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    Categories: Entertainment

Fringe With Us

Myth of the Ostrich

This week, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival is the biggest game in town. With more than 220 productions to choose from, the St. Albert Gazette has kept an eye on and given a few shout-outs to hometown shows.

Fringe performances run until Sunday, Aug. 27 located primarily at Old Strathcona on Gateway Blvd. and Whyte Ave.

Myth of the Ostrich
Praise Doris Productions
Venue 8
Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre
8426 – 103 St. (Gateway Blvd.)
5 Stars

Standing ovations are few and far between at Fringe shows. However, Myth of the Ostrich received a thundering round of applause last week.

In this character-driven production, two mothers with opposite views of life and child rearing are brought together by their respective teenagers’ love lives.

Holly, a rather scatter-brained, broad-minded writer, who surrounds her computer with Post-it notes and hangs a bra on her lamp, receives a visit from a stranger.

The knock on her door comes from Pam, a traditionalist homemaker, worried about a love letter she found from her son to Holly’s child. Both Pam and her husband feel their teenage son is too young to date.

While Pam is wound tighter than a clock, Holly is fidgety and distracted by this unexpected visit. It’s plain to see Holly is hiding a secret.

Thrown into the mix is Cheryl, a ballsy Newfie with no filter. The fun comes from watching the duo try to distract Pam and hide or minimize a truth the homemaker would find unpalatable.

Playwright Matt Murray’s farcical script sets up one joke after another and the trio nails each one. Each actor brings a different energy to the show that contrasts yet blends beautifully into the mayhem.

Two former St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumni keep the punch lines rolling. Jenna Dykes-Busby as Pam is the supermom trying to fix everyone’s problems. Dykes-Busby’s every facial expression, every sharp gesture; every clipped step reveals a woman so uptight she threatens to fall apart.

And Jenny McKillop as Cheryl charms the minute she opens her mouth and delivers crack jokes with an East Coast accent. I kept waiting for her to drop a line. She never did.

The play is packed with wisecracks and puns. But under all the laughs there’s also a beating heart and some sober notions on parenting.

– Anna Borowiecki

Evil Dead: The Musical
Straight Edge Theatre
Venue 36
La Cité Francophone
8627 ­ 91 St.
4.5 Stars

What could go wrong when five college students head out for a weekend at an abandoned cabin in the woods? Zombies and chainsaws and talking moose heads, oh my! Plenty goes awry for the poor college kids in the cult horror hit, Evil Dead: The Musical, but luckily for the audience, it’s only good times in this stellar Fringe production.

I laughed from beginning to end along with the rest of the sold-out crowd (the front row of which was curiously donned in rain coats). But the musical mayhem and downright silliness of box steps and doo wop moves were a joyful adjunct to the ridiculously funny premise and sometimes juvenile dialogue – cover your ears if you don’t want to hear some foul language from the sex-obsessed college guy Scott (Stephen Allred). I equally enjoyed Sturgeon County native Nadine Veroba sing and dance with glee as the sweet, cookie-baking girlfriend and cashier Linda.

Every character makes full use of the wide La Cité stage with broad physical shenanigans, whether crawling into the cellar, flinging onto the sofa, or revving up the chainsaw to slice off an evil-possessed hand. Watch out for the spattering blood, front row. Kudos to the talents of Jaimi Reese as common sense but panicked and then possessed sister Cheryl and Josh Travnik’s southern backwoods guide Josh. Director Amanda Neufeld shines as ditzy Shelly and evil-dispeller Annie, while uber-talented singer/actor Mathew Lindholm saves the day as hero Ash. Whether he’s brandishing a chainsaw or shotgun, or helping shoppers find housewares on Aisle three, this guy knows what’s up.

– Lucy Haines

A Quiet Place
BrainPile Theatre
Venue 8
Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre
8426 – 103 St. (Gateway Blvd.)
4.5 Stars

Within the first five minutes of A Quiet Place there is recurring yelling, swearing and repeated violence. I ask, “What am I in for”?

It turns out the two-hander is a brilliantly written, very funny and ultimately a riveting look at how we perceive reality.

It starts off with two guys locked in a room. They can’t remember anything about their past or how they got there. Since the room has no doors or windows, they can’t escape.

If this sounds like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, it’s because playwright Brendan Gall is fascinated with existentialism. The heavy themes at times are confusing, however Gall has a wonderful ear for dialogue creating both the hilarious and poignant.

What makes the play special are the first-rate performances of former St. Albert Children’s Theatre actor Luc Tellier and Braydon Dowler-Coltman.

Dowler-Coltman is the mystifying calm Henry who practices tai chi and exudes a quiet intensity. As David, Tellier is strikingly different – bewildered, antagonistic and desperate to find a way out.

To pass the time, the duo teaches each other games, and both actors develop rich portrayals as they fluidly negotiate the transitions from comedy to anxiety to peace.

Director Evan Hall deserves a hand for keeping the play focused without straining under the weight of its ideas. Be prepared to think and see a show that asks more questions than provides answers.

– Anna Borowiecki

Crazy Train
Oriflamme Event Production
Venue 9
TELUS Phone Museum
10437 – 83 Ave.
2 Stars

Standing in line to see Crazy Train, I overheard other Fringe-goers mention how mental health-related issues seemed prominent in this year’s show offerings: Asperger’s, depression and Alzheimer’s. Indeed, each of these is represented in various treatments at festival stages.

And then there’s Crazy Train. This 90-minute work suggests an examination of child abuse, parental Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and bullying – subjects worth addressing, to be sure. But not in this go-round.

Crazy Train is 90 minutes of non-stop talk, in various pairings of the four actors playing a child protection officer (Patrick Michaud), an RCMP sergeant (Christine Gold), and suspected child abusing parents Sherri (Yanit Terefe) and Trafford (Glenn Balombin).

Credit is due to the foursome’s learning of massive tracts of dialogue, but the problem is, nobody cares. There’s no dramatic tension – no learning about and therefore caring about these characters – so it becomes a rather boring witnessing of how a police investigation proceeds, more than an insight into the cause of or damage done by child abuse or PTSD.

I wish I could recommend the competition-winning piece by Fringe veteran playwright David Haas. But the verbal sparring between burned-out nurse/mother Sherri and child welfare officer Conrad, or tough RCMP officer Kostiuk and PTSD-affected Trafford goes nowhere. There’s no insight into what makes any of these characters tick, and you’ve got to care about who they are and why thy do what they do, to become invested in this or any piece of theatre.

Despite the critical absence of dramatic tension, Gold and Balombin offered up the most believable moments in the show as an RCMP officer questioning the hard-nosed Army veteran and child-battering suspect/dad Trafford.

Morinville-based Amber Jones, a veteran of the town’s Caviar Players, directs Crazy Train. Wait for another of Haas’ pieces. This one doesn’t satisfy.

– Lucy Haines

Legoland
Blarney Productions
Venue 36
L’UniThéatre at La Cité Francophone
8627 – 91 St. (Rue Marie Anne Gaboury)
4 Stars

If you like quirky comedies, Legoland is for you. Sister and brother Penny, 16, and Ezra, 13, Lamb were born and raised on a utopian hippie commune in Uranium City, Saskatchewan.

When the grow-op is busted and the parents sent to prison, the siblings are packed off to St. Cassian’s Catholic School where the duo is promptly ostracized.

School is hell until Penny falls in love with boy band Seven Up – specifically the group’s cute singer Johnny Moon.

But when the band breaks up and Johnny launches a solo career as a foul-mouthed, misogynistic rapper, Penny decides to trek to Florida to change his ways.

The sale of Ezra’s Ritalin pills fund the trek to Orlando, and the Lambs’ ignorance of our corrupt, materialistic society fuels the laughter.

The versatile Jenny McKillop plays Penny with complete seriousness. The more serious she is about Penny’s bizarre life, the funnier she is.

And St. Albert Children’s Theatre musical director Rachel Bowron, who normally takes on the role of a sweet ingénue, tackles the self-absorbed Ezra, a boy fixated on German nihilism and a Jeffrey Dahmer puppet.

Of course, the siblings’ adventure doesn’t unspool as Penny expected, but half the fun is trying to figure where Legoland will ramble next.

– Anna Borowiecki

Urinetown – The Musical
Grindstone Theatre
Venue 16
Sanctuary Stage at Holy Trinity Church
10037-84 Ave.
4 Stars

Pee jokes aside – yeah the Tony-award winning Broadway show is a witty musical satire about a government-enforced ban on private toilets – Grindstone Theatre’s Fringe production is a whole lot of high-energy fun. Grindstone wunderkind Byron Martin has taken on a beast of a production, directing a talented group of players and choreographing the whole thing too, squeezing the whole shebang onto a two-storey set at Holy Trinity’s sanctuary stage.

If there’s any drawback, it’s that the low height of the set’s main level and acoustics of the space make it sometimes hard to see and hear all the action for those anywhere other than the first few rows. But the fun, energetic choreography and staging uses the set well, so it becomes a minor issue. What grabs you is the powerful vocals of both the leads and ensemble and the non-stop humour: a musical that we’re warned isn’t a happy one. The satire and comedy is at turns subtle and overt, and it’s always well executed and completely engaging.

The story is a well-used formula: big bad corporate entities taking advantage of the downtrodden little people: a love connection, tragedy, uprising. But the music is fresh and the cast’s enthusiasm practically bursts from the stage.

Special shout outs to Ethan Snowden as rebel-leader/handsome love interest Bobby Strong and to Bob Rasko as Officer Lockstock, keeping the audience in line and apprised of what’s happening on stage, plus when and where we can use the bathroom, go figure. Natalie Czar is a feisty Pennywise and the entire ensemble is all in, all the time – a pleasure to watch.

Urinetown – the Musical is long, just over two hours, but there’s a 10-minute pee break. Judging by the long lines, it’ll be a busy show, but catch it if you can.

– Lucy Haines

The Apple Tree: The Diaries of Adam and Eve
Plain Jane Theatre
Venue 12
Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave.
4 Stars

Mark Twain wrote the extracts from the diaries of Adam and Eve as a tribute to his wife. That being the case, Plain Jane Theatre’s production of The Apple Tree: the Diaries of Adam and Eve is a lovely, touching and funny salute to the Bible’s first man and woman.

In this paradise a fully-clothed Adam played by Graham Mothersill appears speaking directly to the audience. A self-satisfied man, he names the creatures that populate his Eden. Suddenly, one of his ribs pop out and a lovely blonde creature dressed in a flirty, white dress is rolled onstage.

St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumna Madelaine Knight is the sleeping Eve, a woman who awakens as a completely feminine woman and confident bundle of youthful energy.

The bulk of the play is these two very different creatures discovering each other’s quirks with delightful reactions and learning to appreciate their differences.

Mothersill and Knight radiate a wonderful chemistry with special moments such as Eve decorating a house, Adam’s discovery of Eve as woman, their first child and Adam’s final poignant tribute to his wife.

Knight and Mothersill are always in command of the action and their characters’ emotional journey from beginning to end is that of life well lived.

The Apple Tree is delivered with simplicity, humour and pathos, and is definitely worth the price of a ticket.

– Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.