uncomfortable. I can say that because I think that was the point. Two very skilled actors ramp up the tension in this short piece. Cortnee Pope does a terrific job of showing us an actress moving through the mind trap of an audition with a powerfully sneering director played by Joshua Perry Flemming. I was particularly impressed with the contrast between the actresses first and second tries at the audition. We see her fighting for the part and fighting for her dignity. I don’t like the feeling I had as a voyeur-but it is very well performed and a measure of its success that I was squirming.

By Liz Writ


Hamilton for Beginners

Mark McNeil tells a good story and is skilled at putting his observations to music. Hamilton has a certain down home quality and humour that he appreciates. It’s the biggest small town on the planet.  I think he gets it right. I’d like to see him give up the use of notes and the powerpoint images and let his talent shine, but it was totally enjoyable as it was. Who knew about the fly killing contest?  It’s the sort of show that you want to bring your Dad to so you can reminisce about your own experiences of the City and its quirks.

By Liz Writ



My Breast Self

Emanuela Hall takes us into some intimate places with this short play about breastfeeding. She confronts some of the fears and pitfalls of motherhood with grace and humour. How many women suffer in silence that they are ambivalent about motherhood? Motherhood is hard and feelings of inadequacy haunt women no matter what choices they make. Good for her for challenging motherhood myths and encouraging women to be honest about their experiences. If you are a young mom come with a friend and you’ll have plenty of time to talk about your experiences.

By Liz Writ



Diamonds on Plastic

REVIEWIER'S PICK

I was riveted by this performance. Margaret Lamarre totally shines in this short play by Philip Cairns. She commands the stage with her strong but vulnerable character. Her eyes sparkles and her hands dance as she talks about shopping as an erotic passion. But she eventually finds her true passion in her best friend. A southern belle in Scarborough, her character Doris finds herself in the throes of lesbian love. I didn’t want it to be over-though the ending was perfectly poignant.  Lamarre is a jewel.

By Liz Writ



The Bottom of the Cup

This short play involving the reading of tea leaves is performed by a talented ensemble of three women. It begins with a familiar scene of a pushy, stereotype of a tea leaf reader then quickly does a sharp turn. The twists of the plot are as satisfying as a good cup of tea. I loved the old-time feel of the set and the costume and hair of the reluctant customer, but felt our gypsy’s costume could have been a little less modern. Still, that is a detail that her skills compensate for. It is a charming piece.

By Liz Writ



Under where?

In Under Where? Annalee Flint takes us on a brief but totally enjoyable tour of undergarments. Her presence on stage is delightful. It is not so much a history lesson as a reflection on the whims of fashion and women’s roles. I particularly liked her use of a backlit paper scrim for costume changes to music that added a little flirty burlesque feel. I’d like to see it grow into a longer show with more accurate costuming, and perhaps more biting insights, but it works very well as it is. Annalee is a force to watch.

By Liz Writ




This article can be found on