Up close and personal with the Fringe Festival
Saturday, Aug 16, 2014 06:00 am
Humungous. Unpredictable. Eclectic. Zany.
These are just a few adjectives that describe the explosion of theatre at the 33rd edition of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival now running until Aug. 24.
It’s not uncommon to see ardent Fringers fingering their guide, and zigzagging through packed crowds at breakneck speeds to reach the next venue.
There are 210 productions and to help navigate this theatrical adventure, the Gazette has a team of six reviewers covering the grounds.
As a point of departure for you, they will share their thoughts for this Fringed and Confused extravaganza.
Rapid Fire Theatre
Venue 9 Telus Building
10437 – 83 Ave.
Real Time, a comedic take on cyber romance, generates more than a few belly laughs. You’ll leave the theatre with sore stomach muscles watching a non-stop round of implausible, yet hilarious situations.
St. Albert son Matt Alden originally wrote, directed and starred in this delightful two-hander 10 years ago with Vanessa Sabourin.
He remounts it with Jessie McPhee (Billy) and Joleen Ballendine (Jessie), an extraordinarily well-matched improv pair that kick butt in more ways than one.
In this one-hour show, Jessie and Billy meet online. He’s a horny, high-strung, timid nerd searching for a girlfriend. She’s pushy, temperamental and riding out house arrest after bashing a guy’s head.
Alden’s script is a rippling series of delightful set-ups and punch lines that have you watching these total opposites fight each other and fight for each other.
But it’s McPhee and Ballendine’s onstage chemistry and high-energy antics that have you rooting for this charming pair from the get-go.
McPhee and Ballendine’s powerful stage presence really comes into play as they whip in and out of the persona of minor characters such as a weed-puffing grandpa, a neurotic mother, a wacko musician and a ditsy waitress.
Real Time can be enjoyed on multiple levels and is one to add to your list.
– Anna Borowiecki
Venue 9 Telus Building
10437 – 83 Ave.
Despite it’s noir-esque title and riffs on detective story tropes, Gumshoe is not dark at all. Instead it’s bright and funny.
The meta play-within-a-play, featuring an “audience member” who is recruited at the last moment to fill in after the lead storms off, is pleasingly comedic.
Driven by two main actors whose physical comedy and wry line delivery are laugh-out-loud worthy, Gumshoe works on both levels it’s playing at – its meta, snarky commentary on noir tropes, and its comedy, where Patrick Maloney’s Jacob is delightfully bewildered as he stumbles through an unexpected performance.
While Maloney pulls double duty as main character Jacob and murder suspect Elliot – a scene where he confronts himself is a highlight – St. Albert’s Sarah Ormandy sees his two characters and raises the stakes another two, juggling four characters nimbly.
Ormandy’s performance revealed a talent for physical comedy, switching between a suspicious bombshell wife, a mistress, a police chief and a flakey actress simply using voice, posture and facial expressions more or less seamlessly. Simple twitches of her eyebrows got laughs.
While the script on its own is somewhat amusing in its meta conceit, Gumshoe succeeds because of its two main actors and their charms and comedy chops.
– Victoria Paterson
Postcards from a Paper Moon: A Delivery of Song
Portable Music Productions
Venue 8 Performing Arts Centre
8426 Gateway Blvd.
Former St. Albert singer Beth Portman brings her stellar voice on a nostalgic, toe-tapping walk through the music from the 1920s to 1940s with Postcards from a Paper Moon: A Delivery of Song. With just a few vintage suitcases and postcards scattered across the stage, Portman, with musicians Kevin Smith on guitar and Thom Golub playing upright bass, charms the audience with an hour-long thematic concert based on the postcard – plus a few historical tidbits woven between songs and wrapped up with a silk red ribbon.
Old time favourites like It’s Only a Paper Moon and Judy Garland’s rendition of You Made Me Love You enchant the audience while showcasing Portman’s nuanced voice – often energized and powerful, and sometimes delicate – a lovely complement to her fine work on the ukulele. But in threading the themes of connecting, and talking about the pleasures of writing a postcard back in the day, it’s Portman’s original songs that are the most memorable, especially the poignant My Dear and the fun Palpitating Blues, which uses an old suitcase and Portman’s vintage red footwear to fine effect.
Fringe festival fans may remember Portman from The Swingin’ Sisters Club, a show she performed a few years ago with fellow St. Albert Children’s Theatre alums Kate and Bridget Ryan. This time around, Postcards from a Paper Moon: A Delivery of Song could just as easily be at home on the stage at Folk Fest or at the Yardbird Suite, but audiences can – and should – enjoy it right now.
– Lucy Haines
Red Hot Mama: A Sophie Tucker Cabaret
Venue 10 Acacia Hall
10433 – 83 Ave
If you’re looking for a woman who does a mean horizontal tango, check out Sophie Tucker – or at least Melanie Gall’s version.
The classically trained St. Albert opera singer, now a resident of the Big Apple, returns to the Fringe with one of her smartest shows to date – Red Hot Mama: A Sophie Tucker Cabaret.
At the turn of the 20th century, Tucker, a Russian-born American singer known for her bold vocals, comical and risqué songs charmed audiences across the world.
Not a name that’s bandied about these days, Tucker influenced comedians from Mae West and Carol Channing to Ethel Merman and Joan Rivers, and left an extensive catalogue of songs.
Gall has a beautiful, acrobatic voice and she dips into Tucker’s canon with glee singing old show tunes such as The Man I Love, I’m Doing What I’m Doing for Love, Makin’ Wicki Wacki Down in Waikiki and The Lady is a Tramp to name a few.
While most of the songs have a ballsy vibe, Gall also sings a poignant ballad in Yiddish representing Tucker’s emotions upon her mother’s death. It was a goose-bump moment. You didn’t need to understand Yiddish to feel the power of sorrow.
However, Gall truly breathes life into this iconic singer with stories in between the songs. Her vivid facial expressions and nuanced vocal inflections in telling bawdy jokes paint a picture of a bold, independent, sexy woman who took on the world ... and won.
– Anna Borowiecki
Holding Hollow Theatre
Venue 9 Telus Building
Sundogs unsettles the audience and asks the question, how much can we ever really know about those we meet?
St. Albert’s Louise Large directs this 70-minute piece about perspective and the depth of human beings.
Local UFO enthusiast Richard “Ricky” Fisk is found burned to ash in local crazy lady Aster Kinney’s truck in her driveway. A local cop, Mike, interviews Aster who tries to slip away from his questions at every turn.
This mystery is the advertised premise, but 10 minutes into the show Sundogs switches to a series of flashbacks chronicling the romance between Aster and Dan, a visiting publishing agent trying to buy Fisk’s manuscript.
The different perspectives Dan and Mike have of Aster give her character depth. During Mike’s interrogation Aster is wild-eyed, emotional, and occasionally crazy; with Dan she is anything but.
The changing perspective isn’t limited to Aster. Despite never appearing on stage Fisk is well established by the three as a man to be respected, pitied, and feared. All characters introduced with a name are developed and that is where Sundogs shines.
The play does have some missteps. Some of the dialogue is out of place and serves only to deliver exposition and I found the ending to be a little muddled. A Chekhov’s gun is loaded at the 20-minute mark and it never seems to go off.
But these are minor complaints and the play is excellent. Holly Cinnamon gives an incredible performance as Aster, playing vulnerable at times and confident the next, never losing character.
If you can overlook a couple of bumps, Sundogs deserves to be seen for its brilliant exploration of characters and points of view.
– Alex MacPherson
Murder Mime the Musical
And More Shenanigan’s Theatre
BYOV #29 Varscona Hotel – John Walter Room
Family Guy humour, with the melodrama of Sweeney Todd and a sprinkling of Glee is the best way to describe the black comedy and musical that is Murder Mime the Musical.
With clever script writing and an energetic cast of millennials, directors Erin Hutchinson (Bellerose grad) and Emily Siobhan McCourt weave the story of a promising opera star turned serial killer.
Max Barnacus, played by the multi-talented Tyler Pinsent, is a Chicago opera student headed for fame when a diagnosis of rabies (not him, but his sister, played by Ariadne Deibert) takes him to the streets as a busker, cobbling for coins to pay for her treatment.
When Max ends up losing his voice during an audition for the school musical, his life begins to unravel at an alarming rate. Through the loss of dreams, love and hope, you continue to root for Max even when his character takes a dark turn and the murders – some intentional and others not – begin.
Captivating in the first half with original lyrics (written by Hutchinson), the production lost momentum after intermission. However overall, Hutchinson and McCourt create a beguiling two-hour production with pop culture references to American Idol (watch out for the William Hung parody character!), Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil, as well as Lars and the Real Girl.
– Amy Crofts