On the fringe
Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 06:00 am
On 83 Avenue outside Packrat Louie’s, a saxophonist plays the old standards, music wafting down the street. The street is blocked from traffic and people stop and listen to those familiar notes.
Just down the street two nimble aerial artists are twirling on silks. Another crowd circles them applauding their athleticism, grace and daring.
Yes, it’s that whimsical time again: the 32nd annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival is in full swing. It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic in Old Strathcona as Fringers navigate costumed dancers, life-size cats, drag queens and Mexican gangsters.
It’s a free-for-all of dress-up, role-playing and live storytelling. With 200 plus shows to see until it closes on Sunday, Aug. 25, the choices are mind-boggling. Gazette reviewers checked out a few shows and this is our take so far.
Little Shop of Horrors No Tomatoes Theatre BYOV #43 Campus Saint-Jean Auditorium 8406 – 91 Street HHHH
There’s more than quality singing and great performance to No Tomatoes Theatre’s adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors. Behind the scenes of this popular, sci-fi musical comedy is a hidden story of fame, responsibility and consequence played out in the most unusual of places.
The story takes us to Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist Shop where the unforgiving Mr. Mushnik employs Seymour (a nice but nerdy orphan) and his love-interest, the naive but beautiful Audrey.
The rundown store is about to close for good when Seymour purchases Audrey II, a Venus flytrap. Her interesting looks transform the shop into a popular business, and Seymour into a florist celebrity.
All could end well if the scruffy little plant didn’t grow into a huge, vicious carnivore with an appetite for human blood and Seymour learns that there’s more to fame than a good hand at botany.
Seymour (Dylan Rosychuk) and Audrey (Krista Skwarok) are perfectly cast for their roles, as is the bad-tempered Mr. Mushnik (Curtis Labelle) and the well-choreographed and dazzling Skid Row girl chorus (Kelsey Visscher, Robyn Kumish, Lauren Boyd).
David Johnston as the sadistic dentist Orin and Audrey’s mean-spirited boyfriend could have played the part if he wasn’t too loud and exaggerated, suggesting Orin’s using acid rather than his signature laughing gas.
St. Albert musical director Michael Clark and his five-piece band keep the show going with catchy ’50s tunes, while the lovely, latex Audrey II (Andrew Boyd) remains the secret star of the show, redeeming a few flat notes with her sarcastic chuckle.
Directed by Paul Kane grad Lauren Boyd, Little Shop of Horrors is a quality revision of a ’50s musical that features strong performances by local artists Andrew Boyd, Robyn Kumish, Dylan Rosychuk and David Johnston.
– Viola Pruss
A Picasso Chorus Productions BYOV Venue #12 Varscona Theatre 10329 – 83 Ave. HHHH
A Picasso is one of those extraordinarily powerful shows that requires a perfect blend of talents – a mesmerizing script, sensitive, passionate actors and a brilliant director. This two-hander has it in spades.
It’s a rare cocktail that takes both characters and the audience on a journey of revelations that are tender, frightening and intoxicating.
Set in Paris 1941, Pablo Picasso is ordered to German headquarters. Miss Fischer, a “cultural attaché” from Berlin, wants him to authenticate three Picasso paintings on her desk. The “degenerate art” is to be exhibited at a private function. First Picasso authenticates the paintings and then retracts his decision when he learns the exact nature of the exhibit.
However, Miss Fischer must have a Picasso for the exhibit. Fischer’s life and that of her parents in Germany depend on her ability to follow orders.
Neither can leave the room until the paintings are sorted, and Picasso and Miss Fischer remain locked in a battle of wills.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher looks at censorship at its most insane and unjust, and raises the question of artistic ethics and the function of art.
Yet it is Julien Arnold (Picasso) and Shannon Blanchet (Miss Fischer) that breathe humanity into the script and give it life. Like panthers circling each other for the ultimate showdown, they radiate a chemistry that leaves us on the edge of our seats.
Arnold gives us a Picasso who is forced to justify his creativity. Openly disdainful of the Nazi regime, Arnold works the full range of emotions from arrogance and pain to compassion and caring.
In her clipped heels and buttoned up suit, Blanchet is the perfect authoritarian nemesis. Determined to remain in control of the situation, she is tightly wound and is not above dangerous threats.
But as this thought-provoking play progresses, Picasso’s hubris peels away and Blanchet also reveals her secrets – something that ties them together.
There is a hint of sexual attraction and thankfully director John Hudson minimizes this aspect. This is one show not to miss.
– Anna Borowiecki
Never Let the Crew See You Cry Northern Sabbatical Productions and MAA & PAA Theatre BYOV #14 Strathcona Library 8331 – 104 St. HHHH
During the Second World War, pilots were the top guns. No one thought much about the female mechanics, the grease monkeys who kept those metal and fabric planes in the air. Until now.
Never Let the Crew See You Cry is an Alberta wartime adventure viewed from the contributions of women. Ethel, the main character, is a dreamer. A girl barely out of her teens, she lies about her age to get a job as a mechanic for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).
Playwright Linda Wood Edward based this poignant story on the real life story of her mother, Ethel Johnson, and the civilian women of the training program.
Ethel comes from hardworking, practical Swedish stock. Living on a farm near Stavely, Alberta she fantasizes about travelling to the world’s distant corners.
The BCATP at DeWinton provides an entry into that world where thousands of aircrew were trained: pilots, navigators, bombers, wireless operators, gunners and flight engineers.
Edward, in partnership with director David Chereos has woven a tightly knit, fast-paced production. The one-hour show explores many facets of Ethel’s life from growing up on a farm and living in barracks to following regimented rules and eventually falling in love.
Laura Raboud as Ethel displays a calm poise and an emotional agility that fuels this production. Ethel is more than a quick study with a wrench. In one poignant scene, we see her calming a terrified 19-year-old pilot just prior to his first solo. At its core, this scene reveals the true contributions women made during the war effort.
Judy McFerran, as Vi, Ethel’s best friend and comic relief, is a spitfire that dares to break rules and lighten the load with pranks and practicality.
And Alex D. Mackie, who shoulders all the men’s roles from the anal camp commander to the cocky, insecure pilots, is a charming, vivid chameleon.
All in all it’s a riveting production worthy of a packed audience.
– Anna Borowiecki
Trout Stanley Cold.Dead.Fish Theatre and You & Me Venue 9 Telus Bldg. 10437 – 83 Ave. HHH 1/2
A dump sexpot, an agoraphobic and a vagrant. In poet and playwright Claudia Dey’s third play, Trout Stanley gives us a couple of messed-up sisters.
Grace and Sugar Ducharme are identical twins that look nothing alike. Since their parents died 10 years ago, a crippling grief surrounds them. Grace runs the local dump and believes she’s the town sexpot, while Sugar still wears her mother’s decade-old tracksuit and has not left the house in 10 years.
The two gals can’t seem to get a break. Every year someone dies on their birthday. This year they’re hitting 30, and it’s shaping up like the others. A local stripper and Scrabble champ is missing.
It’s also on this day that Trout Stanley, a drifter with a foot fetish breaks into their lives. Trout is traveling north on a quest to find the lake his parents drowned in.
A surprising love affair erupts between Trout and Sugar that works as a vehicle to heal the pain entrenched in the three lives.
At once real and surreal, there’s a thick cloak of mystery surrounding the play. Director Michelle Kennedy keeps the audience guessing. Who is Stanley? What’s he really up to? What really happened to make the sisters so messed up?
All the characters are haunted and Dey tackles some pretty heavy stuff in fairly poetic verse. Although the script leaves questions, the three actors crackle throughout.
Amanda Bergen, as the camouflage-dressed Grace with a wild mane of hair, is an unsinkable firecracker. She wears the pants and is determined to control her sister.
Jessica Peverett as Sugar is the more fragile soul and taps into humanity’s deepest emotions, while Byron Martin as Trout appears to skirt between sensuality and madness.
It’s not just all heavy subject matter. Throughout the absurdity, Dey has penned a substantial dose of comedy delivered with precise comic timing.
Prepare to leave your preconceptions at the door.
– Anna Borowiecki
April in Peril Acme Academy of Musicality BYOB Venue #25 Holy Trinity Anglican Church 10037 – 84 Ave. HHHH
Playwright David Belke has carved a robust reputation as a Fringe presenter and this year he remounts April in Peril, the musical comedy he mounted 20 years ago.
Set in France near the end of the Second World War, a couple of Canadian military men are hiding in a farmhouse. They are waiting to connect with a German scientist trying to defect with papers about a new type of missile.
But the plans go askew when a trio of costumed American singers wearing high heels parachute into the area determined to perform for the men behind the lines.
To top it off, members of the French Resistance are threatening to shoot the officers if they don’t play straight.
Throughout the two-hour production, Belke never plays favourites. He pokes fun at all the stereotypes – the dueling lovers, the underdog soldier, the girl from Brooklyn who wants to make it big, the Resistance officer jilted by her lover and the mysterious Mole.
Paul Morgan Donald has churned out some snappy numbers such as We’re Going Down in Flames, The Mole Song and Moxie’s Credo.
Jenna Dykes is spot-on as April, the dedicated showgirl who unexpectedly falls in love with the authoritative captain while Karyn Mott as Moxie Runyon has a phenomenal set of pipes and the courage to take risks.
Garrett Ross as Flt. Lt. Ashley Graham sets up many of the humorous moments and is superb at generating laughs from the comedic pause.
The show is high-spirited, the songs are perky and the humour is gentle.
– Anna Borowiecki
A Splash of Rouge … How I Outsmarted the Mob C2 Productions Venue #5 King Edward School 8530 – 101 St. HH
A Splash of Rouge … How I Outsmarted the Mob is designed as a stylized fun piece set in the 1920s era of machine-gun mobsters.
Paulie was kicked out of house and home at 16 for cross-dressing and has been earning a living as a club singer since then. He receives a mysterious note from his father revealing that he’s a prisoner of the mob.
To rescue his no-good father, Paulie decides to infiltrate the mob, first as an enforcer and continues to climb through the ranks as a singer.
The premise is silly and playwright-director Chad Carlson presents the production in a stylized, exaggerated way.
Some of his broad characters are a hoot. For instance, Carlson nails his character of Big Tony, the capo in a mock salute to Marlon Brando’s Godfather. Danny Campbell is a gun-toting, oversexed pistol as Mickey, Big Tony’s useless nephew, and Catherine Campbell can turn the screws as Millie Mamoan, the scheming singer.
Most of the cast has fun with their roles and displays an engaging vitality in pushing their characters’ boundaries.
Unfortunately, Dustin Sherry in the principal role as Paul seems unable to match their energy. He displays neither the stage presence nor a broad acting range and that ultimately affects the entire production.
It’s just that kind of show.
– Anna Borowiecki