Reviews: Fringe best bets

As the humongous theatre fest wraps up, here are some must-sees.

THE TORONTO FRINGE THEATRE FESTIVAL featuring 150 local, national and international companies at 28 venues and the Fringe Club. Runs to July 12. $10 at the door, $2 surcharge on advance tickets, discount passes FringeKids! $5 for those 12 and under. 100 per cent of tickets available in advance up to three hours before performance time online, by phone or at the festival box office at the Fringe Club (581 Bloor West). If available, remaining tickets go on sale at the venue an hour before show time. No latecomers. 416-966-1062,


In Rebecca Perry’s sequel to 2014’s Confessions Of A Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, former barista Joanie Little (Perry) gets an internship to work with Jane Goodall and her chimps in Tanzania, where she has to contend with loneliness, the weather and competitive colleagues. Perry and director Matt Bernard have difficulty establishing the setting and distinguishing among the characters. But Perry is a warm performer and the show has promise.    GS

July 8 at 11 pm, July 12 at 5:45 pm. Annex Theatre.


Stand-up Adam Schwartz has Aspergers syndrome, and much of his unique act draws on that, from his puns on the word “autistic” and “artistic” to how his inability to make eye contact with people makes it difficult to pick up women in bars – or conduct a drug deal. Schwartz has a dry delivery style, and despite a couple of stumbles his timing is impeccable. I’m curious to see the next step he takes in his comedy career.    GS

July 9 at 8 pm, July 11 at 2:45 pm, July 12 at 12:30 pm. Tarragon Solo Room.


Vancouver performers Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner use an array of creative and colourful transparencies and two overhead projectors to produce vivid animations live that seem nothing short of magical. Layering these with shadow puppet techniques, they conjure a trippy story about a pair of crows and a magic dream seed. The action – punctuated by avian puns – eventually moves from forest to city, but the plot is secondary to the vibrant, immersive visuals.    JB

July 10 at 11 pm, July 12 at 3:30 pm. Factory Mainspace.


In this sex-positive comedic solo show about STIs, NYC actor Lucas Brooks presents audience members with a paper fortune teller and autobiographical tales of his adventurous sex life (gang bangs, penis hickies, crystal meth and Republican doctors) and brushes with assorted ailments.

Brooks can spin a good yarn, so it’s odd that he opts to introduce each anecdote with a go-go dance instead of using that time for more stories.     JB

July 10 at 4 pm, July 11 at 4 pm. Factory Studio.


A rodent named Joel Zimmermouse desperately wants to be a house DJ. Despite his talent, mice aren’t accepted in that role. Only a trip to the Pearly Gates can get Joel what he wants.

Rafe Malach and Adam Jesin’s often clever musical features some strong performances. But while a few songs are fun, others – the ballads especially – sound too similar and make little impression.    JK

July 9 at 9:15 pm, July 10 at 4 pm, July 11 at 12:30 pm. Al Green Theatre.


This visually stunning contemporary dance piece is a hard-hitting look at the hatred and brutality behind everyday social inequality. Choreographed by Melissa Major, the intriguing symbolic movements are expertly executed by the strong ensemble, and while complex, they’re easily understood.

One striking moment begins with dancers playfully wrapping themselves in bedsheets, only to quickly flip the context – the haunting reveal is a hooded prisoner flanked by two masked guards.    JB

July 9 at 9:15 pm, July 10 at 7:30 pm, July 11 at 4 pm. Factory Mainspace.


Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky unite long-form improvisational comedy and folk storytelling to concoct scenes that draw from their heritage while incorporating audience suggestions. These guys are engaging and highly physical, but raising the stakes between characters would have upped the tension. Houseman’s talent for sound effects and Gorodetsky’s quick verbal comebacks earned them lots of laughs.    DFG

July 9 at 3:30 pm, July 10 at 11 pm, July 12 at 1:45 pm. Factory Studio.


Fool’s Gold is an old-fashioned commedia dell’arte show presented by actor/devisers who know the form and present it in an entertaining fashion.

In traditional costumes and masks, they enact the narrative with the addition of contemporary and local references. Episodes are sometimes unnecessarily long, but there’s fun to be had along the way.    JK

July 10 at 5:15 pm, July 12 at 7 pm. Randolph Theatre.


Gavin Crawford’s hilarious and of-the-moment send-up of the internet’s attractions and distractions allows him to riff on YouTube spirals, hypocritical Facebook friends and Ariana Huffington. There’s also a brilliant CBC joke. The final third of the show evokes the memory of one life-changing episode in his youth in southern Alberta, which leads to a poignant conclusion.    GS

July 8 at 4 pm, July 9 at 9:15 pm. Annex Theatre.


Sketch troupe Falcon Powder excels at quirky black comedy that’s consistently tight and smartly written. This show is shaped by a recurring bit about storm chasers and then adds in some nostalgia. But the biggest laughs occur in the darkest moments. FP kill with a fresh take on euthanasia and a sketch about a plane on the tarmac. The precise timing and freshness of God’s Beard! make Jim Annan, Scott Montgomery and Kurt Smeaton the supreme beings of sketch.    DFG

July 9 at 7:30 pm, July 11 at 2:15 pm. Al Green Theatre.

GRADE 8 Rating: NNNN

In this heartrending autobiographical solo show, Dwayne Morgan relates his struggles after tragedy suddenly makes him a single dad. Beyond the heartache lies a whole host of parenting challenges that he outlines with equal parts affable humour and earnestness: helping his daughter deal with body issues, sexting and all the other awkward problems that come with puberty. It’s both raw confessional and inspirational parenting seminar. Pack lots of kleenex.     JB

July 9 at 6:15 pm, July 10 at 10:30 pm, July 11 at 9:45 pm. Tarragon Solo Room.


Popular puppet troupe Shakey-Shake and Friends returns to the Fringe with a delightful production that nods to the Bard as well as The Little Mermaid, Harry Potter and the Pan Am Games.

Filled with energetic comedy, throwaway lines and even a pie in the face, Hamlet is the company’s most assured show yet – one that will entertain both kids and adults.    JK

July 9 and 10 at 10 am, July 12 at 11 am. George Ignatieff Theatre.


In Lucy Eveleigh’s version of the popular fairy tale, Hansel, Gretel and their parents are addicted to electronic devices.

When the kids are transported into a game similar to those they play online, they lose the use of their cellphones and tablets and have to rely on themselves. Lots of audience participation here, and the young audience loves being part of the action.    JK

July 9 at 1:30 pm, July 10 at 4:45 pm, July 12 at 2:30 pm. George Ignatieff Theatre.


In this uneven song cycle, four unnamed characters attempt to spend less time on their phones, but they still try to find love on dating apps, get distracted by spam and complain about how language is degraded in a world of hashtags and acronyms.

Steven Gallagher does what he can to move the talented cast around, but we can only watch people pick up and put down their phones so many times before we want to whip out our own.    GS

July 9 at 11:30 pm, July 10 at 5:15 pm, July 12 at 5:45 pm. Tarragon Mainspace.


Vanessa Smythe’s captivating solo show is a spellbinding combination of storytelling, stand-up comedy, poetry and song, delivered in her unique vocal style of rhyming sing-speak. Describing events like a brief romance with a poet, awkward interactions with customers at her job and attending her brother’s Grade 8 graduation, she tacks between the humour in everyday minutia and heartfelt observations about big life questions.    JB

July 9 at 7:30 pm, July 10 at noon, July 11 at 1:45 pm. Tarragon Extra Space.


In this cross between experimental comedy and a civics class, Gerard Harris declares the Tarragon Mainspace an autonomous micronation and draws on audience suggestions to establish the superficial trappings of nationhood: a name, a flag, a parliament and eventually a god and religion. It’s funny and downright absurd, but the game calls attention to the constructed and arbitrary aspects of our own country and political system.     JB

July 10 at noon, July 11 at 6:15 pm, July 12 at 4 pm. Tarragon Mainspace.


Stand-up Rhiannon Archer delivers a funny and heartfelt look at the soundtrack to certain episodes in her life.

Beginning with a car accident that nearly killed her, and ending with another momentous event (no spoilers), Archer calmly and confidently takes us through memories that are inextricably linked with songs. The script could be polished, and sometimes Archer’s rhythms are off, but she recovers beautifully, and her impressions of other characters are executed with an intuitive understanding of the human comedy.    GS

July 10 at 7 pm, July 12 at 4 pm. Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace.


In this 75-minute monologue, writer/performer Eleanor O’Brien plays a woman who refines her idea of soulmate as she travels through life. A clever plot device has sex columnist Dan Savage guiding her journey through letters she writes to him. O’Brien has a resonant voice, a rich command of language and a sharp sense of humour. Lust & Marriage looks at the realities of long-term sexual compatibility while maintaining an honest and sex-positive message throughout.    DFG

July 9 at 2 pm, July 10 at 7 pm. Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.


In this fine two-hander, a woman (playwright Rachel Blair) tries to tell a joke, and a man (Blue Bigwood-Mallin) “helps” her tell it properly. Actually, his coaching becomes more and more intrusive, especially when the two become the characters within the joke.

Blair’s intelligent examination of male-female relationships is full of humour and subtle gender politics in this well-paced production directed by David Matheson.    JK

July 11 at 5:15 pm. Tarragon Extra Space.


Erin Norah Thompson’s Meet Cute enacts a brief scene of dialogue three times in three different ways. Jane (Thompson) meets John (Jesse Bond) at a bus stop, and they converse. In the first run-through, John pursues the relationship in the second Jane wants John and in the third they feel a mutual attraction. Meet Cute is well acted but is really just a dramatic exercise.    DFG

July 9 at noon, July 10 at 4 pm, July 11 at 2:15 pm. Annex Theatre.


When a young man battling the challenges of mental illness unexpectedly arrives on his sister’s doorstep, the cracks in their relationship quickly surface. The play combines physical theatre and text, and adept musician Elliott Loran’s percussion heightens the intensity. Although the dialogue sometimes feels stilted, the movement sections soar.    DFG

July 9 at 11 pm, July at 5:45, July 11 at 2:15 pm. Factory Studio.


In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives Of Windsor, self-impressed rascal Sir John Falstaff (the fine Sean Sullivan) woos two married women (Suzette McCanny and Julia Nish-Lapidus) and becomes the victim of comic misadventures. Under directors James Wallis and Catherine Rainville, the company make Shakespeare’s language clear, and though the subplot could use some trimming, there are lots of laughs in this warm-hearted production.    JK

July 9-11 at 7 pm, July 12 at 5 pm. Victory Cafe (581 Markham).


The chemistry between clown sisters Morro (Heather Marie Annis) and Jasp (Amy Lee) has never been stronger than in this revival of their coming-of-age show co-created with director Byron Laviolette. Even if you’ve seen the show before, Puberty is worth checking out again for its great laughs, great warmth and great heart.    JK

July 9 at 9:45 pm, July 10 at 7 pm, July 11 at 2:15 pm. Tarragon Mainspace.


In this satirical solo musical, Moniquea Marion lampoons all aspects of modern motherhood. Backed by Mark Bond on piano, she hams up rewritten show tunes from The Sound Of Music, The Wizard Of Oz and Oklahoma with references to the gross, smelly and terrifying realities of pregnancy, labour and child rearing.

The show’s farcical style is fast and loose, and some bits fall epically flat, but Marion always recovers, spinning these slips into bigger laughs in the process.    JB

July 9 at 11:30 pm, July 10 at 9:15 pm, July 12 at 4:30 pm. Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace.


When Frank Meschkuleit takes the stage dressed as an absurdly portly German-accented magician, the burning question is “Where are the puppets?” Without ruining the big, magical reveal, his puppet house and tiny creatures are both intricate eye candy and impressive feats of engineering. An array of hilarious skits includes a very funny rewrite of Bob Marley’s Jammin (“I’m German”) and a rapping marionette version of Stephen Hawking. It’s a grab bag of unpredictable, enchanted humour.    JB

July 9 at 11 pm, July 10 at 8 pm, July 12 at 1 pm. St. Vladimir’s.


Actor and comic Darryl Pring’s account of his history with mental illness is frank, honest and very entertaining. In the form of a PowerPoint presentation, he details everything from his unusual family situation to his various obsessive beliefs and visions, which range from amusing to terrifying.

The riveting climax includes a tension-releasing joke that is so funny it proves that comedy really is a great way to explore a difficult subject.    GS

July 9 at 5:45 pm, July 10 at 9:45 pm, July 11 at 8:45 pm. Robert Gill Theatre.


Sean Reycraft’s finely crafted two-hander is a blackly comic confessional in which the audience hears the story of two newlyweds, Stewart (Matthew Gin) and Steph (Becky Shrimpton), whose post-wedding history takes a decidedly tragic turn. The narrative tension builds well, but there could be more and darker emotional levels in the production directed by Jessica Rose.    JK

July 9-12 at 7:30 pm, matinee July 11-12 at 2 pm. Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church (427 Bloor West).


People Suck is a song cycle categorizing all the ways, places and reasons people get under each other’s skin. Written by Peter Cavell and Megan Phillips (who’s also a cast member), it’s filled with clever turns of phrase and songs representing different musical genres. Highlights include Connor Thompson’s Gilbert-and-Sullivanesque attack on poor grammar skills, and Allison Price’s flirty, dirty cabaret rendition of the show’s title song.    DFG

July 9 at 5:15 pm, July 11 at 11 pm. Randolph Theatre.


Sophia Fabiilli brilliantly adapts Shaw’s play, casting herself as Charlotte, a sex blogger with a PhD and an open relationship with her boyfriend. But when a lover interrupts their Muskoka getaway, things turn feisty and farcical. The cohesive six-person cast interacts energetically, with standout performances by Jakob Ehman and Seth Drabinsky. As the laughs mount, the pacing never flags. Hook up with tickets ASAP.    DFG

July 10 at 5:45 pm, July 11 at 12:30 pm, July 12 at 4 pm. Annex Theatre.


Art, friendship, success and jealousy are the key ingredients in Mark Ravenhill’s dark-as-pitch comedy in which a wealthy artist’s accident initially provokes sadness and then creative inspiration for a quartet of friends.

The terrific ensemble cast (Chy Ryan Spain, Sarah Illitovitch-Goldman, Daniel Roberts and Allison Price) morph into all sorts of haunted, lost characters under Jill Harper’s fine direction.     JK

July 9 at noon, July 11 at 4 pm. Tarragon Mainspace.


Affable Aussie comic Jon Bennett’s solo show explains how a funny Facebook post five years ago morphed into a life-consuming blog/book/theatre project in which he uses forced-perspective photography to make various objects (everything from a banana to ancient Incan ruins) appear to be his phallus. Assuming the role of an explainer (“How is this a thing?”) and “greatest hits” rundown host, Bennett tells the hilarious, revealing and even harrowing stories behind his favourite selections.    JB

July 10 at 11:30 pm, July 11 at 3:30 pm. St. Vladimir’s.


Rukmini, an elderly woman in India, reflects on multiple generations of her family scattered around the world. The sprawling non-linear storyline and overabundance of characters can cause confusion, yet Radha S. Meron’s play is a potent exploration of fading cultural traditions and the importance of family heirlooms.    DFG

July 10 at noon, July 12 at 7 pm. Factory Mainspace.


Graham Isador’s atmospheric site-specific show is performed in an intimate second-floor section of the Epicure Café, a fitting venue for this look at an aspiring rock musician (the electric Jillian Welsh) who’s biding her time waiting tables.

Director Tom Arthur Davis brilliantly interweaves nightmarish scenes (good sound and inventive choreography) with the bustle and excitement of a busy shift. The performers are excellent, and there are lots of surprises on the theatrical menu.    GS

July 9-12 at 7 pm. Epicure Café (502 Queen West).


You don’t need flat abs for Shecky’s Yoga Shul, but you do need a strong stomach for Borscht Belt humour. Howard Pressburger totally commits to Shecky, a Jewish yoga guru. Although the shtick gets old before the end, Pressburger, along with his assistant and a live musician, offers up many amusing bits in this entertaining, highly interactive experience.     DFG

July 9 at 1:30 pm, July 10 at 9:30 pm, July 11 at 7 pm, July 12 at 2 pm. Ahimsa Yoga Centre (440 Bloor West).


In this dramatic comedy by Eric Bogosian, TV writer Jerry (Chris Whitby), battling a middle-age slump, goes to Florida and meets Jo-Ellen (Melanie Pyne), with whom he has a fling and then suffers the consequences. The acting in this seven-person production is excellent, and the play does a great job of contrasting social and class inequities without getting preachy.     DFG

July 9 at noon, July 10 at 11 pm, July 12 at 8:30 pm. Theatre Passe Muraille Mainstage.


This comedic musical rockumentary revels in stadium-sized 70s rawk, performed live with seemingly limitless energy. However, the thin and predictable behind-the-music plot (band makes it big only to struggle with ego and excess), peppered with hit-and-miss tongue-in-cheek one-liners, isn’t on the same level as their catchy original head-banging tunes.    JB

July 9 at 11 pm, July 10-12 at 8 pm. Lee’s Palace Upstairs: The Dance Cave (529 Bloor West).


Backed by a three-piece band, local music theatre phenom Ryan G. Hinds tears through a cabaret set list featuring songs from Evita, Hedwig and Aerosmith, peppered with funny autobiographical banter about the significance of each. Best are a sing-a-long version of CanCon classic Log Driver’s Waltz and his bit about Disney movies and identifying more with Ursula the Sea Witch than Ariel, which leads to a killer rendition of Poor Unfortunate Souls.        JB

July 9 at 7:30 pm, July 10 at noon, July 11 at 5:45. Annex Theatre.


Storyteller extraordinaire Sam S. Mullins’s latest draws on four episodes from his life. These range from an embarrassing experience in student theatre to an intense but brief romance on the Fringe circuit. The most poignant is a story about fathers, baseball and second chances. 

On a mostly bare stage, the charismatic Mullins uses his lanky body – especially his arms – well to tell these beautifully shaped tales that are full of human truths.    GS

July 9 at noon, July 10 at 4 pm, July 11 at 11:30 pm. Factory Mainspace.


Following a bus accident, eight teen misfits find themselves in the magical world of Summerland in this exciting production written by Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston and Suzy Wilde. Directed by Ann Merriam, the teen actors give high-energy proof that the next generation of musical theatre talents is already with us. One of the most rocking shows in the Fringe, this site-specific piece blows the roof off Harbord Collegiate.    JK

July 9-10 at 7:30 pm, July 11 at 2 and 7:30 pm, July 12 at 2 pm. Harbord Collegiate (286 Harbord).


Comedy troupe Sex T-Rex sharpen their weapons and deliver the goods in this fast-paced spoof of video games, Errol Flynn movies and TV fantasy shows like Game Of Thrones. Under director Alec Toller, the very able cast of energetic improvisers (Josef Addleman, Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Kaitlin Morrow and Seann Murray) make mincemeat of sword-and-sorcery heroics, 1980s video graphics and the Three Musketeers.    JK

July 10 at 5:45 pm, July 11 at 4 pm. Al Green.


This Kids In The Hall-inspired sketch ensemble reflects on our self-obsessed culture with some hilarious Toronto-centric skits. From a frustrated TTC operator who barks scathing and extremely specific

personal criticisms at passengers to a gloomy vision of the present-day life of 1993 World Series star Joe Carter, obsessively watching a VHS tape of his game-winning homer, this quintet specializes

in exceedingly dark, yes-they-went-there humour.     JB

July 9 at 9:45 pm, July 10 at 3:30 pm, July 11 at 1 pm. Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace.


In this searing, psychological two-hander, Cliff (Jonathan Shatzky), a crass long-haul truck driver, goes home with Rose (Kayla Whelan), a neurotic, naive clerk he’s just met. Strong, realistic performances develop their awkwardly mismatched odd-couple dynamic into a palpable chemistry. The tense verbal sparring is tempered by Cliff’s blue-collar one-liners, but the heart of the show is a pair of bleak monologues that Shatzky and Whelan both nail.    JB

July 9 at 11 pm, July 11 at 7:30 pm, July 12 at noon. Annex Theatre.

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