The Fringe Festival is almost half over, with only three or four more chances to catch your next favorite show before it’s gone. If you believe the hype, your next favorite show is either Miss Sugarpuss Must Die!, Dance Animal or anything with Dan Jeanotte (13th Hour, You and Me and Me and You, Uncalled For—and did I mention he just won the 2010 Dramaturkey?). But here’s two more small gems that have been flying under the radar that you might just want to see.
A Trip to Coney Island – & & & &
As would only be appropriate, A Trip to Coney Island is a vacation from start to finish. “Vocal acrobat” Zero Boy gives us an abridged history of the famed amusement park, skipping the duller points in favor of such bizarre truths like the story of the elephant-shaped hotel and the invention of the hot dog. With nothing but a body mic and the power of his own voice, Zero Boy takes us on a spectacular aural journey that gives us the sounds as well of the sights of an era gone by.
In the case of this show, it’s the sound that’s worth a thousand words. Whether he’s opening a can of beer, playing the Statue of Liberty or imitating the noise of the F train, Zero Boy remains a feast for the ears. It’s a unique style that brings the entire world of his story to life. As an actor, Zero Boy is equally delightful, with an elastic face that transforms effortlessly from one character to the next.
This is a fast, kinetic show that speeds by you like a roller coaster (like, say, the world famous Cyclone, which Zero Boy recreates with the help of the audience). Figure out how not to blink so you don’t miss a single moment of one the best shows at the festival. Step over your mother to see it – or better yet, bring her along for the ride.
Poison the Well – & & &
The script is the real star of Poison the Well, a taut little two hander featuring Andrew Connor, of Cody Rivers fame, and Elison Zasko, who dazzled us all in The Sputniks a few Fringes back. The scene is modern day Russia and the actors portray old friends now on opposite sides of a critical hostage negotiation. This is a lean, sparse text whose observations about the personal destruction of war could apply to any country under siege.
Connor and Zasko don’t always manage to dip very far beneath the surface of their characters, although to be fair this may have be intentional. We are, after all, in a world where the characters agree to trade five lives for twelve, so perhaps they can be forgiven for pushing their emotions into the shadows. Still, this disconnect means that both actors tended to give one-note performances, and neither were as sympathetic as the script clearly means them to be.
There are a few indications that give play the whiff of a freshman effort: a gun is seen from the very start, making sure we all know how this is going to end and there’s an unnecessary musical epilogue that will hopefully be cut in future versions. Whether or not there will be future versions are for the gods of theatre to decide, but theatre-lovers everywhere should pray very hard that the gods decide in the play’s favor: Poison the Well has the potential to become an electric show that forces us all to consider the murkier shadows of our existence.
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Finally, a special mention to Recess, a one woman show about NYC’s inner-city playgrounds by writer/performer Una Aya Osato: by the time you read this, the show will already be over (she only had five performances), but this was a gorgeous and poignant show; Ms. Osato will be at the Toronto Fringe in July, so if you’re there, make sure to check it out.
The Montreal Fringe Festival continues until Sunday, July 20. Check out www.montrealfringe.ca for venues and showtimes.