Fringe Festival Reviews

Rating: NNNNNWonderful WillWILL written and performed by Jennifer Gauthier and Melissa Haller, directed by Tara Bastikar. Presented by Studio 268.

Rating: NNNNN

Wonderful Will

WILL written and performed by Jennifer Gauthier and Melissa Haller, directed by Tara Bastikar. Presented by Studio 268 at the Factory Studio. July 11 at 11 pm, July 13 at 3 pm. Rating: nnnn

Jennifer Gauthier and Melissa Haller burn up the stage in this disturbing, compelling drama about a single mom (Gauthier) and daughter (Haller) who grow further apart as secrets and lies destroy their relationship. There are lots of raw truths here — about how children become the parents they detest, how kids discover rebellion and how controlled we all are by the past. The language, sometimes poetically heightened, always feels right, and director Tara Bastikar shapes scenes so economically, especially in the first half, that we’re catapulted through to the rough and melodramatic bits near the end. It’d be hard to imagine stronger performances by Gauthier and Haller.GS

Time travellers

CLOUD TECTONICS by Jose Rivera, directed by Nicole Arends. Presented by Red Letter Theatre at the Glen Morris. July 11 at 7:30 pm, July 13 at 1:30 pm, July 14 at 5 pm. Rating: NNNN

Magic realism and poetry dust this tale of a pregnant hitchhiker picked up by a sympathetic blue-collar worker in a surreal Los Angeles. The script could derail into cutesiness, but director Nicole Arends and her cast — Gabe Bettio as the worker, Trevor Martin as his soldier brother and especially Roxanne Deans as the eerily hypnotic woman — ground the show and give it heart, adding to its sense of the miraculous.JK

Bard buried

IS SHAKESPEARE DEAD? by Mark Twain, adapted and performed by Keir Cutler. Presented by Doctor Keir Co at the Robert Gill. July 11 at 12:30 pm, July 12-13 at 7 pm. Rating: NNN

Keir Cutler comes not to praise Shakespeare but to bury him — or rather, to bury the idea that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him. Looking like an arrogant advocate or prof-with-tenure, the booming-voiced Cutler confidently presents Twain’s logical, often highly ironic, argument. Though the show is more lecture than play, it’s entertaining and persuasive enough that you won’t look at a portrait of the is-he-or-isn’t-he Bard in quite the same way again.GS

Second sight

BREAKING CHARACTER written and directed by Alexis Bernier. Presented by Freefall Theatre at the Glen Morris. July 12 at 9:30 pm, July 13 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NNNN

Featuring one of the richest, most subtle scripts and performances at this year’s Fringe, Alexis Bernier’s Breaking Character looks at an optometrist who enters her clients’ souls through their eyes. Shifting seamlessly back and forth between cynical, drunken wife, awestruck discoverer of an addictive talent and resigned sufferer, Gina Clayton (more stage work, please!) weaves intimacy, sensuality and pain into this suggestive and sometimes ambiguous work.JK

Tragic laughs

SHAKESPEARE’S WORLD CUP by Chris Coculuzzi, Matt Toner and William Shakespeare. Presented by Upstart Crow and Hart House at the Trinity College playing field (east of George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire). July 11-12 at 7 pm, July 13 at 2 pm, July 14 at 5 pm. Rating: NNNN

The body count is high in Shakespeare’s World Cup, but that’s just the way the players — both the sports and the acting variety — plan it in this crazy blend of the Bard and soccer rough-house. Teams composed of casts from Shakespeare’s Othello, King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth outdo each other in chicanery as ever-clever commentators Jack Falstaff (Stephen Flett), playwright Tom Middleton (Matt Toner) and Renaissance historian Raphael Holinshed (Seamus Dudley) provide running analysis. Sometimes silly, sometimes things don’t work, but often hysterically funny.JK

Ham on shtick

THE TERRIBLE FALSE DECEPTION by Rafe Macpherson, directed by Vinetta Strombergs. Presented by Silly Prat and Studio Lab Theatre at the George Ignatieff. July 11 at 6:30 pm, July 12 at 9 pm, July 13 at 2:30 pm. Rating: NNN

In this insider’s view of the theatre, the same scene is presented four times with different dialogue, including a version in which the actors speak their thoughts rather than their lines. It’s all very self-conscious and not nearly as funny as the author thinks, though he certainly gets some laughs. Patricia Yeatman shines as the over-age ingenue, performing the intentionally hokey lines with a sly twinkle that the others can’t muster.JK

One-man force

ONE MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY written and performed by Charles Ross, directed by T.J. Dawe. Presented by Chicken for Supper at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. July 11 at 10 pm, July 12 at 7 pm, July 13 at 11:30 pm, July 14 at 2:30 pm. Rating: NNNN

Using only his expressive body as a prop and his vocal chords and imagination as special effects, Charles Ross entertainingly recreates the first three Star Wars movies (20 minutes per film) with laughs and insights. He’s a master caricaturist, filling in character, plot, mood and even sexual subtext — an ongoing gag concerns Luke and Han Solo’s rising or falling erections depending on their relation to Leia — with a few strokes. He suggests lots with a wink, a growl or by humming John Williams’s score. His Leia could be spunkier, but his Jabba the Hut is priceless, as is his big zinger at the end, which comes in the middle of the trilogy’s emotional high point. A must-see for Star Wars fans, perhaps a head-scratcher for everyone else.GS

Final accounts

REVELATION by Shirley Barrie, directed by Molly Thom. Presented by Last Trump at Royal St. George’s College (120 Howland). July 11-12 at 9 pm, July 13 at 7:30 pm, July 14 at 6 pm. Rating: NNN

A husband and wife wake up to the sound of a trumpet on Judgment Day and reveal all the problems they dealt with in life and that the woman faced when she was widowed. Shirley Barrie’s script has moments of melodrama, but she also has a sure grip on the comedy of the situation and the complexity of the relationship, which actors Joan Heney and Murray Oliver — who have great chemistry — play finely under Molly Thom’s confident direction.JK

Tourist attracts

THE TOURIST by Jose Teodoro, directed by Sam Hancock. Presented by Interzone Productions at the Factory Studio. July 11 at 3:30 pm, July 12 at 1:30 and 10 pm. Rating: NNN

A musician (a blank-faced Chris Stanton) is trapped in a world of intrigue and paranoia in this imagistic work by Jose Teodoro, inspired by Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Unconsoled. A vaguely eastern European quality pervades script and production, with screens, masks and quasi-poetic flourishes making the work feel at times like political satire, at times like Theatre of the Absurd. Not all the details pay off, but there’s an ever-shifting sense of foreboding and erotic menace that’s strangely disturbing.GS

Gun loaded

TOP GUN! THE MUSICAL by Denis McGrath, music by Scott White, directed by Colin Viebrock. Presented by Cattle Productions at the Factory Mainspace. July 11 at 4:30 pm, July 12 at 9:30 pm, July 13 at 3 pm. Rating: NNNN

This musical about the making of a musical based on the Tom Cruise film could be this year’s Drowsy Chaperone. Filled with lots of intentionally bad lines and funny-angry-smart comments about dumb musicals based on films (my favourite line: “If they made better movies, maybe these musicals would have a chance”), the show also features one of the most likeable casts in Fringe memory, headed by Dmitry Chepovetsky’s dim-witted Maverick, with Steven Gallagher’s swishy Iceman happily on his tail. The songs and singers are strong, though a couple of actors fake their singing bravely, and some of writer Denis McGrath’s lyrics for the “straight” part of the show aren’t as clever as they could be. Still, a hugely entertaining 90 minutes.GS

Car capers

LOUIS AND DAVE by Norm Foster, directed by Nicole Arends. Presented by Villains & Heroes at the Royal St. George’s College parking lot (120 Howland). Every half-hour, July 11-14, 5-9:30 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 1:30-3:30 pm. Rating: NNN

Come ride with Louis and Dave, two pals determined — as they’ve been for years — to score chicks with their politically incorrect pickup lines. It’s a one-joke show, in which Dave reveals a secret that threatens to break up their friendship, but engaging performers Jorge Molina and John Tokatlidis give it warm-hearted focus. The audience of four is packed in the back seat of a Buick station wagon for the whole 15 minutes.JK

Bible belted

JOB: THE HIPHOP MUSICAL written and performed by Eli Batalion and Jerome Saibil. Presented by Foque dans la Tete at the Tarragon Mainspace. July 11 at 1:30 pm, July 12 at 3:30 pm, July 13 at 9 pm. Rating: NNNNN

Yo, even if your musical taste consigns hiphop to a different galaxy, don’t miss this endlessly inventive take on the Bible’s enigmatic tale of Job, the man tested by heavenly and hellish powers. Set in an upscale record company, it’s blessed with writer/performers Eli Batalion and Jerome Saibil, who play all the characters — sometimes two at a time — and never miss a beat in the humour or the music. One of the most creative Fringe shows I’ve seen.JK

Myth misses

PROMETHEUS UNPLUGGED by Gregg Taylor, directed by Colleen Williams. Presented by Decoder Ring at the Factory Mainspace. July 11 at 1:30 pm, July 12 at 3:30 pm, July 13 at 9:30 pm, July 14 at 6:30 pm. Rating: NN

Greek myth meets scientific scrutiny in Taylor’s amusing yet studied modern look at the Prometheus story. Adam Bramble’s deep-throated title character contrasts well with Stephanie Bickford’s… what is she? A scientist? An aerobics instructor? (She sure shows off her abs.) Her stiff, ill-defined and strangely accented missed opportunity of a character drags the show down, despite Colleen Williams’s solid production and some compelling ideas about humankind’s need for myths.GS

Veg out

ZUCCHINIS! ZUCCHINIS! EVERYWHERE! by Lesley Carlberg, directed by Paul Babiak. Presented by Toy Box at St. Vladimir’s. July 12 at 7:15 pm, July 13 at noon, July 14 at 6:15 pm. Rating: NNN

There’s an appealing commedia dell’arte zaniness to this children’s show about friendship and compromise, involving one neighbour who eats only candy, another who adores vegetables and a third who dotes on zucchini. The appealing Kristine Marchese’s a standout as the veggie lover. Look for lots of long green and yellow balloons flying around the stage.JK

Black Russian

envy written and directed by Christopher Behnisch, based on the life and writings of Yuri Olesha. Presented by Theatre Guillotine at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. July 12 at 12:30 pm, July 14 at 8:30 pm. Rating: NNNN

Christopher Behnisch’s moody, imagistic adaptation of the life of and a novel by Soviet writer Yuri Olesha results in a hypnotic show about displaced souls navigating an absurd world, one where sausage-making takes on symbolic import and humans are transformed into machines. Behnisch shapes scenes with poetic swiftness, and the cast — including Christopher Goebel, Jeffrey R. Smith and James Gilpin as a vodka-soaked Olesha caught in a real nightmare — creates magic.GS

Royal togs

THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES by the company, directed by Lesley Halferty. Presented by Shrimp Magnet at St. Vladimir’s. July 12 at 1:30 pm, July 13 at 7:15 pm. Rating: NNNN

Few Toronto kids’ companies use high-energy, audience-participation antics as successfully as Shrimp Magnet. Their adaptation of the classic fairy tale — including some good jokes for adults — has an assistant court potato cleaner (the endearing Kate Keenan) bonding with goofy Emperor Ted (Christopher Schneider) and saving his noble, underwear-clad behind. The cast clearly has fun, and it’s infectious.JK

Lovers’ leap

ROMEO/JULIET REMIXED written and directed by Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley. Presented by Spark at the Annex Theatre (736 Bathurst). July 11-12 at 9 pm, July 13 at 8 pm, July 14 at 7 pm. Rating: NN

Glitter, balloons and glowsticks, oh my. Spark Productions’ rave version of Romeo And Juliet — its setting is Club Verona, ruled by DJ True Daley — scores with its high-energy beat and explosive choreography by Nicola Pantin, but its storytelling is several E hits short of a high. No trouble replacing the balcony scene with the tragic couple’s cellphone text messaging, adding video sequences or throwing out most of the original text, but the doggerel verse replacement and sketchy narrative make for embarrassing theatre.JK

Slick Truth

THE TRUTH ABOUT DAUGHTERS written and performed by Nils Ling, directed by David Sherren. Presented by Phantom Ship at the George Ignatieff. July 12 at 3:30 pm, July 13 at 8:30 pm, July 14 at 4 pm. Rating: NNN

This slick, sentimental, screamingly middle-class crowd-pleaser feels like a pieced-together collection of radio reports about fatherhood. Which it very well might be, since Nils Ling, we’re told, is a CBC humourist. The organizing structure seems contrived and the daughter Ling’s addressing the show to never really comes alive. But the manipulative material can sure be affecting, and Ling — no stage presence, he’s all bald head and voice — knows how to tell and shape a story.GS

Bodice ripped

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION by Annette McLeod, directed by Jennifer Cook. Presented by No Model Types at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. July 11 at 5 pm, July 12 at 4 pm, July 13 at 8:30 pm. Rating: NNN

Fringe fave Luisa Durante growls, groans and rips her way through this uneven solo show about an undersexed romance writer who’s blocked and begins getting messages from her new novel’s characters. Writer Annette McLeod elicits giggles with the standard romance-writing cliches, yet fails to give her protagonist a rich enough life so that we care about her. Not as compelling as it could be, then, but a first-rate performance nonetheless.GS

Hoopal hijinks

GIBBERISH written and performed by Chris Gibbs. Presented by Hoopal at the Victory Cafe (581 Markham). July 11 at 8:30 pm, July 12 at 10:30 pm, July 14 at 5 pm. Rating: NNN

Don’t ignore the man behind the curtain. He’s Chris Gibbs, back solo this year with a new show from the British duo Hoopal. With an apologetic manner that’s part of his humour, Gibbs ignites audience putdown zingers with a contrition that makes them twice as funny. This show about how to do a one-person show — “So as not to become too slick, I’m deliberately putting in material that won’t work” — is indeed up and down, but much of it gets healthy laughs from the audience.JK

Dishy Fish

fish/wife written and directed by Rick Roberts. Presented by Monkey Bus at the Robert Gill. July 11 at 6:30 pm, July 12 at 8:30 pm, July 13 at 2:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN

Rick Roberts’s script about a pair of aging female friends — one of whom is turning into a fish while she prepares sashimi for guests — makes a big splash with its profound yet funny examination of evolution, marriage and… well, the meaning of life. The show’s unexpected edges include a clown-inspired look, several philosophical zingers and the idea that loss can literally consume you. Marjorie Campbell’s moaning, nasal Joanne and Lindsay Collins’s wide-eyed Gwen, who’s stuck in another era, wring laughs and tears in this original and utterly theatrical concoction.GS

On-air angst

the millionairess: live on the air by Bernard Shaw, directed by Cameron Wright and Oonagh Duncan. Presented by Mighty Brave at CIUT Radio (91 St. George). Every half-hour, July 11, 7:30-8:30 pm July 12, 8-9 pm July 13, 9-10 pm July 14, 2-3 pm. Rating: NNN

The audience is part of live radio, 40s-style, in this adaptation of Shaw’s The Millionairess. Trouble is, one of the actors doesn’t show up, and a Fringe volunteer is pulled in to do her work. The premise is clever, and Lisa Wegner conveys a lot as the shell-shocked volunteer doing unexpected duty, but the production lacks the sharpness that would make this short piece — just 17 minutes long– more pungent. JK

Weill revealed

SIMPLE cataclysms: SONGS OF KURT WEILL by Mariella Rowan and Mark Christmann, directed by Christmann. Presented by Curly Red & Great Dames at the George Ignatieff. July 12 at 10:30 pm, July 14 at 2:30 pm. Rating: NNN

A singer (Nancy deLong) wants to give a traditional Kurt Weill concert, but the ghost of former Weill collaborator Bertolt Brecht (Mark Christmann) interrupts in this fascinating yet frustrating experiment. The show is part concert, part lecture, yet we don’t learn much. The piece is most effective when we hear two songs Weill composed on the same subject, one for Berlin, the other for Broadway. Christmann’s lascivious, embittered Brecht enlivens things, and the songs work their magic. But deLong, a passable operatic mezzo, is terribly stiff onstage.GS

Truss-ed up

TALE OF THE SCORPION by Adrian Truss, directed by Truss and Mary Dwyer. Presented by Black Dog Group at the Robert Gill. July 11 at 2 pm, July 12 at 12:30 pm, July 13 at 10:30 pm. Rating: NNNN

Pulp fiction writer Lester Kent (understated Edward G. Robinson look-alike Ditch Dickinson) must knock off three novels in Adrian Truss’s hilarious homage to genre books from the 20s and 30s. Nothing’s gratuitous or overdone, since Truss, who directs with Mary Dwyer, knows the biggest laughs come from character and situation. Peter De Freitas’s costumes deserve mention, but pay attention also to the villains, played by some of the best comic actors in town — Doug Morency as a pre-Nazi German, Lisa Merchant as a dominatrix femme fatale and Lee Smart as an Asian baddie. All stereotypes, of course, but that’s Truss’s point.GS

Pale prince

HAMLET by William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Ferguson and Pamela Halstead. Presented by OldCastle at the Tarragon Mainspace. July 11 at 6 pm, July 12 at noon, July 13 at 10:30 pm. Rating: NN

Maybe a 90-minute version of Hamlet could work, but this version — set for no apparent reason in Prohibition Chicago — is more a sprint to the finish line than a thoughtful production. Co-director and lead Michael Ferguson is a bland Hamlet, lightweight both vocally and emotionally. With singsong recitation the show’s norm, the strengths of the production are Christopher Sawchyn, who doubles as a lean Polonius and clownish Gravedigger, and John Cleland’s commanding, guilt-ridden Claudius.JK

A for Alex

NYMPHOMANIA written and performed by Alex Dallas, directed by Carolyn Hay. Presented by Sensible Footwear at the Poor Alex. July 12 at 12:30 pm, July 14 at 7:30 pm. Rating: NNNN

The wonderfully entertaining Alex Dallas lays herself bare — metaphorically — to recall the incidents in her life that made her a nymphomaniac. Including the time that Jack Nicholson toked up but didn’t sleep with her and the various musicians she’s bedded, Dallas touches on cunnilingus, Rob Lowe’s guiltiness and a curious collection of underwear. But what grounds the show is the sadness she reveals once in a while, showing the heartache behind the humour.JK

Warrd’s retreat

wiltonn wakes up for work still caught within a dream written and performed by Ryan Warrd. Presented by Fauvina Artists at the Factory Mainspace. July 11 at noon, July 12 at 11:30 pm, July 14 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNN

Ryan Warrd’s nightmarish solo musical about a guy with two-toned hair whose nimble ectomorphic body is being overtaken by a malevolent entity is probably best seen late at night. Then maybe its urban paranoia and oppressed het male angst would resonate more. The show sports wickedly good sound effects (too bad we can’t hear all the lyrics to Warrd’s songs), an intense performance and an original premise that only near the end devolves into repetitive fight scenes and psycho-banality.GS

Needs ironing

cast iron written and performed by Lisa Codrington, directed by Elizabeth Helmers. Presented by Back Row at the Robert Gill. July 11 at 11:30 pm, July 13 at 4 pm, July 14 at 2:30 pm. Rating: NNN

Here’s a work-in-progress I wouldn’t mind catching when it’s fully baked. Lisa Codrington plays Libya Atwell, an independent Barbados woman in a Winnipeg nursing home, known for her baked goods and occasional violence with a cast iron pan. Related in a thick patois, the show bubbles over with life and stories, but the intense, poignant Codrington needs to sift and strain before it’s as filling as it could be.GS

Hail Brits

now/here written and devised by Screwed & Clued. Presented by Screwed & Clued at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. July 11 at 12:30 pm, July 13 at 10 pm. Rating: NNN

Chivalry, class and past events all collide in this look at three black-suited Brits (Baz Barrett, David Beecroft, Justin Sage-Passant) who find themselves stuck in a mysterious limbo. The show takes a while to settle down and announce it’s a drama, and though some sections feel arbitrary, there’s a pleasing symmetry to the work, plus a couple of knockout set pieces.GS

Absurd antics

BLOOD SONATA by Stan Rogal, directed by Rogal and Adam Nashman. Presented by Bulletproof Theatre at the Tarragon Mainspace. July 3-10. Rating: NNN

With a nod to Samuel Beckett and the early absurdist works of Edward Albee, Stan Rogal tackles a dysfunctional family with stylized comedy and bits of seemingly nonsensical text. While the script has a dated feel and makes a few obvious points, the production — featuring Derek Keurvorst and Cathy Smith as a mom and pop dwelling in an emotional wasteland and Kevin Hobbs as the son they never had… maybe — is slick and stylish.JK

fringe facts

THE FRINGE: TORONTO’S THEATRE FESTIVAL featuring 121 local, national and international companies chosen by lottery. Runs to July 14. $8 or less, $2 surcharge on advance tickets, discount passes. Advance tickets sold up to 3 hours before showtime by phone or at the Fringe Club (292 Brunswick) at least 50 per cent of tickets for each performance on sale one hour before showtime at the venue. No latecomers admitted. 416-966-1062. Complete Fringe listings start on page 61.

Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman)

Poor Alex Theatre (296 Brunswick)

Glen Morris Studio (4 Glen Morris)

Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79A St. George)

Robert Gill Theatre (214 College)

Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst)

George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire)

St. Vladimir’s Theatre (620 Spadina)

and various bring-your-own-venues

Check out Now’s daily Fringe reports at

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