Fringe of Toronto Festival 2010 Part 1

Fringe Festival of Toronto 2010 (June 30—July 11)


The Duck Wife

[Inertia Productions, Montreal, at the Bathurst Street Theatre. Choreographed by Jenn Doan. Performed by Jenn Doan, Ted Strauss, Joseph Bembridge, Melina Stinson, Jeremie Chetrit, Audree Southiere, Brian Abbott, Randa Eid and Boss Nod. Theatre Direction by Taliesin McEnaney. Lyrics by Ted Strauss and Justin Maxwell.]

The creators of The Duck Wife begin with premises that engender tension  in maximum contrast—a traditional Inuit tale forms the basis of this rock-opera story-dance; the performers use a combination of symbolic, narrative movement and modern dance; and the physical performances are underpinned by a live band on-stage—with style and music that might be described as glamour punk. The afternoon I saw this show, the loudness of the live, amplified music tended to overwhelm and punch down the effectiveness of the dance—where a balance between elements of the performance might have been possible, there tended to be a tennis-game of attention-pulling, in opposite directions. This was also true of attempts of the extremely disparate elements of the show to cohere for the audience. Nevertheless, the dancers conveyed birds, travel in the north, and the struggle to survive there with conviction and panache. Political aspects of The Duck Wife—respect for Native history and rights, the environment—were refreshing and well-presented. This was a high energy, very different show—the kind of imaginative experiment that the Fringe exists to encourage, and it will be interesting to watch for future work from this engagingly innovative company.


Project: Protection

[Jumpin Stage Productions, Toronto, at the Factory Mainspace. Conceived and Written by Julia Lefebvre. Movement invention and Performance by Jesse Dell, Julia Lefebvre, and Shannon Litzenberger.]

Project: Protection is a sometimes charming, frothy-on-the-surface look at auditioning in the commercial video advertising world, complete with gatekeeping secretary, disembodied voice of authority (the director), and three very different actresses vying for a lucrative assignment. Tilted toward satire, the proposed commercial’s subject is feminine protection products. The dark, svelte French-accented actress, the dipsy new-agey actress, and professional cheerleader character are clearly and generously played by Jesse Dell, Julia Lefebvre and Shannon Litzenberger. Segments pairing the live dancers (moving freely) with their video selves (obedient) interacting with the director, as well as the actresses’ danced emotional reactions to the stress of waiting and competing, are expressive and interesting; calm appearances on the surface are belied by the depth of their vivid physical response. The audition text of the commercial, repeated several times, could have used more variation and silliness (what mangling of the text that is there is quite funny), and some of the creative decisions bent the show away from conflict or suspense. The performers, and production, were well-constructed and could have borne more dramatic weight. In a nice, and welcome, undermining of the cliché of women’s competition, all three actresses are called back and, by the end, appear harmoniously together in the commercial.



[Banquo’s Banquet, Toronto, at the Factory Studio. Written and Directed by Glyn Bowerman. Performed by Michael Brunet, Aaron Rothermund, Colin Bruce Anthes, Melanie Hrymak, Liam Morris, Roselie Williamson, Chris Murray. Facebook page]

Trudeautopia opens with a playwright literally chained by heavy, silvery links to his desk and typewriter, effectively setting up a mosaic of scenes, and a seeming variety of historical times and places: police, informants, and members of the FLQ in Montreal in the period before and after Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act; the breakdown of the relationship between a rural Quebec father and his son around those issues, including disgust and terror at the kidnappings of Cross and Laporte; a less clearly dated conflict between the board of directors and the artistic director of a Canadian theatre around the production of a political Canadian play; and the playwright’s struggles with his own demons. The sporadic, innovative use of masks, the swooping in and out of a group of characters (reducing their individuality, and oddly, increasing the sense of their power), and the solid, clear text worked well together. There were several outstanding performances, and the large cast used the small playing space to their advantage; rather than looking crowded, the feeling of compressed movement and emotionally focused interaction of the characters built power and intensity.


Raven for a Lark

[quoi quoi quoi, Toronto, at the Royal St. George’s Auditorium. Written and directed by Elise Newman. Performed by Adam Bradley and Shelley Liebembuk.]

It may seem strange for to review what might be considered straight theatre—and yet, if words are actions, and if action within a limited range is nevertheless physical movement—well, it may sometimes be hard to resist. A case in point: Raven for a Lark is a richly presented, rare production that proves less can be more. With two performers on stools, minimal props and lighting, Elise Newman’s script delves into the possible effects on actors’ personal lives of Method Acting, during fraught rehearsals and production of Shakespeare’s dark and bloody play Titus Andronicus. The slide in the actors’ lives, from stage blood to real blood and violence, is handled deftly. The performers’ rendering of their off-stage relationships with others in the cast and crew is masterful; and when a real knife is pulled out, it is a shock that the audience has been prepared for, suspensefully and naturally. Adam Bradley’s shaded, subtle performance becomes creepier and creepier, working powerfully with Shelley Liebemuk’s naïve and idealist—and eventually, perhaps complicit—portrait of a young actress in over her head.