THE ARABIAN NIGHT by Roland Schimmelpfennig, directed by Ross Manson. Presented by Volcano. Aug 12 at 5 pm, Aug 13 at 9:30 pm, Aug 14 at 8 pm. Rating: NNNNN
German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig 's taut script about five characters wandering through an apartment without water gets an atmospheric production full of nuance, humour and lots of insight into the desert of human interaction. The script draws whimsically from bits of imagery from the Scheherazade story yet also touches on urban alienation and the failure to connect. Director Ross Manson creates a dreamlike universe (we believe, for instance, that a man has slipped into a brandy bottle), and though narration shifts continuously, it's never monotonous or affected. The actors believe the mythical, magical worlds they're in.
The cast is as good as any you'll see at the festival, but Philippa Domville 's heartbreaking, memory-challenged cursed woman and David Jansen 's lustful neighbour caught in memories of past loves deserve mention. So too does Maza Mezé 's Arabic music, performed live to maximum atmospheric effect.
THE BIG FIGHT written and directed by Jonathan McCurley. Presented by the Polecats. Aug 12 at 8 pm, Aug 13 at 11 pm, Aug 15 at 12:30 pm. Rating: NN
Jonathan McCurley's colourful, absurd play about boxing, horses and competition features some bold design choices, and the young cast do their energetic best to wrestle meaning from the challenging material. But it doesn't add up to much, and ultimately it's not very funny or profound.
BLUE BLAZES written and directed by Torquil Colbo. Presented by Thunderpot Theatre. Aug 13 at 5 pm, Aug 14 at 12:40 pm, Aug 15 at 6:30 pm. Rating: NN
Torquil Colbo's script about a woman who can mysteriously summon lightning and a man who's afraid of bursting into flames never manages to catch fire. There's an unnevenness in the play's tone. Is it Southern gothic? Absurd? A religious parable? I don't think Colbo knows. Still, he gets energetic, committed performances from actors David Bronfman - who's required to awkwardly twist and shout continually - and Katherine East .
DESCENT written and directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. Presented by UrbanImage. Aug 13 at 6:30 pm, Aug 14 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNNN
A very strong acting ensemble bites savagely into Ed Gass-Donnelly 's disturbing look at a clutch of desperate
Lost souls. There's a derivative feel to some of the writing - we've seen the cop/ hooker/junkie scenario played out too many times - and some of the play's connections feel forced. But Gass-Donnelly knows how to punch up a scene's stakes, and genuine energy propels the production to its inevitable conclusion.
Kudos to the director for luring some of theatre's lesser-seen actors back to the stage, including Richard Clarkin , Bruce Gooch , Aaron Poole , Melyssa Ade and especially Catherine McNally .
EVERY NIGHT'S HOT AT THE VA VA VOOM! Written and directed by Shannon McDonough. Presented by Twitchin' Productions. Aug 14 at 5 pm, Aug 15 at 9:30 pm. Rating: NNN
Shannon McDonough's musical about a bunch of female burlesque dancers in 1940s New Joisey is as fluffy, colourful and artificial as the feather boas that the often scantily clad characters drape around their flesh. There are some abrupt scene changes, and some of the gags - McDonough plays a dyke stand-up comic - could be more amusing.
But the show's an affectionate send-up of 1940s clichés, with some solid music by NOW art writer David Jager (the song Funny Girls is a standout) and choreography that ranges from line kicks to tap to contortion. (Who knew that NOW music writer Elizabeth Bromstein was so... flexible?)
Plus, how often do we get to see larger-sized women or lesbian love stories in musicals?
THE HAPPY WOMAN by Rose Cullis, directed by Brenda Anderson. Presented by One Skin Missing Productions. Aug 12 at 9:30 pm, Aug 14 at 3:30 pm, Aug 15 at 8 pm. Rating: NNN
Rose Cullis's play about a happy middle-aged woman who won't or can't see that her family is falling apart contains some sharp poetic images and a couple of magnetic performances, especially by Veronika Hurnik as a dissatisfied, constantly searching daughter. The script needs work, especially in the development of the title character, to reach its full, rich potential. But there's lots of wisdom here about secrets and lies in the modern-day family unit.
LYSISTRATA by Aristophanes, adapted by Greg Robic, directed by Lawrence Cotton. Presented by Theatre Cotton Robes. Aug 14 at 6:30 pm, Aug 15 at 5 pm. Rating: NNNN
Greg Robic's witty adaptation of Aristophanes' 411 BC comedy about a group of women who try to stop war by denying men sex sags a bit in the middle, but there are some hilarious one-liners and amusing set pieces cleverly written for classical tunes. My favourite? Substituting "sex" for "rex" in Mozart's Requiem. Lawrence Cotton directs a fine cast, with Elizabeth Beeler a standout in the title role and cellist Anne Rankin providing great musical underscoring. Look for the anti-Bush jokes (productions of the play are apparently springing up around the world to protest the war in Iraq) and an amusing plea at the end.
SAVAGE/LOVE by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, directed by Rosanno Saracino. Presented by Redhanded Film and Theatre. Aug 13 at 8 pm, Aug 14 at 2 pm. Rating: NN
Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's 1981 series of poems and monologues about love has dated badly, as witnessed by this self-indulgent, monotonous all-female production that yells, emotes and whimpers at us. Besides the often evocative use of a cello and the occasional strong bit of staging, director Rosanna Saracino 's sole contribution seems to be the addition of a few Gershwin standards - sung, like most of the show, way over the top by an undisciplined cast.
THE STRUGGLE written and directed by Claudio Chiodo. Presented by DoubleSee Productions. Aug 12 at 6:30 pm, Aug 14 at 11 pm, Aug 15 at 2 pm. Rating: NN
Claudio Chiodo's perplexing play doesn't know whether it's about the conformity of corporate life or the dehumanization and inaccuracy of clinical psychiatry. (One scene featuring docs trying to diagnose a patient sounds like a parody of that Benylin cold syrup ad.) Either way, it's not fully realized, despite some clever bits of staging.
SUICIDE NOTES by Kenneth Williams, directed by Vinetta Strombergs. Presented by Fu*Sha. Aug 12 at 11 pm, Aug 15 at 3:30 pm. Rating: NN
Brenda Kamino digs so deeply into her tragicomic role as a street lady who writes poetic suicide notes and hands them to strangers that it makes you wish Kenneth T. Williams 's script were better. Williams touches on compelling themes like voice appropriation, plagiarism and exploitation, but there are massive holes in the plot and characters, none of them sufficiently covered up by director Vinetta Strombergs .