1. Jason DeRosse and Stacey McGunnigle
One of the best Second City mainstage sketches in recent memory starred McGunnigle as a gruff adolescent boy acting out because he thinks his mom’s new boyfriend, played by DeRosse, might be leaving them. If you missed the comic chemistry between the two actors, especially after McGunnigle left for L.A. to star in the pilot for the show Ellen More Or Less, you’ll be glad to know they’re back in Tonight’s Cancelled, a sketch revue that’s guaranteed to deliver laughs and heart. With fellow SC alum Rob Baker directing, it’s bound to be a solid show. Fingers crossed they engage in some improv. And let’s hope that title doesn’t come true.
2. Sue Miner
Tarragon Mainspace (Into) and St. George the Martyr Anglican Church (Water Wonders)
Director Miner and her husband, Mark Brownell, are long-time Fringe veterans they were on one of NOW’s first Fringe covers. Last January she remounted Brownell’s adaptation of Three Men In A Boat, and this year she’s back helming two productions, Dave Carley’s Into and Cheryl McNamara’s Water Wonders. Into follows the adventures of four commuters stuck in a months’-long traffic jam, while Water Wonders, a rare Fringe site-specific show for family audiences, features a youngster fighting to save the woods he loves and in the process discovering the vital connection between nature and people. In Miner’s hands, both shows are sure to be snappy and entertaining.
3. Penny Ashton
New Zealand’s Ashton, knowing the unstoppable popularity of Jane Austen (witness Love & Friendship, the latest film adaptation based on the English author’s fiction) has written a musical, Promise And Promiscuity, a mashup of bits of Austen’s prose and some Austen-style characters, all played by Ashton. In this international Fringe circuit hit, Miss Elspeth Slowtree, who wishes to be a writer, is forced to publish under a male pseudonym. Look for meddlesome family members, an unexpected romance and some ukulele numbers.
4. Lucy Rupert
The dance content at the Fringe tends to be hit-and-miss. But a safe bet is Little Fires, a reworking of Rupert’s 2011 The Animals Are Planning An Intervention, here paired with a new piece by Karissa Fyrrar called A Pocket Full Of Matches. Rupert, who’s shone in dance/theatre hybrid works by Theatre Rusticle (April 14, 1912, And One Night It Snowed) and Fujiwara Dance Inventions (the award-winning eunoia), is long-limbed and soulful, her movements always infused with drama and mystery.
5. Beau Dixon
The talented Dixon, a Dora winner, always impresses with his focused acting, most recently in Mockingbird and The Road To Paradise. He’s part of Jessica Moss’s Cam Baby, winner of this year’s new play contest. It concerns a pair of roommates who secretly webcam women who rent an apartment belonging to one of them their newest “subject” gives an unusual twist to their filming. Dixon’s joined by a fine cast that includes Karl Ang, Ashley Botting, Andrew Cameron, Brandon Coffey and Christine Horne.
6. Shari Hollett and Chris Earle
The husband-and-wife team behind the huge Fringe hit Radio :30 return in for the record, a site-specific two-hander about a mother and teenage daughter browsing a vintage record store, an experience that reminds the mother of her own adolescence dealing with her mother. Writer Hollett, best known as a director and teacher, is too rarely seen onstage, and there’s the added bonus of seeing her with her own daughter, Lucy Earle. Expect laughter and high fidelity to human truths. Hollett and director Chris Earle are both Second City vets and regularly direct with the company. Their talents, along with the intimate Annex venue, mean tickets will go fast.
7. Mind of a Snail
This Vancouver-based company, run by shadow puppetry twosome Chloé Ziner and Jessica Gabriel, has been earning raves around the country. They first appeared locally in Against Gravity and later returned, in last year’s Fringe, with Caws & Effect. Their latest, Curious Contagious, focuses on a pair of viruses living in a unicorn’s body and, like their earlier works, tells the story using overhead projectors, cutouts and layers of coloured acetate. Expect a bit of fairy tale and a soupçon of science fiction along with physical comedy and music.
8. Dame Judy Dench
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse
We’re pretty stingy with 5N reviews, particularly for sketch shows by emerging artists. But last year’s Fringe show That’s Just Five Kids In A Trench Coat, by the absurdly named Dame Judy Dench (note the intentional typo in the name), was one of the big surprises of the festival – beautifully structured and full of comedy that seemed authentic to the young writer/performers’ experience. Now all the members – Claire Farmer, Jessica Greco, Shannon Lahaie, Chris Leveille, Gavin Pounds – are back in Everything Else Is Sold Out, which wins the award for this year’s funniest title. Second City alum Paul Bates directs – which reminds us. See them now, before they’re snapped up by the comedy institution.
9. Christopher Sawchyn
Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (Persephone), Jeanne Lamon Hall (Echoes) and Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (Fractals)
Multidisciplinary artist Sawchyn wears multiple hats in this year’s Fringe. He plays Hades, workaholic CEO of the underworld in a collective adaptation of the Persephone myth, and then takes on several roles in Echoes, a new musical examining the effects of war on families in three time periods. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also directing Fractals, Krista White’s solo show that combines storytelling, poetry and song. Good thing he’s also an experienced physical theatre performer he’ll know how to pace himself.
10. David Benjamin Tomlinson
Tarragon Extra Space
The charismatic, versatile Tomlinson has been a comedy and theatre mainstay for years, equally at home in character comedy, clown and straight – as it were – theatre. He appeared as one half of the sinister gay couple in Sky Gilbert’s play Rope Enough. And now he returns in Gilbert’s take on the late, great figure skater Toller Cranston, an early queer icon known for his flamboyance, fashion flair and breaking down of boundaries both sexual and artistic. Judging from the promo photos, Tomlinson’s long-necked resemblance to Cranston is eerie.
Get more Fringe 2016 here.