“Could life just be a series of unrelated events for which we invent a narrative because of our brain’s overwhelming desire for control?” Dan Jeannotte asks in Today is All Your Birthdays, a Fringe show from local comedy troupe Uncalled For. If this doesn’t sound like the punch line of your typical sketch comedy revue, it’s because this is hardly standard fare. What to expect? An interview with Darwin, a rip in the space-time continuum, a lesson on the Hadron Collider, and even a reference to Romulus and Remus.
No profanity, no misogyny, no potty humour — and a thoroughly entertaining show. Uncalled For, comprising six members (four appear in the show), have been performing together for almost a decade. The troupe began to solidify at John Abbott College, morphing names along the way, gaining and shedding members.
“Today is All Your Birthdays is — it almost goes without saying — a celebration,” said Uncalled For’s Matt Goldberg. “A celebration of celebrations — of birth, death, Darwin’s theory of evolution, black holes, and mimes.”
It’s strange to see such intense existential content celebrated thus onstage, with all the boisterousness and rambunctiousness of little boys. The troupe members are truly at play as they perform, cavorting and bounding about the stage with reckless abandon. At times it risks being overdone. But by and large, Uncalled For offer a unique spin on comedy, a refreshingly cerebral perspective — and more than a few laughs.
My wanderings to other Fringe shows have dispelled any reservations as to quality. Thus far, it’s four for four, including Afterlife, The Importance of Being Earnest and Jem Rolls’ Leastest Flops.
Afterlife, a one-woman show from New York based theatre company SunsetGun productions, stars Candy Simmons in three roles. Ruth, an Appalachian midwife in 1928, will sink to murder for a baby; Marion, a 1950s housewife, longs for fulfillment; Karma, a film producer lost in the shuffle of modern life, struggles to find peace. The premise resonates with Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, and fans of The Hours will likely appreciate the nuances of Afterlife.
Simmons exhibits a skilled flexibility in each of the three roles, and adeptly weaves a narrative that is not disjointed, but impressively interconnected in spite of discrete characters and settings. A beautiful statement on unfulfilled femininity.
The Importance of Being Earnest is, as expected, a light-hearted and fun performance of Oscar Wilde’s beloved 19th century play. Lara Bradban steals the show as the ridiculous and mischievous Algernon. If you’ve never read the play, this Fringe performance offers a great opportunity to see it live.
Finally, my personal favourite — when you’re tempted to see a show twice, you know you’ve found a winner, and in that capacity Jem Rolls beats out anything I’ve yet seen. A performance artist harkening from Surrey, he tours internationally and makes his living from poetry. With characteristic dry wit, impressive rocket-fire delivery, and thought-provoking content, his is a show not to be missed. Jem Rolls will remind you why art exists, presenting a self-reflexive awareness of his own art.
“My poems exist only in the immediate. They cease to exist in their fading from your memory,” he declares in the poem Worship. “I would have it no other way.”
Favorites include a satire of British history (The New English History Syllabus) and a provocative political commentary (The Twelve Step Road to True Pessimism).
Today is All Your Birthdays, Afterlife, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Jem Rolls’ Leastest Flops continue to be performed at Fringe. For tickets and times see www.montrealfringe.ca. Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 514-849-FEST.