Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fringe Fest Thoughts

This weekend has been all about the Fringe Fest... for Vicki and I and our friend Susan, that is.

Last summer, Susan talked us into taking in a couple of performances at Fringe Fest 2010, a cultural phenomenon the likes of which neither Vicki nor I had ever attended. We saw one play that really impressed us (Monster) and another that was entertaining but nothing all that spectacular (which I sadly don't remember the name of). As such, my reaction to Fringe Fest was: It was OK, and maybe next year we'd try it again.

When we were over at Susan's for dinner a few weekends ago, she and I spent an hour or so poring over the online Fringe Fest 2011 schedule, trying to find shows we thought all three of us would like. This exercise came about after I walked in and was greeted by Susan with the words, "Tonight I have an assignment for you!" which I initially assumed would involve her TV, settop box or something similar. Instead, she informed me that the Fringe brochure was now available and so our task for the evening was to map out at least the first foray to the festival. We decided we'd go on the first Friday night and then read some reviews before returning for the second weekend. Which is just what we did.

We've now completed our Fringe Fest 2011 experience, and it was excellent!! I'm already looking forward to next year, which is really sad as it's a long, long way away! Anyway, I thought I'd record a few words on each show we saw, for posterity. Here they are, in the order we saw them:

Earshot - Justin Quesnelle really impressed us last year in Monster but this year's tour de force one-man show was even better! He plays a slightly-deranged apartment dweller with exceptional hearing who carries on one-sided conversations with the occupants of the units above, below and on either side of him. I had one niggling complaint about a small contrivance in the plot but was otherwise mesmerized by Quesnelle's skill and the sharp writing. Despite being the first one we went to, Earshot ended up being my 2nd favourite of the festival!!

Rocky Horror Show - If you've ever seen the film or another live version of this, you know what to expect... and it was all that! I generally despise musicals but I always make an exception for Rocky and gang. This was a fun, fun two hours!

Men Telling Stories - They're two men, telling stories! It doesn't actually get much easier to explain than this! The two young raconteurs - and yes, they even make a joke using that particular term! - entertain well with tales from their pasts and a strange but lovable chemistry between them.

The One - Billed as a 'multimedia' event, this was a very well-done but somewhat strange one-woman show. Through slide shows, video and live performance, 'Jane Love' (possibly not her real name!) recounts how she met and fell in love with her fiance and man of her dreams... who don't happen to be the same guy! I liked this quite a bit but didn't love it, which is probably fine as it was likely more aimed at my two companions for Fringe Fest.

Chaotica - Wow, what an interesting concept: a woman bursts out of a large box on the stage, only to discover that she's trapped in an enclosed area filled with mystery boxes, instruction cards, and a disembodied voice that won't take 'no' for an answer! This was one of my favourites, as the concept was so intriguing and Christel Bartelse's performance so very hypnotic! About the only thing missing, for me anyway, was something to tie it all together at the end. I would've loved a hint as to what was really going on (or why), or even just some revelation about the various characters she embodied. Even without that, though, I loved every minute!

Bursting Into Flames - Martin Dockery delivers a one-man journey through the Afterlife that I'll remember for a long time to come! He paints vivid images of Life After Death that include a girlfriend who hang glides everywhere, a marijuana joint that stretches across North America, and a man on the edge of insanity. I thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish and absolutely nothing should be made of the fact that Susan fell asleep during it! It was a late show and some people still have day jobs, after all!

Feats of Mystery - As mind-reading/magic acts go, this was pretty damn enjoyable! I can't help but spend most of my time at such events trying to figure out how each trick is done, and FoM was no exception. By the time I raced out of there to get us tickets for the next show on our list, I'd figured out about 1/3 of them. This morning, lying in bed, Vicki and I tackled most of the rest and think we knocked almost all of them off. But of course, we could be completely wrong on all counts! And really, what does it matter, when the show's as captivating as it was?

jem rolls IS PISSED OFF - My first (of only two) 'misses' for Fringe Fest, I just couldn't get into or behind Jem Rolls and his various performance poetry bits. I could see that he had talent but too much of his monologue was spent describing how hard he'd found it to get pissed off (!) after deciding on the title, and that sort of self-referential schtick never really works for me. Still, it was an experience, and I don't begrudge the hour I spent at it.

oz in a clozet - We checked this one out only after changing our minds about a pair of other shows, and I was especially curious to see it because a friend or acquaintance of Julie's was in it. It turned out to be a very clever, very well-acted 3- (or 4-) person play about a man who was about to propose to his 'true love' only to find himself locked in a utility closet with another woman. Both leads were great, and the "other woman" in particular really came across as a unique, well-defined eccentric. There was also a fair bit of physical stuntwork required, and it all came off without a hitch. The fiancee (in a smaller role) and a janitor (in a very minor role) were fine but it really was up to the two leads to carry the show, and they did!

6 Guitars - I didn't really expect to see anything at Fringe Fest that would absolutely blow me away, but our 2nd last show did just that. Chase Padgett, out of Florida, delivered the most incredible 'solo ensemble' piece I've ever seen live! He 'became' six different guitar players, one each from the diverse worlds of Blues, Jazz, Heavy Metal, Folk, Country and Classical, and interwove their backstories and views on music into an hour I'll never forget! While I loved Fringe Fest 2011, this was the only performance that I would've gone back to see again, had we gone to it earlier in the weekend! Padgett did it all: tight writing, excellent acting, improv with the audience, amazing music, insightful themes, and seamless transitions between all of them! This was far and away my favourite act. Interestingly, this was one that Susan and I had talked about on that original weekend, and which I was more interested in than she was, but it didn't make our final list going into this weekend. Therefore we wouldn't have seen it had it not won the "Impressario" award for its venue and thus earned another performance on the final day (today), which is the one we took in. I hate to think that I came that close to not seeing what turned out to be my absolute top pick!!

'33, A Kabaret - Did I mention I loathe musicals? Well, somehow I still let myself be talked into this one, and unfortunately it fell into the usual category for me: difficult to make it through! However, the actor/singer/dancer at the centre of this one-man-show about a Nazi-terrorized cabaret in the 30s was clearly loaded with talent, and for anyone not opposed to musicals, I'm sure there was lots to love! I'm just not that guy.

Wow, that's a lot of stuff we saw! At $10 a show, though, I think we got more than our money's worth. As I mentioned earlier, I'm already excited at the thought of seeing even more of Fringe Fest 2012, a mere twelve months from now...

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