Friday, July 8, 2016


The Toronto Fringe, is sadly, winding down to its final weekend.

As I sit back at my desk at work, I thought I'd share some moments I'm going to cherish from this year ,and tell you about some shows you still have time to see until Sunday, July 10th when the Toronto Fringe draws to a close.

One of the things that made this year so special, was a visit from my sister, Lisa.  Lisa loves going to the theatre as much as I do, and a big part of her holiday here was spent running from Fringe show to Fringe show together, and then going home and comparing notes late night.We shared a room, as we had when we were girls.

We started Fringing on Thursday evening, as Wednesday night she treated me to a Peter Gabriel/Sting concert.  It was my first time at an ACC show and I felt like a tourist in my own city.We walked home down Bremner Boulevard through a neighbourhood that didn't exist 12 years ago, the last time she was here for a summer vacation.

So it seemed fitting that her first ever Toronto Fringe experience was a walk through the Annex with writer/performer Alex Eddington for LIFE LIST, letting her be a tourist in one of my favourite neighbourhoods in this city.  Alex takes the audience of twenty-four on a bird-hunt. The show combines music, ritual, and story-telling as Alex shares his love of bird-watching inherited from his mom, who passed away recently. LIFE LIST is a unique immersive theatre experience.  I found myself with a tear in my eye at the end.

Then we hiked back to the beer tent.  We were going to see BLIND TO HAPPINESS at 10:30 PM in the Annex Theatre and had time for a drink with some old friends between shows.  Lisa went for an Arnold Palmer, an iced tea and lemonade combo on offer from Insomnia, one of the food vendors at the tent this year.  Delicious, and not too sweet.

BLIND TO HAPPINESS was packed, and absolutely wonderful:  great performance and writing by Tim Murphy, and fine direction by Johnnie Walker. Murphy's performing chops are gob-smacking, and the story about the nature of happiness is moving. Last night, he took a best of festival award, so if you miss him this week you have a chance to catch him later this month at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

We'd had dinner and a football game earlier in the day, so at that point, we called it a night, and headed home.

We started Canada Day by seeing TOLLER, Sky Gilbert's story about Canadian figure skating legend, visual artist, and tortured soul, Toller Cranston.  David Livingston bears an uncanny resemblance to Cranston, and he gives a fine performance in a challenging role.  One of the experiences he shares is a story about being bullied as a kid in a small town for the offense of wearing a scarf to school.   On the eve of the Pride parade, it was, I felt, important to be reminded of what gay people have endured just for being themselves. This show has an extra performance on Sunday.  It's one of the best shows in this year's festival.  Catch it while you can.

Lisa caught another football match and I went to see Keir Cutler do SHAKESPEARE CRACKPOT. As always with Keir, I left the theatre more knowledgeable than I was when I entered. This time, I learned more about the cult of Shakespeare, and also about Cutler's remarkable parents. The stories about their accomplishments and contributions to Canadian society on a Canada Day afternoon, were more than worth the price of admission.

Friday night, it was BRIGHT LIGHTS.  Again, the theatre was packed for Kat Sandler's highly anticipated collaboration with Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis, Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone and Colin Munch.  As always with Sandler, the set-up generated  tons of conflict-driven action, and laughs aplenty.  High energy performances, great comedy chops, and tight ensemble work made this a real crowd-pleaser.

Then we stayed at the Tarragon to see ABSOLUTE MAGIC with Keith Brown.  Brown is incredibly personable and engaging, and his illusions left the audience gasping.  Years from now, when he's playing Vegas, you'll be able to say you saw him when.

Saturday, I scheduled myself for a four-show day.  Lisa had scheduled herself for a 3:00 PM Euro-Cup match. We started our morning seeing THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO, Rory Ledbetter's charming love story about his trip to Spain with his then-fiance.He made me want to walk the Camino, or at least try the red wine and coke combo beverage he describes in the show. It was a romantic, thoughtful and engaging story, well-told.

Lisa went back to watch football at Paupers.  I went to see the delightful Penny Ashton in PROMISE AND PROMISCUITY.  Ashton gives a witty, captivating, and high-energy performance in her very funny and wickedly clever, musical, Jane Austen homage/satire.  Ashton's character work is superb throughout. I particularly enjoyed the ball scene.  I've seen two shows at the Randolph, and the acoustics are less than optimal, no fault of the performers, although it certainly makes them have to work even harder to be heard. I think the centre of the house is likely the best place to sit or at least, close to the front.

I joined Lisa at the pub for the overtime portion of the game, and then, we wandered over to the Factory Theatre to see CAM BABY and CURIOUS CONTAGIOUS.  CAM BABY was a stand-out: a terrific ensemble of young actors tackling a torn-from-the-headlines script about voyeurism, body image, quarter-life crises, and the ways in which social media has challenged expectations of privacy in relationships. I hope a theatre picks it up for a remount.  It's one of the best new plays I've seen this year.

CURIOUS CONTAGIOUS was one of the shows I was most excited to see this year. Mind of a Snail is an endlessly inventive company and their beautiful story uses magic realism, gorgeous layered projections, masks, costumes and an original score to talk about the impact of urban sprawl on the environment. It was heartfelt and utterly lovely.  They won Patron's Pick, and have an extra show on Sunday.  It's a kid-friendly show.  Go check them out.

We had pizza for dinner and headed in to see HAPPINESS at the Passe 11:00 PM.  The play is a stylish and sharp social satire, written and performed by Tony Adams and Cory Thibert. I didn't think the show need the over the top ending, but I really enjoyed both the otherwise well-crafted story, and the fine and energetic performances.

We took the day off Sunday for PRIDE and football and I headed off to see one of the festival's hottest tickets, FOR THE RECORD. Shari Hollet, Chris Earle, and their daughter Lucy created a solid, vinyl-driven, coming of age tale set in Kops Record store.  The venue is tiny -30 seats - and following the performers through the crowded space was both fun, and occasionally frustrating. Hollet and I are of the same vintage, and her tale of growing up poor in a wealthy neighbourhood really resonated. Hollet played her 17 year-old self with both insight and abandon, and Lucy's transitions through all of the other characters were both understated, and polished.  Mostly, the show is an homage to Hollet's tough-minded, hard-working, chain-smoking, thrice married, barely present mother. I'm very glad I saw it. It's one of those gems that could only happen at the Fringe.

I went home, shared a cheese board with my sis, and dragged her off to see BEST PICTURE at a late night show which was on past her bed time.  We were really happy we stayed up that night!  Funny, well-observed, and lighting quick, the cast of three makes EVERY Oscar-winning picture happen in 60 minutes. It's a treat of a show.  Go, and take a film buff.

Sadly, I had to go back to work on Monday.  While I was off earning the rent, Lisa ducked into DANCE ANIMAL and told me I had to see it. I went for their 11:00 PM show last night.  Super high-octane fun from an incredibly funny cast of improvisers: it's one of my feel-good faves of the festival.It's also held over.

I rushed out of work early to catch OUT, Greg Campbell's deeply personal, very funny, occasionally terrifying, and moving  story about coming out at the age 17 in the late '70s.  It's excellent: beautifully written, and wonderfully performed, with  skillful direction by Clinton Walker.  OUT also took a best of fest award.  It 's well-deserved.

Monday night we went to see GOD OF CARNAGE.  It's a polished production of the black comedy that explores the darker aspects of human nature beneath our civilized veneers.  Stephen Flett on his cel phone is worth the price of admission.

Last night, I went to see WEIRD, which combines aerial silks and Shakespeare to tell the tale of the Scottish play, from the point of view of the three witches.It's an innovative  and compelling take on an old story, with a decidedly feminist bent. Well worth seeing, and the winner of  the Cutting Edge Award last night, for the originality of the production.

I'm going to immerse myself for the last weekend, and catch a few more shows before the festival ends on Sunday.  I plan to see:  IN THE TRENCHES, because no one else is doing commedia dell'arte this year, and I was impressed by the way they busked the line-ups, FALLING AWAKE , because it has had great buzz from other performers, ALL KIDDING ASIDE because I know Christel Bartelse, and love her warmth onstage, PERSEPHONE because a friend saw it, and told me he loved it - and I have a soft spot for Greek myths, FAR AWAY, because it had good buzz, ANGELS AND ALIENS, again because I've heard good things and because Jeff Leard is in it, and he's a terrific performer, THE COMEDY of ERRORS, because dinner and Shakespeare together seems like a good way to end a four-show day, LITTLE PRICKS because  Denise Norman is telling a story that intrigues me, and RATED R, because several choreographers and dancers I respect told me it was one of the best dance shows they'd seen this year.

I never get to everything I want to see.  For instance, I haven't seen a single musical this festival, and I would like to have seen several of them, including LIKE A FLY IN AMBER. I saw nothing at Kids' Fringe.Sigh.

Many shows don't sell out their runs and there are often tickets available an hour before the performance at the door, including tickets for the Patron's Picks performances, which are currently listed on the Fringe website. I have had some great Fringe experiences walking into the show next door to a show that was sold out.

I'll see you in line, or around the tent this weekend.  Happy Fringing!

The Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival continues until July 10th at venues around west central Toronto.  For tickets, schedules, and information about the festival, and  the list of held-over shows playing at the Toronto Centre for The Arts and  foe one extra show on Sunday,  go to: or call (416) 966-1062.  Advance tickets may also be obtained at the Fringe Box office, located in the tent behind Honest Ed's at Bloor and Bathurst.

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