By Christopher Douglas
Vanessa Smythe's solo show In Case We Disappear at the Tarragon Theatre mixes elements of storytelling and stand-up, a poetry reading and a coffeeshop jam session - which can be a confusing filter to watch the show through.
A charismatic force, Smythe opens the show standing behind a microphone stand, remaining rooted to the centre stage light for the majority of the show. She introduces herself with polite and informal banter, making friends with the audience as she launches into her set. When does this show shine? During her set.
Composed of (what this reviewer counted as) 8 significant pieces, the set begins with a piece of performance poetry about falling in love with the troubadour who introduced her to the poetry scene as the rhymes trip out beautifully and Smythe's economy of movement is intelligently employed. Alternating poems with songs, Smythe's lovely voice musically narrates an imagined date with a young man at a bar following a break-up or her trip back to her old school to watch her younger brother graduate. She seems to understand when to use her singing voice to communicate the tender affection she has for the people in her stories, when the vulnerable and personal meet the artistic.
Loosely connecting the pieces - which include a lovely bit with a music box - Smythe's dialogue may not be refined but that flexibility allows her to shift with the audience's needs, creating a strong rapport with us humans sitting in the dark.
In Case We Disappear doesn't credit anyone else in the program as a designer or director - so I have to assume that Smythe is the the multi-talented mastermind behind the show. Unfortunately, that means that the context for why the audience is present isn't clear nor is there a narrative or thematic arc that carries the story forward. While the basic premise seems to be about the things in our lives that drift away, the inclusion of a poem about World War I battle-site Galipoli feels out of place. The marketing seems to indicate that the show may be about bedtime stories, whereas the content leans more toward boudoir confessions.
Smythe's wise choice to close with a poem/song (a piece I call "Booty Call" which blends the two) leaves the audience with her strong suit: humour, well-crafted writing, a bit of her voice, a touch of love and the tenderness of a goodbye as we disappear.
Info and tickets for all Toronto Fringe shows can be found at fringetoronto.com