Thursday, 12 July 2018

Fringe Review: Is That How Clowns Have Sex?

                                                                                                                                 Philip Cairns



The subtitle of this show is A One Woman, Queer Clown Sex-Ed Show. This wild and wacky clown show takes place at Kink BDSM Boutique on Bloor West. There are, maybe, 25 chairs set up in the small space. Before the show, we were asked to write down our questions about sex.

Fiona Ross plays our sex education teacher, Ms. Beatrice Haven, in this delightful piece. She shows us what a penis is, what a vagina is, how to use a condom, how to make a dental dam, how to have straight sex and how to have lesbian sex. Ross is hilarious as she slyly but discretely demonstrates all of these things. She even pulls out a box of sex toys and shows us how to use each one. Then she reads some of our questions and answers them with wit and panache. It’s all very tongue in cheek and silly with lots of hearty laughs. Some audience participation is required but it’s all done in a spirit of fun. Ross will ask for your consent. “Consent” is an important word for her.


This production is rude, funny, explicit but never offensive. Ross’s clown persona is authoritative, cheeky, endearing and tons of fun. The audience loved her. You will, too. Doug Ford could learn a thing or two from her. Director Julie Cohn always keeps the show moving at a frantic pace. Ross is likely to sell out her cross-Canada Fringe tour. Show early or book in advance to get a seat.

Info and tickets to all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com

Fringe Review: Tears of a Bullet


                                                                                                                               Philip Cairns

Tears of a Bullet, a searing drama written by Josh Downing and directed by Jeff Kennes at the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a fictionalized account of an incident in sci-fi writer Thomas Disch’s life. Stephen Flett plays Jim Abernathy, a gay writer who has recently lost his long time lover. The building’s maintenance man, Danny (Adrian Leckie) will get a nice bonus if he can get Jim out of the apartment by the end of the month. Jim’s lover didn’t put Jim’s name on the lease so, legally, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.


Danny and his wife, Louise (Chantel McDonald) are a bible-thumping, homophobic couple, even though Louise’s long, lost brother is gay. At different times, both Louise and Danny go to Jim’s apartment to try to convince him to leave but Jim, who is in a wheelchair, has no place to go. Jim is angry and bitter and lashes out at both of them in a charmingly sarcastic manner. Louise and Jim end up making a personal connection because he tries to help her locate her brother.


All three actors are excellent, with the stand-out being Stephen Flett. He barks out his lines with cynical authority but we sense Jim’s pain and vulnerability underneath his brittle exterior. Leckie and McDonald have some wonderful scenes together, as they argue about Jim in their apartment. Downing’s heartfelt script boils with passion and rage and a deeply moving ending. Director Kennes has kept a tight rein on his actors and the emotions flow in this lovely, quiet, gentle production that was very satisfying to behold. Highly recommended.

 Info and tickets to all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Fringe Review: Everyone Wants A T-Shirt!

                                                                                                                         Nicholas Surges

This is a tale of one woman's quest to find herself after her potato-based instant messaging service is panned by a celebrity investor. And what better way than by selling empowering, sweatshop-manufactured t-shirts to desperate people? Intrigued? You should be. Prarie Fire, Please's new play, Everyone Wants A T-Shirt! is a delightfully absurd and wickedly clever satire that explores the exploitative nature of direct sales, the emptiness of slogan-based slacktivism, commercialized feminism, racial commoditization and tokenism, entrepreneurial failure, and the cult of celebrity marketing. ...and this is where the script's one shortcoming lies: it touches on so many issues that some of them are unable to be developed fully in the show's one-hour duration. 

This audience member found himself wishing that we could have seen more exploration of the racial politics that the main character Beatrice faces as a woman of colour. But this one small criticism does nothing to dampen the cleverness of Madeleine Brown's script or the hilarity of the cast's performances. The cast is excellent across the board, with most of the ensemble playing a variety of parts (often in quick succession). 




John Wamsley plays Beatrice's coworker Eugene with feline wickedness and a delicious streak of swish. Charlin McIsaac is a delight as she switches seemlessly between the self-centred and coolly pragmatic Dr. Inge and a series of wacky characters (most notably a failed art student whose passion is reinvigorated by Beatrice's t-shirt salesmanship... which really might not be a good thing). And the playwright herself is hilarious as Inge's dim-witted high school henchperson. The one constant is Brittany Miranda, whose tenacious and increasingly-conflicted Beatrice Little forms the nucleus around which this absurd satire is grounded. Miranda blends charm, sincerity, and snake oil salesmanship into a surprisingly complex character who we're able to root for, even as she makes a series of terrible mistakes that challenge her own integrity. 

The play's direction in the hands of Aaron Jan and assistant director Anthony Tran deserves its own shout out. The transitions are flawless, the pacing is tight, and the stylized fight choreography (set to electronic video game beeps) works better than most of the conventional stage combat I've seen in other indie shows. The playing space also becomes increasingly cluttered with cast-off props and costume pieces as Beatrice's life spirals into conflict. Also worth mentioning is Logan Raju Cracknell's lighting design, which cleanly and clearly delineates the different locations on the bare, white playing area. Everyone Wants A T-Shirt! has only 3 performances left: July 12th, 13th, and 14th. This is one show that has been selling out consistently, so I'd highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance (especially given the intimate seating at Theatre Passe Muraille's back space).

Tickets and info for all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Fringe Review: The Cockwhisperer

                                                                                                                                       Philip Cairns

If you love cock, you’ll love The Cockwhisperer. Colette Kendall is a master storyteller. In this solo show, she takes us on a very personal but hilarious journey through her encounters with the penis. The show begins with her sexual awakening, at age 15, with an older guy, then continues on to her first unhappy marriage with an abusive, neglectful husband. It ends with her finding happiness with another, kinder man. Kendall commands the stage with her hilarious stories and frank talk about the male member, how she lost her virginity and other fascinating “Cock Facts”. This is a woman who knows all about cocks and how to pleasure them.


The show is never vulgar or tasteless. There are tons of laughs and some moving bits as well. You won’t be bored for a single second. You’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next great story. Colette writes insightful dialogue with sock-it- to-me punch lines. I left the theatre feeling very satisfied, wishing that the 70 minute show was longer. I can’t wait for her next visit to a Toronto theatre.

Fringe Review: Cheri

                                                                                                                                      Philip Cairns


Run to the Al Green Theatre to see the fabulous Theresa Tova in a bravura, tour de force performance as Lea, an aging, over the top courtesan in Sky Gilbert’s new play, Cheri, (based on the novels of Colette).

Lea philosophizes about sex, love and life as she puts her new pianist through his paces. Tova’s timing and delivery of Gilbert’s witty lines is exquisite. She sings so beautifully, I almost wished the whole show had been sung. Tova is aided by the gorgeous music of Dustin Peters, which is performed live on the piano. And can Peters play that piano!! Like Chopin on uppers!

There isn’t much of a plot but that’s okay. It all takes place in Lea’s funky apartment as she teases, flirts with, cajoles and berates her new pianist. As Lea picks at Peters’ character, it’s revealed that he is a bit of a closet case. But the show is really about Lea, not so much the pianist. I’ve always loved Gilbert’s writing. He’s one of Canada’s best playwrights. Don’t miss this production. You’ll love it. You’ll want Tova to be in your next show or to sing at your next swanky party.

Info and tickets to all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com

Monday, 9 July 2018

Fringe Review: Anatomy of a Dancer

                                                                                                                        Darren Stewart-Jones

I love anything to do with old Hollywood, especially MGM musicals. I feel fortunate to have seen Gene Kelly: The Legacy in Toronto last year. In that show, Kelly's widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, recounts wonderful anecdotes from her late husband's life and career interpolated with film footage from his movies.

Anatomy of a Dancer: The Life of a Song & Dance Man is a similar type of show. It's a tribute to Gene Kelly told through choreography. A cast of eight dancers and two narrators/vocalists take us on a journey through Kelly's life from his early days in Pittsburgh to his time on Broadway and finally to Hollywood, where he starred in the films For Me And My Gal, An American In Paris and Singin' In The Rain to name just a few.
 
 
The show has wonderful choreography by Adam Martino, assisted by Leah Cameron. The eight dancers perform said choreography beautifully, with each of the four male dancers, rather than just one, given the opportunity to play Kelly at different moments throughout the show. All four - Micah Enzlin, Matthew Eldracher, Sam Black and Rohan Dhupar - had a chance to shine and impress an enthusiastic, responsive audience.

Robbie Fenton's vocals and Stephanie Visconti's dancing in her portrayal of Judy Garland were definite highlights for me. My only criticism is that I wish the screen at the back of the stage had been used to display more visuals or colours. Otherwise, Anatomy of a Dancer makes for a very entertaining show. And I've heard rumours that Patricia Ward Kelly herself might grace the production with her presence during its Toronto Fringe run.

Tickets and info for all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com

Fringe Review: Carmilla

                                                                                                                                     Nicholas Surges

When I was asked to review Carmilla, I knew I was in for a treat. After all, it combines three of my favourite things: burlesque, vampires, and unbridled queer eroticism. The venue (The Painted Lady) complements the show with its vaguely period charm: its plush crimson drapes, hanging chandeliers, and darkly-stained wood serving as a suitable backdrop to Le Fanu's tale of Gothic horror. But while the story hits all of the same beats as the novella, this is certainly NOT a "straight" interpretation of the source material. 

This retelling of Carmilla is both a coming out narrative and a love story. It's a tightly-written adaptation, but I found the play's thesis ("Our love isn't hurting anybody,") is somewhat undermined by the fact that Carmilla, you know, hurts people. She is a creature who is both capable of and willing to inflict harm when it suits her. For me, Stella Kulagowski's (Laura) final monologue (which is delivered with the passion and clarity of a woman who has found herself), is what rescues the piece from this dramaturgical snag, but it is a bone of contention that other audience members may find harder to swallow. 


In terms of the performances themselves, the cast is at their strongest when they embrace the camp value of the show. It's a transition that takes a few scenes to really sink in as the performers veer between goofy stylization and earnest naturalism, but when they hit their mark the result is electric. A particular shout-out goes to Amanda McKnight for her portrayal of Mlle. De La Fontaine: a hilarious caricature of a prim Victorian governess. Heath V. Salazar's Carmilla alternates between coquettish charm and supernatural menace, but sometimes falls flat during the less charged “in-between” moments of the play, when they have less to play with. With that said, their choreography is beyond reproach (the “puppet dance” at the beginning of the play is a thing of spectral beauty). This and the other burlesque moments of the piece are well-integrated and serve to punctuate beats in the story, such as Laura's sexual awakening (which brings the whole cast on-stage in an erotic nightmare of black leather and red glitter). 

Would I recommend Carmilla? Definitely. It's a titillating romp that alternates between genuine horror and good old campy fun. But my one word of warning would be this: while the traverse staging perfectly suits the burlesque elements of the piece, the narrowness of the venue can complicate sightlines, especially during scenes that are blocked on the stage. To get the most out of this show, I would recommend arriving early to take advantage of the limited seating and to “stake” out a spot about two-thirds of the way down the gallery

Info and tickets for all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com