QUEENS OF COMEDY
Sure, the Rolling Stones played the Palais Royale, but lucky comedy fans got a similar treat as Sandra Shamas and Brigitte Gall -- two of the best comic performers in the country -- dropped into Tom Foolery's on the weekend to try out material.
This being summer, the club wasn't full. There were maybe 20 people at the early Saturday show, but nobody walked away without a smile on his or her face.
Gall immediately established a comfy rapport with the audience, spinning tales about growing up in Regina, travelling to Pakistan with Canada World Youth and drunkenly meeting actor John Cusack at the wrap party for The Grifters.
Besides having one of the most likeable stage presences around, Gall has an innate dramatic sense, filling in the picture with efficient physical gestures and, unlike a lot of stand-ups, allowing herself to be the butt of lots of jokes. Can't wait for her full-length show.
Shamas, who in a month will be selling out the Winter Garden in Wit's End II: Heart's Desire, quickly dispensed with her mike and changed the pace by simply talking about her day, which included getting hit on by a 21-year-old at the Guelph market.
Then she launched into a series of bits from her new show, sharing stories about the last few years of her life, turning 40, having a nude portrait taken, visiting a plastic surgeon because of a wattle and communicating with farmers working her land.
Shamas proved yet again she's an original. She combines urban savvy with unpretentious rural wisdom. Like the best artists, she employs vivid, honest details to make us look at the world in a different way.
Wit's End II begins previews on Shamas's 45th birthday, September 18. 416-872-5555.
One of the smartest and most evocative pieces at the final weekend of the fringe Festival of Independent Dance (fFIDA) was Jessica Runge's Q&A.
Runge implored the audience to ask her questions or shout out descriptive words while she danced. We did, and Runge responded with words and improvised movements.
A gladiatorial feeling initially suffused the piece as the audience, seated on risers, shouted out things like, "Are you lonely?" and "What makes you happy?" and Runge, dancing around four lamps, each on a timer, supplied enigmatic answers and movements.
The piece says as much about us and our feelings as it does about Runge. What do audiences want to see? Can we get to the mystery of art? Are words sufficient?
By the end, as the lamps -- which came to resemble trees in a forest -- started shutting off randomly, the piece became a meditation on the fragility of life. Or maybe that's just what we brought to the show.
Q&A recognizes the crucial role that audiences play in any live performance. It's part of a full-length work Runge is developing for next year.
Caught Soulpepper's third (and final) concert performance of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which figures prominently in the company's production of A Chorus Of Disapproval.
The show's star? The splendid Patricia O'Callaghan, whose Polly Peachum nicely balanced the songs' heartfelt quality and the dialogue's satiric tone. There was also fire in the work of Jennifer Gould as her rival, Lucy Lockit, and generous comedy by director Ted Dykstra as Lucy's jailer father, Lockit. Musical director Marek Norman led a fine four-piece orchestra and gave a contemporary swing -- not always successfully -- to many of the 1720s ballad tunes. As two-timing hero MacHeath, Daniel Kash crooned more than he sang, used an accent that came and went and lacked the necessary layer of danger beneath the bandit's charm.
BITING THE APPLE
Off to New York City this week? You can catch the sixth annual New York City Fringe, a juried festival running through August 25. Among the companies are a number of Canadian shows, most of which we've seen here, including Kim Kuhteubl's Pigeon, Trey Anthony's 'Da Kink In My Hair, Nicole Manek's and Margaret Smith's Fourtyseven, Samantha Swan's Star -- all have played the Toronto Fringe -- and Amiel Gladstone's The Black Box, the recent SummerWorks jury prize winner. Only Sandra Alland's and Heather Lash's Seeing Each Other, about two women on a blind date, hasn't received a local staging. Maybe after the NYC Fringe?