Each year, ROVER takes it upon itself to direct readers towards the best the Fringe Festival has to offer. To accomplish this, we send our brave writers out, pens and notepads at the ready, to bear witness to the artistry being unleashed on a daily basis, and evaluate shows using our patented ampersand rating system. Four ampersands are given to the cream of the crop. One ampersand means it just ain’t worth your while. So without any further ado, five reviews to get you started…
Tough! – &&&&
Kirsten Rasmussen’s Blink Blink Blink! was one of the best shows I saw at the Fringe last year so I went to Tough! with fairly high expectations. I was not at all disappointed. The story follows the (mis)adventures of two women in their late twenties trying to figure their lives out; one a washed up lounge singer, and the other a fledgeling amateur boxer. Not only is Kirsten an excellent writer, but the way she creates and switches between a slew of dynamic characters in her shows is entrancing. And she completely adopts the persona of whatever character she becomes right down to differing facial ticks, even if that character only has one line. The show flowed really well and I found that there were quite a few lines that stuck with me afterward (most notably, “It’s easy to be cynical, it takes guts to have hope.”). A couple of the songs ran a little long, but they were still hilarious and well supported by Jeff “Tits” Louch and his band. Kirsten has an uncanny way of touching something inside you that you might not have even known was there. Don’t miss this show.
The Harvester – &&&
As any Fringe regular will tell you, anything written and/or directed by Paul Van Dyck is guaranteed to be good, and The Harvester is no exception. The story of a man trapped alone in a dead world for all eternity with nothing but a computer to keep him company was interesting, and although it was not as shocking as some of Van Dyck’s other works, it flowed really well. Eric Davis and Melissa Carter turned in strong performances and I found myself consistently drawn in to the story, but something was missing. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but I left the theatre feeling somewhat unfulfilled, as though there was some point that the play had missed. It might have simply been due to the fact that the sci-fi obsessed nerd in me had quite a few unanswered questions (like how to reverse the polarity of a quantum singularity, or how to translate linear time into a physical substance), but I don’t think that was it. Either way, it was a thoroughly enjoyable show and it obviously left me thinking, as any good piece of art does.
The All-Star Improv Jam – &&
Like a sampler plate, this All-Star Jam gives audiences a chance to see the various improvisational comedians participating in this year’s Fringe get up on stage and try their hand at creating some off-the-cuff comedy as a group. The forty-five minute show begins with a guest “monologist” telling a personal story based on words suggested by the audience. The rest of the team – lead by Montreal Improv Professor Marc Rowland – then proceeds to act out scenes based on portions of said story. Opening night saw Yana Kesala (of The Ukrainian Dentist’s Daughter) explain how she would amuse her friends by telling her Bichon Frisé to “die” (the Ukrainian word for “fetch”). From there, the performers constructed several scenes, one set underwater, another at a Dog Pound, and yet another in the apartment of a chump who keeps bringing first dates back to his place for an unpleasant meal. Since the performers all come from different backgrounds, and the cast changes every show, there’s no way to know exactly what you’ll be in for. Rowland, a mainstay in the local scene, is certain to try and steer the ship towards the laughs, but it’s still a gamble as to whether or not the group will find them, making the odds of catching a terrific show 50/50.
Act of Rod – &&
Rodney Ramsey has that “It” factor. He’s the kind of guy that can save a corny joke by smiling when it bombs and letting you know you should have drank more before coming. There are a couple of those in this one-man show, set in the year 2035 when the Coca-Pepsi Corporation is all-powerful, Justin Bieber has moved on to a career in politics and humanity is recovering from the iPhone Wars. Ramsey plays a late-night show host by delivering a Conan O’Brien-style opening monologue and then taking on three other characters (the best, a Jamaican barber frustrated by teenagers requesting far-out hairdos). Between scenes, the audience is treated to pre-taped “commercials”, like a witty send-up of those ads where a guy tells you to “stop being lazy, get up off the couch and get your degree!” Ramsey is clearly comfortable in-character, and would fit in well on SNL or MadTV (if the latter were still around), but Rod suffers a little from information overload. By the time you’ve reminded yourself that “Eclipse City” is where the show is supposedly taking place, and not some other location in this futuristic universe, you’ve missed the punchline. Ramsey’s overly-detailed view of Tomorrowland ends up undercutting the laughs to the point where the audience can’t always keep up. Still, one can’t deny this veteran of the Montreal and Toronto comedy scenes has charisma to spare and yes, it must be said – a bright future.
Miner Inconvenience – &&&
Miner Inconvenience is anything but. This tale of two men (well, a man and a boy), Mario Ticona and Santos Martine, begins on a typical day in the mines. Stereotypes quickly emerge when witnessing the dynamic between the two characters; the older man is bitter towards his job, while the younger man embraces everything the old man hates. The literal inconvenience occurs when they find themselves stuck in the cave with little more than each other. The small venue (Venue B, Freestanding Room), flashlight-only lighting, minimal sound effects and limited props really set the mood. Jonathan Fournier’s script, though simple, is down-to-earth, relatable and works well on different levels. Although the performances fell short at times (perhaps due to the hour-long running time?), I was pleasantly surprised with the production.
Expect more Fringe coverage here at Rover in the days ahead. For a detailed schedule of performances and venues, visit www.montrealfringe.ca.
Reviews by Jake Freekin Smith, James Gartler and Amanda Kline, respectively.