20 fabulous Fringe Shows

Rating: NNNNN Individually, we’ve seen hundreds of Fringe shows between us, more than a thousand. Here, in chronological order, are some.


Rating: NNNNN


Individually, we’ve seen hundreds of Fringe shows between us, more than a thousand. Here, in chronological order, are some of the highlights from nearly two decades of Toronto Fringe-going.

1. SOMETHING (1989)

Speaking totally understandable gib­berish, clowns Mump and Smoot (Michael Kennard and John Turner) won audiences over with their outrageous dark humour. The bossy Mump never stopped bullying the ever-curious Smoot – viewers were always on Smoot’s side – in sketches that included a cruelly jabbed fork in a restaurant scene and a wake where the deceased’s head and arm became a baseball and bat.

2. 2-2-TANGO (1990)

In Daniel MacIvor’s first Fringe show, two gay men, mirror images of each other, went through an elegant physical and verbal courtship dance alternating between interest and nonchalance. A witty po-mo look at how to connect with others, the piece ended enigmatically with a pretty boy serving slices of watermelon.

3. GREEK (1993)

Director Josephine Le Grice gave Steven Berkoff’s contemporary version of Oedipus Rex a viscerally electric production, grounded by David Jansen’s exciting performance as Eddy. The show was so rich, it demanded a second viewing – and luckily it had a remount.

4. OH, BABY (1993)

Karen Hines’s narcissistic alter-ego, Pochsy, who never met a mirror that didn’t catch her eye, drew audiences into her bouffon character’s silk-and-steel web with a Betty Boop smile and a rapacious desire for life’s pleasures. A sugar-filled cocktail followed by an acid chaser.

5. FRIDA K (1994)

Actor Allegra Fulton’s rich performance as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, troubled in mind and spirit, was buoyed by the juicy script written by her mother, Gloria Montero. Remounted three times in Toronto (and eventually winning Fulton a Dora), the show toured North America and was revived last year in Ottawa.

6. MY OWN PRIVATE OSHAWA (1996)

There’s never been a shortage of solo shows about growing up, or even growing up gay. But Jonathan Wilson, who went on to write scripts like Kilt and Well (not to mention star in The Lion King), seized the heart of his personal story and got every heartbreaking detail – and laugh (he’s a Second City alum, after all) – right. Remounted then made into a movie.

7. TIRED CLICHES (1998)

Superb storyteller T.J. Dawe has been at every Toronto Fringe since 1998 as writer or director (often both). We discovered him in his first local show, Tired Cliches, where he patented his trademark style of recounting seemingly unrelated tales – here, about working the graveyard shift, a bike accident and life’s inanities – that he pulls together miraculously just before the house lights come up.

8. THIS HOTEL (1998)

Life, we all know, is a hotel, but Alex Poch-Goldin found originality in exploring the bustling hallways and psychosexual closets of his colourful characters in this tragifarce about a cuckolded man. Director Kelly Thornton pulled out all the theatrical stops in the production, which set a high standard for Fringe shows.

9. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (1999)

Now, of course, a part of theatre history, Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison’s entertaining tribute to the zany musicals of the past began life at the George Ignatieff in a more modest version of its post-Broadway touring production. But the wit and laughs were there from the start, especially in Martin’s musicals-obsessed Man in Chair character.

10. RADIO: 30 (1999)

Chris Earle put to use his background in radio commercials and voice work to create this unforgettable portrait of a radio pitchman undone by his conscience while recording a 30-second ad. Shari Hollett directed the show – not a monologue Robert Smith’s unseen engineer was a key presence – with nerve-racking precision. Wholly deserving of its post-Fringe awards, including a Chalmers.

11. ALPHONSE (2000)

Long before Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched won a slew of Doras, performer Alon Nashman introduced us to Mouawad’s earlier multi-character solo show. At one point the title character, an imaginative boy on the edge of adolescence, battled the glutton Flupan, who bombarded Alphonse and the audience with a rain of popcorn. A magical and touching show for all ages.

12. NOW THE DAY IS OVER (2000)

Two years before Nicole Kidman won an Oscar as a putty-nosed Virginia Woolf, Allyson McMackon and Theatre Rusticle used Woolf’s The Waves to explore all the emotions that go into all the hours that make up a day. Beautifully choreographed and suggestive, it ushered in Rusticle’s signature movement-based style, since developed in shows like the Dora-nominated April 14, 1912.

13. ’DA KINK IN MY HAIR (2001)

Although trey anthony’s funny and moving look at a group of black women sharing their hair-raising life stories in a beauty salon began life as a reading at the NOW Lounge, this energetic Fringe production gave it the boost that propelled it to multiple remounts (including a historic run at the Princess of Wales and in London, England), not to mention its own Global TV series. You go, girls.

14. THE ELEPHANT CLUB (2002)

Awesome Aussie Nicola Gunn began her series of multi-character solo Fringe shows with this look at a lonely woman who dreams of escaping her Kafkaesque office job to find romance in sunny Spain. Like her subsequent shows Tyrannous Rex and An Unfortunate Woman, it was captured with nimble physicality and a poet’s eye for the telling, heartbreaking detail.

15. JOB: THE HIP-HOP MUSICAL (2002)

Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion’s hip-hop spin on the Biblical story of Job – set in the backstabbing music industry – brought street cred to the Fringe, burning up the stage with mad rhymes and infectious beats. Later, the team paired up for the equally fine Job II: The Demon Of The Eternal Recurrence and then repackaged the shows outside the fest as the two-act Job: The Hip-Hop Saga. Amen and peace out.

16. TOP GUN! THE MUSICAL (2002)

Writer Denis McGrath and composer Scott White cruised into a hit with this laugh-out-loud musical send-up of the hit film, with the gay subtext writ large and the battle between actors’ egos as gigantic as the planes the performers were supposed to pilot. The show later flew south of the border to play at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

17. ONE MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY (2002)

Charles Ross went way beyond basement party trick in this solo recrea­tion of the original three Star Wars flicks – all done without props, unless you count the bottle of water he chugged between films. A geek’s wet dream, this was virtuosic pop culture commentary at its best (T.J. Dawe’s direction didn’t hurt), matched only by Ross’s later Lord Of The Rings Trilogy a couple of years later.

18. BILLY NOTHIN’ (2003)

Sean Dixon’s sometimes surreal cowboy romance proved you could believe in warbling sharpshooters and prairie expanses on the loading dock of Honest Ed’s, as long as the script was clever and the company – Victoria’s wonderful Theatre SKAM – was a well-knit acting ensemble with a sense of fun.

19. BASH’D (2007)

After his earlier Fringe hit, BoyGroove, Chris Craddock teamed with Nathan Cuckow on this gay rap opera, a clever, fast-paced explosion of words, movement and music (Aaron Macri supplied the beats) about two very different queers, T-Bag and Feminem, forced to deal with gay-bashing. It just opened off Broadway during Pride Week.

20. THE GLADSTONE VARIATIONS (2007)

This fascinating site-specific show – made up of four short, interrelated plays by Brendan Gall, Mike McPhaden, Rick Roberts and Julie Tepperman that paid homage to the historic Queen West neighbourhood – traipsed the audience through rooms, stairwells and even a bathroom in the Gladstone Hotel. The production did turn-away business every night and returns as an indie production later this month.

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