Culture & Conversation

Byron’s Fringe picks: Sight Unseen!

Local comedy troupe Uncalled For presents A Bandolier of Dreams at this year's Fringe.

Local comedy troupe Uncalled For presents A Bandolier of Dreams at this year’s Fringe.

This is the 24th year of the Montreal Fringe and I have covered each year since the idea was just a gleam in founder Kirsten Kieran’s eye.

This year there are 106 shows in 16 indoor venues. I attempt to pick the best sounding from the English theatre side, sight unseen, based on experience and press kits.

There are also fine French-language and language-neutral dance shows .

Are you ready?

Nine based on past successes

1. My Playwright Sister. James Diamond, the real-life transgender brother of Johanna Nutter, gives his version of the events that led to her wildly successful solo show My Pregnant Brother (born at the 2009 Fringe). With shades of Rashoman, this is a must-see for Johanna’s many fans. Don’t despair if you cannot squeeze into its tiny Freestanding Room venue. I am sure that, like its companion piece, it will resurface again.

2. Blood Wild. Paul Van Dyck (most famous for his Paradise Lost) strikes again, writing and directing this tale of the old West. Eric Davis and Patricia Summersett are among the five top local actors in this can’t fail cast.

3. Shakespeare Crackpot. What would a Montreal Fringe be like without an entry by multi-award winning Keir Cutler? This one recounts his 12 years of believing that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare. Fringe God TJ Dawe directs.

4. Jem Rolls: One-Man Traffic Jam. This British motor-mouth performance poet has appeared in 92 Fringe festivals. In this brand new show, he tackles evolution, money and buses as well as songs “Guantanamera” and “Let’s call the whole thing off”.

5. High Tea. James and Jamesey, the English stars of last year’s 2 for Tea return with their blend of Monty Python and Mr. Bean. Audience members beware. You might be plucked to come on stage to have a cuppa tea and help with the zany fun.

6. 4 Girls 4 Ever. Prolific and popular local playwrights Ned Cox and Alex Haber team up again in this clever comedy concerning a 25th year high school reunion where alcohol reignites old rivalries and alliances.

7. A Bandolier of Dreams. An improvisational comedy featuring Mike Hughes and Matt Goldberg, the popular hosts of the late-night Fringe cabaret “The 13th Hour” and members of comedy troupe Uncalled For. Each performance is guaranteed to be different. Directed by versatile actor Dan Jeannotte.

8The Quitter. Bloody Underrated founder Al Lafrance – storyteller, stand-up comic, No More Radio host and Solos theatre festival co-founder – has now written and performs his own solo show, which seems to involve doughnuts in distinguishing between quitting and (gasp!) failing.

9Bananaramalllamadingdong. Mr. Lafrance (above) joins with his Flapjack Cadillac sketch fest troupe pals, Shane Adamczak and Jo Willers in this show with an unpronounceable title which seems to involve bananas on a messy, weird road to funniness.

Nine based on press kits

10. Chamber Music is written by famous US playwright Arthur Kopit, who started his career with the Fringe-like short play Oh Dad, poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in The Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad. Set in a 1930s asylum, nine deluded women think they are such as (among others) Susan B. Anthony, Joan of Arc, Queen Isabella of Spain, Mozart’s wife Constanze, Amelia Earhart and Gertrude Stein.

11. Curse of The Starving Class is written by famous US playwright Sam Shepard and won an Obie award. A California family faces the loss of their farm to debt and developers.

12. The Conflict deals with Middle East conflicts through the prism of a Jewish high school student who meets a passionate college activist. It is presented by the Red Chair Players students from Greenwich, Connecticut whose ongoing success at the Edinburgh Fringe since 2002 is a testament to the theatre program at that school.

13. Double Happiness. Former Chicago Tribune veteran Kelly Haramis turned into a one woman show phenomenon with this piece subtitled “A Tale of Love, Loss and One Forever Family”. The road leads from Florida to NYC to Penn State to the Great Wall of China.

14. Ocean Opera. I cannot resist a lush musical tribute to Shakespeare and Chekhov in this multidisciplinary tale about the moon, the ocean and two lovers lost at sea. Fantasy and realism collide and, oh yeah, Jung is somehow involved.

15. Spitting in The Face Of The Devil. New Yorker Bob Brader is back after last year’s Fringe Hit, Circle. A gifted monologist, he has won awards everywhereBased on a true story about an ex-Marine father turned abusive pedophile.

16. Shirley Gnome – She’s Presenting. This Vancouver musical comedian won $20,000 in a 2012 comedy competition, which allowed her to launch an international tour. Edinburgh deemed her to have humorous anecdotes and an amazing voice. Lots of explicit language and racy bits, to boot.

17. Danger Unit. Dawson College prof Jeff Gandell is directed by Paul Hawkins in his tale of a 10 year-old who assembles some friends as a vigilante group to save the world. He presented his show The Balding at Fringe 2013 and is a story teller with potential to become a latter day Spaulding Gray.

18. James Mullinger: Living The Dream. Described as one of the hottest comedians in the UK, this stand-up funnyman’s quips range from life in Canada to meeting the Queen and Paul McCartney, not to mention ever popular comments on marriage and fatherhood.

Eleven others to keep an eye on: 12 Tongues, Crook of My Dreams, Drag Queen Stole My Dress, Ideal-Eyes-Me, In Memoriam, Living Your Dreams, Our Creation, Existence & Destruction in 55 Minutes, Over It, Paleoncology, The Dysmorphia Diet, We Aren’t Fooling The Children Of The Revolution.

Key information:

Most shows are around 60 minutes. None over $10 (plus $2 service charge) each.

Best deals are cards: 5 shows for $55 or 10 for $85, with only one service charge.

Theatre shows at 12 indoor venues run from June 13-22. At 3 off-venues, some of these shows open earlier, namely:

June 5 Free Standing Room (3 shows)

June 7 Café Cleopatra (1 show)

June 9 The Wiggle Room (2 shows)

GET THE FREE YELLOW BEE FRINGE program at beer tent central (Parc des Amériques, St. Laurent and Rachel).

For all listings visit  montrealfringe.ca or call 514-849-FEST

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Byron Toben is a regular Rover theatre critic.


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