Sunday, 8 June 2014

Fringe 2014: Nancy Snipper’s reviews

Fringe 2014: critiques de Nancy Snipper

June 21 juin at venue / au lieu 7 (Montreal Improv Theatre) :  

“The Shadow Waltz”

Twenty-seven-year-old Lar Vi offers a wonderful stage presence; it’s so easy to like her and admire the many characters her body language and voice conjure up in this odd-ball but highly captivating piece of imaginary scenarios that include a bee and a worm (named Worm)  who are making a getaway on a motorcycle after invading the Queen bee’s books; Sting – the name of the bee is trying to create a window for worm and him to escape the hive and see the world from different perspectives. A jack of all thespian trades, Lar lifts chairs and has them shadow dance on the back drop of a plain sheet. She herself dances about, mimes and innovates all kinds of stories to justify her fascination with isolation and the shadows that she says we all linger in for far too long a time. The autobiographical part comes in with her revealing she suffered from acrophobia when she moved from Winnipeg to Toronto, and she also revealed that before she came into the world, her mom at the age of 27 tried to commit suicide in her car as it filled with carbon monoxide. But her husband arrived home on his bike just in time. I thought the long window obsession episode between Sting and Worm was a metaphor for her own imprisonment in her basement apartment in Toronto.
Her love of the clip in the Busby Burkeley film, “The Gold Diggers of 1933”  that a featured neon lights creating  imaginary violins – this – along with the  director’s signature of enormous patterned perspectives of gals dancing inspired her to create this show.

A bit of Pippy Longstocking and Diane Keeton rolled into one, Lar with the laughing face is has a spirit to make us all come out of the shadows and dance along with her. She is delightful.

June 20 juin at venue / au lieu 9 (MAI)  2 shows / 2 spectacles:

“My Big Fat German Puppet Show”

This show is sophisticated marionette manipulation at its finest. No wonder; it’s über-clever puppeteer, Frank Meschkuleit who has masterminded it all. Music and a line-up of very original crafted puppets, including a nasty man made out of a watering can, a zombie and my favourite - a German fat-cheeked Bavarian whose cheeks puff out as he plays the flugelhorn – take their own stage in a most unusual way. This stage comes in the form of a big flat demi-circle cut out of beech wood and attached to Frank’s belly under his huge jacket. This xxx-large size jacket opens up when each one “performs”. The German marionette danced to Bob Marley’s “We’re Jammin”, only he changed it to “We’re German”.  The comedy starts with Frank playing a rather philosophical German himself (his accent is impeccable). He speaks to us as he tells us he is here to entertain us.

Frank worked in the United States as a puppeteer for Jim Hansen on Fraggle Rock and more hits. He’s being making his own puppets for over thirty years, and has his workshop in Toronto where his wife also helps him create these ingenious characters that come to life as Frank pulls them out from under his huge suit and manipulates them. His rotund belly that resembles the size of a beer barrel is his own creation as described above, on strings that move too as Frank uses his hands.
This wonderful 45-minute show is hilarious and merits an Oscar! 

Kitt & Jane: An Interactive survival guide to the Near-Post-Apocalyptic Future

Just like the title, this creation comprises a long quirky journey for the two high school teens (and us) who use the audience as an assembly to inform us about all the incumbent catastrophes – one of the culprits of our deaths being Monsanto, that together with all kinds of viruses will invade earth and kill the two protagonists in one hour. Why we won’t die is still unanswered in this play. As they know they will die in one hour, they teach us about what to do to continue on. Live singing with the ukulele, cut-outs projected on a big white sheet to create large shadow images, flip sheets and lots more fun props make this play a clutter of ideas that are absurd but clever. Ingrid’s frenetic delivery reminds of a female Robin Williams in his early days.
Ingrid Hansen and Rod Peter star, and are the co-creators behind it all which is a sequel to “Little orange Man” – Ingrid’s play last year.

June 19 juin at venue / au lieu 2 (Petit Campus)  

“Cirque Prom” is a hoot of a party!

Only one-year-old, Le Radiant is a bright shining company that puts in the spotlight founder and comedic talent, Krin Haglund. Her intention is to promote her one-woman show, but in Cirque prom, she gathered together three other brilliantly talented circus performers who are sensationally funny; the distinctive characters they’ve all created are irresistible. They make us all laugh at the circus of personalities they present on stage.
“High school prom is a mixed-up convoluted event that I think just about everyone has conflicting feelings about. In creating Cirque Prom, I cast high-level circus artists, with clown training, who are both complex and captivating on stage. I wanted to build a funny, entertaining show that lightly touches on some of those memories, stereotypes, emotions and glory,” said Krin who is herself the on-stage ‘ring leader” of the circus prom fest; she continually boasts about being the organizer of this prom.
You can tell Krin has formal clown training, and in fact is an aerialist; she also danced for years, and so her presence on stage is graceful in the character she developed for the show – a show-off haughty competitive controlling lady who is loveable nonetheless. Another show character over which Krin towers over is a saucy little spitfire of a flirty gal who, on her own terms, wants to get a guy – even if it comes in the form of a real tire she rolls around on, under and above on the stage with – which is what Olivia Weinstein did playing a devilishly cute character – boy can she ever twirl hoops, and her many little stage circus antics are awesomely amusing and technically difficult, but that never took over her acting. What I loved about the ensemble was their chemistry, and they did not just come out and do an “act”. Each one vividly carved out the type he/she portrayed. Hugues Sarra-Bourret snaked around and with the twitch of an eyebrow and a wink tried to seduce all the women – and the other man – as he danced with each one to the song, “Purple Rain”. He moves beautifully and his focus on creating the character was instantly understood with each carefully measured gesture and look. I loved him His hat dance where he rolled it around his body and caught it on his head, his feet and hands was deliciously debonair. He captured the sexy cool cad personality perfectly.  I loved him and his movement is so fluid. What a star!

Likewise, contortionist and classical dancer, Cory Tomicic is sheer magic to watch. He has long blond hair, and he plays that up. His inspiration could well have come from the vain real-life blond model, Fabio. In fact, at the end of his balloon fantasy dance, he ties them to the braid he has quickly twisted. Corey is an exceptional ballet dancer. The length of his legs is astounding; he pulls off enviable, breathtaking extensions that would impress the judges in the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” Both he and Hugues do the splits effortlessly. Every slow stretch was amazing. Eye contact with the audience was intense, and in some parts we were involved in their prom as they came down to us, and some went on stage.
Most circus acts are a collection of technical feats – miracles to watch. What makes this ensemble special is the fact their physical feats were used to promote character. It was a prom that I didn’t want to leave

June 15 juin at venue / au lieu 3 (4001 Space / Espace 4001)

“Crook of My Dreams” A Quirky musical that’s entertaining 

The two sisters who sang played all kinds of instruments, including accordion, and guitar, together with their ensemble members really have a good thing going. Don’t try to  piece together a plot, but one gathers the male crook steals hearts and things from people and the cops case the stage slinking about to locate him. This is a surreal journey of stage fun and the best thing about it is the singing and movement of the actors. The lyrics were fun, and the speaking was often done with poetic rhyming. I thought the meaning of the play was about the double lives we all lead – that in some way, we are all crooks – half good and half below the radar.
“My play, written by my sister and I, is set in a magical world where anything can happen. It was developed in New York and brought to life by five triple threats”, said Phina Pipia. She also revealed that the play is like a moving painting, and is subject to each audience member’s interpretation.  Sophie is her sister and her voice and musical talents are equal to Phina’s. 

Also in the play are Pepper Favians (the crook) who is a classically trained dancer – as is Phina. Likewise, Erin Kohout whose fluid dancing ranks her as a seasoned professional plays the cop. She also plays melodia and ukulele in the play.  The tiny little doll piano sounds like a tin chime. It provided the percussion. Really cute! Nate Wheeler plays all instruments and has a lovely singing voice.
The ensemble is from the United States and I look forward to seeing what other quirky musical plays they come up with. Remember that the name of their company is Generation Goat Rocket, so be prepared for the absurd. 

June 14 juin at venue / au lieu 6 (Mainline) :

“James Mullinger is Living the Dream”
A Comedian who’s made a Success out of his Failures  

This one-man show takes us on the personal journey of James Mullinger. His sole dream in life is to take back a picture of himself with Paul McCartney to one of his teachers. It was Paul’s music that saved his sanity as a young boy suffering through public school. His quest was fueled by that one teacher who told him he would never amount to anything, and he replied in anger saying he would meet Paul McCartney. It turns out James is somewhat of a failure as he takes a path into being noticed and respected. He is penis obsessed (his teen drawings he displayed on a wall projection were hilarious). On the way to fame, he interviews Tom Cruise, Jane Hathaway, Mathew McConaughey and others asking if he might fart in front of them. These are real film interviews that are projected again on the back wall screen, and of course he proved to be a failure as an interviewer. One time he does karaoke to a Presley song when older and everyone made fun of him. In fact, he was bullied his whole school life. But guess what, he does end up going to Stella McCartney’s cozy wedding and big names are there. There’s a huge karaoke machine and he once again decides to go up and dance like a nut, and this catches his Beatles’ eye. In fact, Paul goes up to him and tells him he was amazing.

James now lives in New Brunswick. He really deserves to get his name known across Canada. He’s witty and highly intelligent (contrary to what his teacher labelled him as: a special needs student). He’s met the Queen and the who’s who of London’s star crowd. At the Fringe he certainly showed his comic prowess. He constantly makes fun of his failures and uses comedy as the vehicle to reveal his life and catch our attention big time. To think that it was the need to be noticed and to prove he could be a somebody that made him the bright, dynamic, energetic and charismatic comedian he is today.

“This Is Not a Play” is madness

There is no doubt about it, actor Laurent Pitre as Leo is phenomenal. His stamina, elasticity of movement and vocal range is superb. Everything about this guy is talent and authenticity, but it was too bad the play - or non-play - he wrote is one big screaming fest comprising a series of little monologues of angst over his lack of identity. The play seems to be a stream of consciousness of totally unrelated rapid mini-scenes: we see him jump in front of the metro, suffer in school, decry his sex obsession, his Oedipal complex and more. His vocal agility is astonishing as each separate little glimpse into his existential plight starts in line delivery that becomes faster and faster and louder and louder. To be frank, I felt I was witnessing the rantings of a madman.  I had to cover my ears at times to diminish the volume. Dimitri Kyres who seems to play his inner tape of doubts and warnings was very good. We never see him; we just hear his voice through a microphone.
After the 50-minute show, one girl turned to me and said, “I have never felt so uncomfortable in my life.” Maybe that was the intent of this “non-play”. I was told by Laurent he challenged himself to write a play in 32 hours. It didn’t work. I did enjoy his talent and that of Nicky Fournier whose role of Eve (the play begins with Leo eating the apple that is dangling from the ceiling) was real and lively.
Without a doubt, Laurent is a thespian of star quality. He is unique and easy on the eyes. I would like to see more of his stage and film work, but prefer not turn a single page on any play he writes.

June 13 juin at venue / au lieu 4 (Scène Mini) : 

“The Devil’s Circus” is so much fun!

Presented by / Présenté par The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company

 Fringe has a winner on its hands: The Devil’s Circus. Eurydice and Orpheus walk the tight rope and one day during their act, he pushes her off; Orpheus decided he would not take the fall; so he pushes her off after he picks her up; that is when the problems of balance started. Well, it turns out she is taken to Hell where the devil has lined up a fantastic show of dancing to music, and what a devil he is! He is witty, red and clever and very funny. Evil and Good mix here, for the Devil falls for Eurydice. 

Daniel Wish and his Japanese partner Seri Yanai – both of whom worked the puppets and voiced all these different characters – were great. They make their own paper maché, costumed marionettes. Both artists trained abroad; they have spent two years in London, England at the specialty puppet school there; they are pros. Marionettes of all sizes, faces and colours are worked by the two wonderful puppeteers who are dressed in black.  There was Elvis Presley in Hell, Eartha Kitt, Mick Jagger and so many celebrities and odd balls who are in the show. The shadow puppet scenes were hilarious – two tents where demonization converts all into demons – including Eurydice is clever and entertaining. I like this Devil, and as we discover, he is really a sweetie deep down inside.

See this wonderful show of 14 different puppets. They all make Hell fun - so much so that we want to go join them there. The vanity of Orpheus and the marionette face of utter smugness is priceless. I loved this show!

June 7 2014 at Venue Off B (Freestanding Room) / 7 Juin 2014 au lieu Off B (Espace Freestanding)
A double bill / un programme à deux:
                  “My Pregnant Brother” / “My Playwright Sister”
                                              is uniquely riveting

It is an extraordinary situation to witness the transformation and in some ways the disappearance of parts of your younger sibling sister – as she takes on her new identity as a transgender male – this done without removing the “bottom part  of  her body – as Johanna Mutter puts it in her famous one-woman confessional monologue. Throughout the fifty minutes, Johanna takes us into her family as they deal with the matter. Her journey entails living on the Main  in Montreal with her hippy often times homeless mom, the rejection of her sibling in so far as giving him money, but more so he of her.   The inability to have children herself and the ultimate pregnancy of her brother and the birth of his child Zion – her niece who is given over to a woman named Melissa cuts like a knife for Johanna. She perceives the event as a cavalier, cruel action on the part of her brother; it was she who so wanted to be the one to live with Zion, bring her up,  with all three of them living together.
Highly personal, this very successful play offers intimate insight into a true story told from her perspective. One imagines the play is not only a revelation but a cathartic experience for this gifted actor/playwright. She held our attention and with great sincerity traversed a wide terrain of emotions ranging from ecstasy and peaceful bliss (the holding her baby niece and experiencing deep love for her) to deep despair (not being the one her brother chooses to share her upbringing). Johanna is a brave actor and a brave sister. Never did she reject her sibling for doing what he did which mainly involved turning his back on his sister – making it all the more intense and lonely for her.

(Five minutes later, the second play started. It is a reactive reply to the first). 

The second part of this dual billing was “My Playwright Sister””, directed by Jesse Stong. In this play, it was now her brother’s turn to reveal just how he felt about his own true inner gender and most importantly about her play that made him the centre of not-so wanted attention. James Diamond, called Thomas Beatty in the play is her real life brother, and in this play her tears hers to pieces. Correcting her on the way she wrote about his operation and the way she dealt with it, reveals his own defiance against labels and anger. She never really knew him and seemed to box and categorize things in facile ways - according to him. As they begin to understand and listen to one another, they form new beginnings to a real brother/sister relationship. James Diamond was so straight-faced, an not an ounce of pretension in his wry authentic delivery, that one wonders where the line between the stage presence and his real personality lay – if indeed there was one. Low-key interaction on his part delivered the required shock and punch needed to wake his sister up to his true feelings about how he really felt during his procedure, his identity claim and his sister’s reaction to it all. He is angry and disappointed that no one really understood him, but by the end of this really great play, one witnesses their coming together – the kind of painful dialogue needed to bring family members closer, dispelling fossilis communication, but what is clear as Johanna and her brother join together in this play, is her absolute love for him. She leaves herself vulnerable for him to express his consternation. So many things get cleared up, that as the play ends, one feels this brother/sister relationship will endure. Love is the answer and letting things be one the air is cleared is more important than changing words in a play.
 One has to applaud these two siblings for daring to expose and unite as they each bring their reality into the public eye. Is it airing your dirty laundry? Not at all, it is cleaning up all the misconceptions that plague family members and prevent them from enjoying one another forever.