The latest lowdown at the Edmonton Fringe Festival

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For the next few days Edmonton resigns itself to being hijacked by theatre lovers enjoying the Fringe Festival playing at Old Strathcona and the French Quarter.

From various corners of the world, arts troupes descend on Alberta’s capital to tempt, coax and dazzle spectators into buying a ticket.

Expect to see street acrobats, escape artists, fire-eaters, jugglers and musicians on every corner enticing you to drop a few coins in the hat.

The program guide lists 227 productions, everything from new works and rehashed classics to toilet humour and serious drama.

Below are a few reviews for shows Gazette reviewers tackled.

2 Queens & A Joker

Guys in Disguise
Venue 17
Roxy on the Gateway
8529 Gateway Blvd.
4 Stars

Sex and power is an intoxicating elixir, but as 2 Queens & A Joker show us, they are only a temporary euphoria.

The one-hour production is a punchy rewrite about Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary, Queen of Scots, two monarchs who  jockey for power over England and Scotland.

Also clamouring for influence is a third player ­ Don Chute, a silver fox who plays the two red-headed cousins against each other.

Set in modern times, playwrights Nick Green, Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt fuse elements from Sex in the City and Dynasty to royal history. And it works.

Madelaine Knight, one of St. Albert Children’s Theatre’s shining stars, brings us Elizabeth I, a temperamental, petulant queen who is dimmer than a flickering light bulb. She caps her role by delivering each line with an irritating, nasal accent adopted from Queens, a borough in New York.

While the virgin queen keeps a closed shop, seductive cousin Mary is open to a series of dalliances if it means consolidating power. And Cheryl Jameson, who borrows a number of body-hugging moves from the sexy Kim Cattrall, delivers the ultimate vamp.

Don Chute, as played by the delightfully charming Vance Avery, gives his ear to Elizabeth and his penis to Mary – a move that ultimately puts him in the queens’ crosshairs.

This show pushes the boundaries of conservatism with plenty of jokes, a fast pace and three obsessive characters. Check any notions of historical accuracy at the door.

– Anna Borowiecki

 

Let’s Talk About Your Death

Allspice Theatre
Venue 11
Nordic Studio Theatre
10330 84 Ave.
4 Stars

Would you change the way you lived your life, if you knew how you would die?

As people file into the Nordic Studio Theatre, they are handed an envelope. Inside that small white rectangle holds incredibly big, potentially life-altering information. The answer that spewed from the Machine of Death, it’s your ticket out of here.

Allspice Theatre invites people to be a part of the studio audience in the daytime talk show, Let’s Talk About Your Death. They’re given the opportunity to chat with Dr. Elliot Morris (David Johnston), a critically acclaimed expert on death and inventor of the Death Machine, the piece of equipment that scans your hand and forewarns of your future demise.

After all, Dr. Morris says people don’t talk about death the way they talk about life. And just because it’s death we’re talking about, “That’s no reason not to get a boogie going.”

Let’s Talk About Your Death is both a lighthearted and thought-provoking experience. It excels at bringing a taboo subject like death into the light. Especially by capitalizing on audience participation and interesting anecdotes.

Johnston’s performance is quirky and easily relatable. He does an excellent job staying in character and improvising with his talk-show guests from the audience.

If you’re interested in learning how to live your best life and execute your best death, then this show is a must-see.

– Jasmine Roy

 

Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land

Indigenized Indigenous Theatre
Venue 7
Chianti Yardbird Suite
11 Tommy Banks Way
4 Stars

In Rocko and Nakota: Tales From the Land, St. Albert playwright/director-actor Josh Languedoc reveals the lasting power of Indigenous storytelling and oral traditions.

He has written and acts in this 45-minute solo show about a young Indigenous boy who is hospitalized with an unknown disorder. Nakota is alone and terrified of possibly dying, and Languedoc wrings every ounce of emotion from his character.

Nakota wants to write the greatest story ever told, but inspiration eludes him. Until his grandfather Rocko shows up to remind Nakota of his strengths.

As Languedoc weaves this contemporary story in the oral tradition of his Indigenous ancestors, he morphs into different roles – both human and animal spirit. Not only is the story mentally engaging, but Languedoc is constantly in motion – a physically taxing feat for an actor.

Ultimately, this powerful production educates us about Indigenous culture while delivering a message about the importance of roots.

– Anna Borowiecki

 

The Alien Baby Play

Impossible Mongoose
Venue 3
Global News Walterdale Theatre
10322 83 Ave.
4 Stars

Bethany (Jessy Arden), a very pregnant and frantic woman, chomps on space-themed Alpha-Bits cereal as guests take their seats. She’s invited everyone to be a part of her baby’s birth, since her own family sadly couldn’t be there.

But, there’s something strange and unnatural about Bethany’s pregnancy.

She claims an alien visited her in the night and impregnated her. The baby inside her looks very human, except it glows. Also, it’s much larger than a normal human baby, lingering in Bethany’s womb for an extended period of time.

“Fifteen months,” Bethany exclaims repeatedly throughout the hour-long monologue, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

Her exasperated cries also provoke some level of sympathy, particularly from mothers who know how awkward carrying a full-term baby is. Bethany’s belly is comically large and she isn’t shy about sharing the embarrassing details of her pregnancy.

As her baby comes closer to birth, Bethany contemplates the existence of God, the seemingly impending apocalypse, society’s judgmental tendencies and what comes after death. She strives to understand the meaning of this alien baby pregnancy.

“There is nothing immaculate about this conception,” she says, asking what the Virgin Mary would do in her situation.

Jessy Arden is a fastidious actress. She never fumbled a line and excelled at reeling the audience in.

The Alien Baby Play is packed with humour and wonder, fully captivating audiences from start to finish.

– Jasmine Roy

 

We’ll Meet Again: Vera Lynn, the Forces Sweetheart

Sisterscene
Venue 7
Chianti Yardbird Suite
11 Tommy Banks Way
4 ½ Stars

Soprano Melanie Gall, a former St. Albert resident now residing in New York, returns to the Edmonton Fringe with a new cabaret show.

This time, she salutes the life and music of British singer Vera Lynn, nicknamed the “Forces Sweetheart.” Lynn’s clear voice and romantic ballads galvanized troops overseas and injected hope to the entire English-speaking world during the Second World War.

Gall grew up listening to Lynn on her grandfather’s recordings. As a huge fan of the still living 101-year-old singer, Gall styles her show as a Valentine to Lynn.

Some of the more boisterous charts are Be Like the Kettle and Sing and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree. But there are plenty of Lynn’s tug-at-your-heart ballads that include As Time Goes By and There’ll Be Bluebirds Over (White Cliffs of Dover).

Gall is also somewhat of a natural storyteller threading her 60-minute show with anecdotes, letters and a BBC archival recording of Lynn speaking about her Second World War tour in Burma.

Gall’s finale is the heartfelt We’ll Meet Again, and you can’t help wonder if it’s a pledge to return next year.

– Anna Borowiecki

 

Wild Women

Burlesque Dueling Divas
Venue 21
El Cortez Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar
8230 Gateway Blvd.
5 Stars
 
Beautiful women, body glitter and tassels, so many tassels … Here we have the makings of a burlesque show for the books.
The Dueling Divas are sisters Jenesse and Brittany Graling, two brazenly confident women with incredibly impressive vocals. In Wild Women, the Gralings pay tribute to the achievements of women from the 1920s to now. They introduce each decade with historic milestones for women, before jumping into covers of songs by the top female singers in those years.
 

From Patsy Cline to Kesha, the Gralings celebrate dozens of influential women in music. Especially notable is their uncanny ability to mimic the voices of the women they’re covering. One can’t help but admire Brittany’s melismatic voice and ability to sustain a long note with power. She can certainly pull off a Christina Aguilera cover with ease.

“When in doubt, Creole lady Marmalade,” says Brittany.
Of course, a burlesque show would be incomplete without dancers. Showgirls LeTabby Lexington, Arabella Allure and Holly Von Sinn take the stage to shake their stuff – and most of their clothes off. Unsurprisingly, they’ve got a way of making everyone in the room smile.
If you’re looking for a night of uninhibited entertainment, consider your search over. Wild Women is a burlesque cabaret that’s sure to captivate.
– Jasmine Roy

 

Titanna Bowa: How to Succeed in Hollywood

Cubic Centipede Production
Venue 36
La Cité Francophone
8627 – 91 St.
4 ½ Stars

During the unrelenting pursuit of Hollywood’s golden Oscar, the first casualty is truth, a cliché that never loses steam in Titanna Bowa: How to Succeed in Hollywood.

St. Albert playwrights Dylan Rosychuk and Jeff Punyi use their mighty pen – or computer – to mock pop culture and the dysfunction percolating from the cinema capital.

In this 70-minute production, a group of foolish and dangerous artists desperate to film a box-office hit, kidnap tinsel town’s flavour of the day and force her to act in their crappy movie.

From the get-go, everything goes terribly wrong. One actor dies of a drug overdose. Another is sexually assaulted. Several others are murdered in a sea of blood.

And it’s all so terribly funny in part due to the insane situation and in part due to the vivid characters.

Punyi is Orville, the director totally disconnected from reality. Another St. Albert actor, Sarah Elder is the gun-toting, shoot-to-kill stage manager.

Stephanie O’Neill brings out her diva as Wilma Clifton, the Hollywood brat pack celebrity, while Katie Martin is Babette, the unknown, desperate to be taken seriously.

One of the strongest comedic performances came from Rosychuk as Howard, Babette’s doofus boyfriend. As an actor, Rosychuk has made quantum leaps since his St. Albert Children’s Theatre days and in this production he takes incredible risks that pay off – as does the play.

– Anna Borowiecki 

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