The rubber vomit in the mail should have been my first clue: SHOULD is the operative word in this sentence.
Two weeks ago, a plain brown envelope arrived at my office containing a back-page -of the comics slab of rubber vomit. Who the hell would gift me with a 10 year old boy's idea of a joke? No sender except for Amazon and some random gag supplier in Las Vegas. A weekend of paranoid speculation ensued as well as a number of long, deep conversations about strategies for dealing with harassment.
A week later, I'm on Messenger with Penny Ashton. She's my billet/Fringe guest this year. Her promo materials arrived ahead of her - at my office as we arranged. "Did you get my small package?" she asked. Oh no. I expected the posters, fliers and magnets but had totally forgotten about the parcel. "Was it rubber vomit?" I asked? "Yes!" I needed fake gruel and I thought - vomit - perfect!" I sheepishly confessed to having returned it to sender with no note. "Did they not put my name on it?" No, because if they had, I would have known it was a prop.
I should have known: as those of us who have been hanging around these festivals for a few years can tell you: anything can happen at the Fringe.
Ms. Ashton and her petticoats are now ensconced in my domicile. Kidding Awound in Yorkville had replacement ersatz gruel. I'm feeling a bit less stupid now. Penny's new show opens tomorrow: and the 29th annual Toronto Fringe Festival opens tonight.
What to see at a festival that now offers 160 shows over eleven days?
Here's a few thoughts, organized in order of venue.
Venue #1 Tarragon Theatre Mainspace
A PETE N' CHRIS-TMAS CAROL
The beloved Fringe faves are back with a Dickens send-up. I'm interested to see what the lads do with the literary great's most popular tale.
The lanky American storyteller returns with a tale he says is "search for meaning." He five-stars and sells out a cross the country. A number of people have told me they think this is one of his best shows. He also co-stars with his wife Vanessa Quesnelle in a thriller MOONLIGHT AFTER MIDNIGHT, which is billed as both a mystery and a romance.
Venue #3 TARRAGON THEATRE SOLO ROOM
MAGICAL MYSTERY DETOUR
Gemma Wilcox is a physical performer of astonishing dexterity and precision, well worth watching.
She regularly sells out in Winnipeg and Edmonton.
Venue #4 Al GREEN THEATRE
OLIVE COPPERBOTTOM: A NEW MUSICAL by Charles Dickens and Penny Ashton
Ms. Ashton is not only my room-mate for the duration of the festival, she that rare combo platter of talented writer and skilled performer. I can't wait to see her sing, dance and act her way through this parody of Dickens.
JAMES &JAMESEY IN THE DARK
The admired British comedy duo are back with more high-stepping ridiculousness. I find them very charming.
Venue #5 THE RANDOLPH THEATRE
My friends, apt 613 reviewers Barb Popel and Brian Carroll told me this was a favourite show at the Ottawa Fringe this year. I quite enjoyed WEIRD this company's take on the Scottish play and I look forward to seeing what they do with a fanciful tale about the relationship between Ariel and Caliban.
6 QUICK DICK TRICKS: A DIRK DARROW INVESTIGATION
Magic meets comedy meets noir: how much Fringier can you get?
VENUE #6 ANNEX THEATRE
BAD BABY PRESENTS: RULES CONTROL THE FUN
I always enjoy Janelle Hanna and she's working with Briana Brown who is a fine director. I look forward to seeing her clown turn.
IN SEARCH OF CRUISE CONTROL
James Gangl teams up with Chris Gibbs. Gangl is an excellent comedian and a terrific writer. this will be well-worth seeing.
VENUE #7 ST VLADIMIR'S
WEIRDER THOU ART
Stephen Flett is in this: it's hardly the Toronto Fringe until you've seen a show with Stephen Flett in it.
Venue #8 HELEN GARDINER PHELAN PLAYHOUSE
Storyteller extraordinaire Sam Mullins returns with a show I hope I finally get to see this festival.
Venue #9 THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE MAINSPACE
THE SEAT NEXT TO THE KING
I always check out the winner of the Best New Play competition.
TEN CREATIVE WAYS TO DISPOSE OF YOUR CREMAINS
Playwright Rose Napoli is a good enough reason for me to be there.
GRAHAM CLARK'S NOT HERE
Graham Clarke made a show out of a phone book. This time he's apparently not even showing up.
I guess we'll have to go and see.
VENUE #10 FACTORY THEATRE MAINSPACE
Mind of Snail Puppet Company is beyond fabulous. If you've never seen them, here's your chance. If you have, well, you've probably already got a ticket.
So last year, I took a flier and went, on my sister's recommendation to see DANCE ANIMAL.
It was fabulous and I stayed awake through the whole thing after 11:00 PM on a school night. At my age, that means it's a great bloody show.
VENUE #12 FACTORY STUDIO THEATRE
SHE GREW FUNNY
Chris Earle (Radio 30) directs Joanne O'Sullivan in a story that intrigued me.
As the survivor of a broken engagement myself, I'm thinking about DISENGAGED, also at this venue. I'll see.
SITE SPECIFIC SHOWS
VENUE #15 THE LIFE HENRI
Adam Bailey (ADAM BAILEY IS ON FIRE!) and Laura Anne Harris ( PITCH BLONDE, THE HOME-MAKER) team up to tell the story of French painter, Henri Rousseau. I'm an art history buff and - full confession - Harris directed me the last time I toured - so I'll be seeing this.
VENUE #21 SCADDING COURT
A bunch of terrific Toronto actors team up to do a dark comedy. Hey, it's next to the beer tent, so you don't tell me you can't find the venue.
VENUE #24 MONARCH TAVERN
MADDIE'S KARAOKE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Byron Laviolette (Morro and Jasp) directs this 1/4 life crisis musical.
VENUE #32 FALLING ANGEL
Bruce Hunter is in this and that's a good enough reason for me to recommend that you check it out. Carolyn Azar directs this show which takes place al fresco - in Shaw Park - CAMH.
VENUE #33 LYSISTRATA
The ladies of Greece put the booty thang on lock-down until the men-folk stop being at war.
My Fringe experience is never complete without seeing some bunch of young things take on Greeks.
OK, I need to order tickets and work out my schedule. I'll see you in the beer tent - which is now at the south-east corner of Dundas and Bathurst, behind the Scadding Court Community Centre.
Happy Fringing everybody!