Fringe in review
Gazette staffers weigh in
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 17, 2013 06:00 am
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival is here and open for business.
At its main location in the Old Strathcona arts district, the streets are barricaded and thousands are strolling towards the site and watching the parade of characters from outdoor cafés.
Bleeding zombies, unlikely superheroes, strolling musicians, circus firemen, roller derby girls and even a one-eyed dog were all part of the long-awaited window dressing at Thursday's opening night.
The indoor shows are an equally colourful pastiche of themes that range from soulful and sublime to provocative and enlightening. Some will be brilliant. A few will be awful. But mostly it's a fun ride.
Below is the Gazette's first batch of reviewed shows. The official run continues until Sunday, Aug. 25.
The 11 O'Clock Number Grindstone Theatre playing at Walterdale Playhouse 10322 – 83 Ave. HHH 1/2H
In any musical, the 11 o'clock number is that last, great song that resolves the plot and leaves you humming for hours past. In Thursday evening's performance of The 11 O'Clock Number, that tune featured the refrain “squid is the new beef in Alberta.”
Produced by Grindstone Productions, the one-hour, improvised show brought a comical and energetic twist to the otherwise well-rehearsed and polished musical scene.
There's no set storyline as the six actors (among them St. Albert Children's Theatre alumni Maddy Knight, David Johnston and Byron Martin as the host) take the stage and ask the audience where the play will take place, its title and feature song.
The audience throws back a few goofy suggestions before the actors settle on Squidsucker, a story that takes them to Edmonton's High Level Bridge where two fishermen, a team of construction workers and a restaurant owner and his waitress discover love, forgiveness, business opportunities and escapist dreams in their search for a giant squid called Frank.
Despite a slow start and at times awkward musical performances, the cast comically weaved their way from swimming in the Saskatchewan River to secret experiments beneath the bridge, and gained great laughs in return. For fans of on-the-spot improvisation and bizarre imaginations, The 11 O'Clock Number is a tune that's worth a listen.
– Viola Pruss
Plain Jane Theatre
BYOV #12 Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave.
Anyone who has ever suffered from an addiction might find solace in Little Fish, a lesser-known Broadway musical.
Composer, lyricist and librettist Michael John LaChiusa looks at how easy it is to detach ourselves from those around us.
Charlotte, the principal character, is forced on an odyssey of self-discovery when she quits smoking. After she finishes that last puff, the shakes push her into another addiction – exercise.
Charlotte is obsessive about running and swimming. Interspersed throughout her physical regime are a series of past episodes that reveal how she became disengaged.
She's always running from life and from herself. Starting with the disturbing ex-lover Robert, Charlotte is told she's a boring writer. Her insecurities are further reinforced when everyone in the New York urban jungle tells her she's doing it wrong – wearing the wrong shoes, working on the wrong technique.
Tying everything together is a metaphor of little fish and the benefits of swimming in schools. At times it tends to be overworked. However it's softened by an appealing score that delivers beautiful melodies and insightful, rhyming lyrics.
It's tough to make a detached Charlotte empathetic. Yet Jocelyn Ahlf gives Charlotte lots of heart, in part through a layer of suppressed emotions expressed across her face and in her gestures. And last but not least, Ahlf's powerful voice gives Charlotte enough spice to make her believable.
The other urbanites are equally terrific, from Elena Porter as Kathy, a sympathetic best friend and Jason Hardwick as the no-nonsense gay friend. No one outdoes Celina Stachow Dean for barefaced brashness as Cinder, the coke-snorting roomie. And Steven Angove as the beautiful John Paul makes a respectable cheater.
– Anna Borowiecki
Brains: The Zombie Musical
BYOV #31 Filthy McNasty's
10511 – 82 Ave.
There are holidays and then there are vacations to Zombie Island, where the undead dripping with blood lumber into view with the sole purpose of attacking human prey and sucking out brains.
Brains: The Zombie Musical is composer-lyricist Dennis Sheehan's baby, a less than substantial parody on the undead automatons. The premise is a bit lame – six vacationers have bought a package to spend a night at a zombie stakeout.
Warned of zombie dangers by voodoo priestess Mama Legbas, two loudmouth tourists disregard her advice. They are immediately attacked and morph into the undead.
The central plot focuses around a young couple, Bella and her more immature boyfriend Zac. Refusing to pay attention to Mama Legbas' warnings, Zac also joins the blood-encrusted zombie pack.
Taking refuge from the zombie menace with Dr. Schwarzenegger and her son Klaus, Bella is in a state of paranoia. Believing her boyfriend may be lost forever, she is torn between living and dying. In the meantime, the mysterious Dr. Schwarzenegger holds the key to stopping zombie transformations.
Sheehan has composed a score that is chalk full of shapely rhymes. And the dialogue spoofs a variety of institutions from the “Wildrose Tea Party” and Air Canada to vampires and gun violence.
Elizabeth Zaragoza is delightfully ominous and comic as Mama Legbas while Jessica Fedorek has the breathy, yet powerful vocals to carry the principal songs.
Sarah Wedam doubles as both a sexy and intellectual slightly mad scientist, and kudos to Desmond Yates as Klaus, a sleazy, violence-prone kid.
The main thing about this zombie Romeo-and-Juliet fable is to enjoy this blood-spattered jungle and forget reality. There's no way to take this musical seriously.
– Anna Borowiecki
Ad Hoc Theatre
Fringe Cabaret Lounge
ATB Financial Arts Barns
10330 – 84 Ave.
I've seen a fair number of environmental productions. Most are fairly ham-handed.
In contrast, Kimberly Lang's Kayak delivers a thought-provoking message of environmental responsibility – not just locally, but on a global scale.
In this tight three-hander, we meet Annie paddling a kayak and we quickly discover she is lost. Annie is the classic upper middle class suburbanite, a frivolous consumer who has planned her family's life to a suffocating close. She's chosen her son Peter's schools, friends and career.
An easygoing dude, Peter goes along with his mother's plans until he meets Julie, the ultimate eco-activist. An extremist who refuses to compromise, Julie travels to world hotspots spotlighting environmental disasters and usually gets deported by the host country.
The two women's values are at odds with each other and there is nothing but loathing and disrespect between them. Peter is caught in the middle between the lover he cannot forget and the mother he leaves behind.
In her journey, Annie is running out of food and water. Her GPS isn't working and she's lost.
Lang has set up a splendid argument between the naysayers of global disasters – drought, disease, fires, floods – and irrefutable scientific evidence.
The characters have become the lightning rods for each side and their performances are quite genuine. Christie Mawer's Annie is the overzealous helicopter mother afraid to let go and try new things while Emily McCourt as Julie comes across as snarky and close-minded about any form of compromise.
Caught between the two women's opposing views is Justin Kautz's charming Peter who represents the majority.
Kayak has a great deal to say and through its perfectly cast actors, the human drama clutches the heart.
– Anna Borowiecki