THE BEST OF THE FRINGE (Diesel Playhouse/NOW). Seven holdovers from the Toronto Fringe 2007. 56 Blue Jays Way. Runs in rep to August 5, Wednesday-Sunday at 7 and 9 pm (except July 22 and 29 at 5 pm). $15, $20 day pass (2 shows), $60 festival pass (seven shows). 416-971-5656. Rating: NNNNN
I know that I'm going to enjoy the work of proven artists at the Fringe. It's the unexpected gems, though, that are the festival's real delights.
One of my favourite discoveries at this past festival is ...and stockings for the ladies, held over as one of the seven shows at The Best Of The Fringe.
The tale of two Royal Canadian Air Force men in Germany just after the Second World War who help those recently released from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, it takes its inspiration from the true story of playwright Attila Clemann's stepfather's father, Ted Aplin, and Aplin's friend Stan Winfield.
The wonderfully moving show introduces us to some 20 characters, human and puppet. They're all played by the energetic Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, who's going into his third year at the National Theatre School. The production, directed by Zach Fraser, offers a splendid display of the actor's talent.
"In researching the show, I found a stack of over 100 letters that Ted wrote from Germany to his wife in Toronto," recalls Clemann, who's worked around the world with various theatre mentors. "Later, I visited Stan in Vancouver and discovered that Ted was the motivating force in what they did and Stan was the recorder; they were the classic Holmes and Watson."
Because of his respect for Aplin, Winfield kept a meticulous catalogue of their time in Germany, even retaining carbon copies of letters sent back to Canada.
The show is Clemann's first independently written piece, though he's been involved in works created with other artists, including The Overcoat and SaBooge Theatre's Fathom.
"Zach and I thought a one-man show would work best. It all streams through Stan's memory, so we meet him at the start of the piece, and though Brendan plays lots of characters, we keep returning to Stan.
"We knew that the transitions were as important as the facts; if the story were too cleanly displayed nothing but the events it wouldn't hold an audience's interest."
And what about the puppets, who play the so-called displaced persons released from the camp?
"It's hard for an actor to tell the story of camp survivors," offers Clemann, who's currently studying cabinet-making in Montreal. "Puppets give us a distance, remove us from the subject matter in one way and yet ironically let us go deeper emotionally.
"Clowns, masks and puppets have this intense drawing power," adds the playwright, who's worked with a master puppeteer in Switzerland and also studied puppetry at the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris.
But the concentration camp is the background, not the main story here, which taps into compassion and concern about human rights.
Nor is the script just an historic piece for Clemann.
"Look at Darfur, and Afghan and thousands of other refugees today, caught in limbo. Ted's big point is that we have to be vigilant and take care of those who are dispossessed, help them heal from war and oppression."
? and stockings for the ladies runs in rep with six other Fringe productions,including Expiry Dating,Two In The Bush,Funny Business ? The Musical,Curriculum Vitae,Reesor and Show Stopping Number.