Ottawa Fringe Festival

This week and a half will be so thoroughly taken up with seeing plays at the Ottawa Fringe Festival that I won't have time to write much at all (I filled most of this in afterwards - I took notes). But this year I'll try to at least list the play names.

Plays I've seen, in alphabetical order.

  1. A Leave of Absinthe - A solid production on the bliss and damage of drinking Absinthe, dramatised from the floor of a cafe named Le Chat Noire in 1888. There's also a visiting Canadian girl (made of stuffed fabric for some reason) who's being introduced to the drink. The first glass is like any other drink. The second shows you monsters. The third shows you what you want to see.
  2. American Squatter - A Powerpoint presentation of old photos and video by a Mississippi boy growing up in California. He rebels (clean freak dad just looks so good with his 1980 side burns, mustache and Mustang car), learns about skateboarding (even has certain famous names visiting their gigantic home made half pipe ramp), learns about LSD and other drugs. Accidentally invites himself on a European trip and stays in London, squatting happily until his visa runs out.
  3. Busta Rhymes with MC Hot Pink - Penny Ashton visits from New Zealand (a happily not on the war maps place) to do a music show. Audience memeber Peter the balding gray haired guy does really good pelvis thrusts as one of her drafted music video side kicks. Good stand up comedy.
  4. Circumference - Amy Salloway is still at her best. This time it's a fight with the circumference of the high school race track and her waist. Along the way she meets a crippled guy in the gym, has a friendship with him and then falls in love only to be dashed. But even down and out, her cigarette (metaphorically) smoking body has its own mind, reconciles with her, and goes out for a walk in the woods on a nice day.
  5. Crude Love - Oil Sands truck driver and eco-terrorist (so inept that he's dumped by Greenpeace and has trouble handling a spray paint can) meet up when he chains himself to her truck. Turns out they knew each other from childhood east coast drama school. A romance happens, though it ends in a bang when the guy jumps out of an airplane onto a pending nuclear explosion (they're trying to melt oil out of the oil sands). On the political side, the US army is there guarding the place. Perhaps a bit unrealistic - it has been suggested that the oil company would just hire a mercenary company to guard the place. Though with a nuke around, maybe not.
  6. Die Roten Punkte - SUPER MUSIKANT - A punk rock musical show starring Astrid and Otto, two orphans from Germany (though the actual actors aren't). As the show progresses, you find out about the 5:15 to Spandeau which killed their parents, and enjoy the Robot and Lion song. The girl has a drinking problem, which comes to a head at the end of the show. Apparently quite good musicians, and enjoyable music. At least in the Alumni theatre, they also had decent rock style lighting.
  7. Eggstatic - Two actor play of frustrated dumpy tea loving landlady and shallow low rank spit polish tenant. A large egg arrives and demands care, upsetting the non-relationship. Quirky British character acting.
  8. Fear of Being Heard - Kyla Gray puts on a crisp performance mixing poetry and action and other dramatic styles. There isn't too much of a story, though there's one part which is a setting of a girl dying on the ground almost run over by a jeep, which gets approached from several different points of view until you understand that she jumped from a window, it's hot like a desert for her, and this is the road crew coming on the scene.
  9. Gray/Green Paradise - two young men are starting their working careers, one sticks to his job at the bank while the other can't withstand the boredom and quits, then takes ages to find another job. They share an apartment, where the action takes place - a red futon sofa is on the stage. The rent comes due. The artistic one comes up with a grandiose pyramid scheme to save the world, while the other has to grudgingly drop his vacation savings to fill the gap. But they're still friends. The play is simple but the dialog and interaction between the two characters is so well done and natural that we can't be sure if it is improvised or scripted.
  10. Greed - buying expensive shoes helps your social position. In this case big boots bring the office dweeb to the attention of management and the envy of the socially climby sales guys. Then the boots get stolen. Repeat a few times and other absurdities in the shallow side of modern culture and romance are comically revealed. The sets are great too, just brown cardboard with black marker drawings for a telephone (with detachable handset), computer, and even a birthday balloon (on a stiff wire as the string). An enjoyable poke at shallow life.
  11. How I stopped worrying and learned to love the mall - We saw the opening show in the Mercury Lounge in the market, from the comfy sofas in the front row (unusually a performance without spitting). Gem Rolls is better than before with a theme to structure his rhyming rants and word patterns around. An ode to the car park, formerly meadows starts one of the sets. The rest follow him as he ventures into the supermarket, tries to escape and ends up in the middle of the mall.
  12. Inferno Sonata - A mad playwright stumbles upon a book of alchemical receipes and continues to insanely ruin his life by playing with dangerous chemicals while fearing rivalry with Ibsen. Nice set and effects (dry ice for one and other nifty tricks of stagecraft) to make the different fantastically named chemical reactions. You end up pitying the fool and his superstition driven life.
  13. Iron Stix - the tale of a lonely girl and her batons. She tells it in quite a serious fashion, which makes it funny. It's lonely hiding under the stands during a competition, so why not install a 'fridge? Pity the SAW gallery ceiling is so low, since she can throw those sticks too.
  14. JOE: The Perfect Man - The scary clown show. It opens with the latecomers being chastised and forced to do pushups. Not as squirm inducing as other tales, but the life of failure lead by this clown is embarassing. However, it is redeemed by the audience participation to stage Joe's version of the ending of MacBeth. That was quite a whacky scene. Little did Joe know that one of the recruits was a quadruple threat actor (we know him from Orpheus's production of Beauty and the Beast as the Gargoyle and several other acrobatic parts). But then that's not too odd at a Fringe Festival.
  15. Making Deals With Gods - Three short plays about Rumpelstiltskin (miller's daughter to spin straw into gold under deadly force), God's view of Christianity (kicking them out the garden gates), Medusa and Perseus (Greek gods destroy a lady's life). Some G-Men Defectives carryover in cast from before. The plays are quite well done, bringing the characters to life. The miller's daughter makes a revealingly fatalistic comment on how her life is turning out in the king's dungeon. Medusa muses about her cruel fate and you see her less as a monster and more as a victim. You wonder about God changing his/her mind so frequently between being nice and being mean to the Humans, and why is he influenced so much by the angel/serpent?
  16. Mr. Fox - This one was fun. Greg Landucci brought to life his alter ego by hand gestures and antics, and gave us insight into the life of a mascot suit, ummm, actor? operator? puppeteer? This had a string of truth to it, CFOX is indeed in Vancouver and the small faire with twirly rides where Mr. Fox threw up into his nose was only a few blocks from my theatre companion's old house.
  17. Mugged - A very gritty sample of the cruelty in children's life in a poor neighbourhood in Britain. The distortion of reality when the media reports from fragments is also evident. Amazing how a murdered kid becomes a scholar. Very well done for an amateur young cast.
  18. Naked Famous People - This is an improv show so it's different every time. The cast of about eight runs around shirtless collecting words from the audience. The rest of the show is a series of stories and skits using those words. Lots of fun.
  19. Old Growth - A modern shaman / disgruntled Toronto music composer and his flautist retrace the path of anti-logging activist Grant Hadwin (he may have had an axe to grind but used a chainsaw) as he went to kill the Golden Spruce. Though they don't recreate his mysterious death at sea, they do try to perform some strange tree bonding rituals.
  20. On the Sly - Drunkard gets involved in a play, set up to think he's an aristocrat directing actors. Fragments of Taming the Shrew are strewn about wildly.
  21. One-Acts by David Ives - English Made Simple explains what people really mean when they're talking, with simultaneous translation. The Philadelpha shows what your life is like if you're stuck in the similarly named luck warp, where you never get what you ask for (ask for the opposite). Los Angeles is a better more mellow warp zone. Sure Thing is set in a cafeteria where a guy tries to pick up a girl, with the ability to rewind time and try again (the idle actors sit at a second table and ring a bell when they see that he's not getting anywhere). Fun for the horrible pick-up lines. Speed The Play is a roast for a deceased playwright who wrote short quick plays, and we see four of them in seven minutes (most memorable insult: "You bounce on a trampoline to defecate").
  22. Shadows in Bloom - The show opens with woman's house plants talking, the new French sunflower doesn't get on with the others and is thirsty. Her relationships are similarly tense, with her hoped for date dumping her for a bar singer. There's also the contrast with her old schoolmate who's now a mom, making the main character worry about the meaning of her life. All the characters, plants and lobsters are played by Gemma Wilcox; I particularly liked the portrayal of the bored waitress at the sea food restaurant. Delightful! :-) By the way, I'm the one who ordered imaginary Absinthe in the waitress scene.
  23. Singing at the End of the World - Life story of a guitarist in Alaska who loses his hearing. Quite pleasant guitar music and story telling by Randy Rutherford. A nice change of pace from the usual theatre performances. Watch out for those ravens!
  24. Sorrow - A poignant story of a Dutch girl's life growing up in a poor family with a strict mother and happy father. Her childhood is cut short when she sees the boy she loves die. Her dad dies too, so all the children must leave the farm and work to earn a living. This leads to work as a prostitute, where she meets Vincent van Gogh. He falls in love with her and tries to help her family, which she reluctantly allows. But things don't work out. Inspired by a painting of the same name.
  25. The Girl in the Picture Tries to Hang up the Phone - How do people age? The little girl in the photo becomes the mother who's too senile to hang up the phone. Could the son have done anything to help her live longer, or would that clash with free will over mom's drinking and smoking addictions.
  26. The Kiss - Combining witchcraft with Hollywood and saviours from the circus makes for an unusually fresh plot for a musical. A good high school level production.
  27. The Spy - A one man story telling and mime session about an orphan's spy adventures. Though with way too many out of character asides, somewhat breaking up the main story flow. One good tip on how to get rid of mimes - pull out an imaginary jewel, polish it and give it to the mime; they'll run away admiring it.
  28. The Tricky Part - Squirm inducing. The story of a man who suffered sexual abuse from a Catholic "Father Bob" and then goes back to meet the abuser decades later. It also is a bit ambiguous - the abuser also had some good sides, compared to the merely physically abusive parents of the man. Quite well done, but you can only stomach seeing it once.
  29. The Triumph of Judith Shakespeare - Shakespeare's sister can also write, but after dying from the plague, gets involved in some sort of gods contest to show that women can write. She helps a modern day investment advisor get going and fights the muse (who has a well played alien forceful presence). The investment advisor has a few tricks of her own - going shopping rather than getting stuck in a muse induced depression. The performance is all in rhyme, like the related recent Tartuffe (some of the same actors too). They do it well - all the words were clearly understandable.
  30. The Wedding Night - a funny-because-it's-true look at the wedding night. Grooms-men bet on the amount of sex while the couple gets sidetracked into an argument about changing last names. It explores and exposes the current generation point of view of marriage and relationships, including quirks like the brides-maid who wants to get married right away to a guy who wants to dump her right away.
  31. This is a Play - the meta play. The actors describe what they are thinking while they are acting. So you hear their thoughts on who's upstaging who, what the writer and directory are fighting about, and even a few bits of the actual play about lettuce. Quite entertaining, and now you'll know what's really going on when a play is performed.
  32. This Is A Very Old Story - Stilt performance with precussion music. Interesting movements, particularly dismounting/remounting in many different ways. We couldn't figure out the story, though the raven mask suggests something mythical, and there were battles. Apparently last year's Beowulf had a good story. However, the gods understood and the weather changed from rainy to sunny just for the show. Giant mouse pads provided for sitting on. Recommend you sit with the sun at your back so you can see better.
  33. Totem Figures - T. J. Dawes on his life and personal mythology. Or rather the way patterns in mythology are reflections of ordinary life. It's a bit of a biography, which answers the questions I wanted to ask, Ottawa is his 76th fringe, barely makes a living, what a Fringe tour across the country is like, etc. Alternates his personal stories with stories of his heros - other performers of yore.
  34. Transcendental Masturbation - A late night opening show, where the actor (Glen Callender) has been up all day since the previous night at Montreal's Fringe. Cheesy Casio accompanyment electronic organ and several stand-up routines (Ottawa needs peelers - carrots, potatos and other vegetables lose their skins) as well as a bit of audience sing-along. The introduction by the stage about itself (showing off mono sound, lighting) before the show was well done. We also heard the only performance of the anti-conception song, which was so disgusting to the audience that he had to stop before the end (many verses of complications (torn flesh mostly) from pregnancy, medically accurate). Pity, I wondered how far he could go with it.
  35. Trashcan Duet - two emotionally broken people ("damaged" and particularly "baggage" are far too common terms in ordinary use - says something about current society, maybe just that people talk too much about their problems) meet in a coffee shop, the girl rejects the guy but he persists in the face of her cruel putdowns.
  36. Water - the Walkerton fatal disease outbreak described. The townsfolk resent the media presence. The farmer with the spillage didn't know about the nearby well. Kids point of view - bleachy water and lots of travelling around to relatives. The waterworks operators weren't mentioned in the play. Most of the blame goes to provincial funding cutbacks.
  37. Without a Clue - The Clue movie redone. Still whacky, but with local references. For example, the gay guy's secret is not that he's homosexual but that he works as a financial advisor for the mayor of Ottawa. Lots of fun, especially if you've seen the movie. Lovely theme music vocal effects while they're searching (Dr. Who and two others). Pay attention to who did what when, there may be an audience prize at the end.
  38. Wonderbar! - An unusual story of a woman's life, from the end of World War II Germany (whining about refugee camps for Germans, which is minor when compared to slavery or death done by the Germans to people they captured), success and then after a baby's death, family destruction in Canada, leaving her as a fallen shop assistant in Toronto with only a few good pieces of furniture. She's wined and dined by a con-man, then goes off on a luxury adventure to Europe with her new lover. It ends in disaster, though she did learn to speak French while spending half a year in jail. It's done in a non-actorly performance (spoken word, occasionally refering to notes in a binder), sort of like my mom telling a story. The information density is much higher than usual - many more events and details than in an ordinary play.
  39. Wooster Sauce - Jeeves and Wooster series first story (their meeting) done from Wooster's point of view and then another story (desire for children foiled by visiting a girl's school and forcing Wooster to give a speech to them) from Jeeves' point of view. Just a single actor, but he does it well.
  40. Yoga Cannibal - a parody of a yoga class, for all the wrong reasons. It's about you being selfish, and comercialism in buying yoga products. The actress did have a wonderful selection of colourful yoga mats. However, it wasn't as funny as it could have been.
  41. Zoo Story - Two actors reprise the story of a madman and a middle class executive meeting in New York Central Park. Well acted, embarassment and intimidation at the park bench came across nicely. I've also seen this before as a movie, with recollection coming as the poor madman's encounter with the landlady's dog was described.

Plays I can recommend to friends. Worth seeing twice is the criteria. That's a lot tougher than worth seeing once, of which there are pleasantly many! There are also many performers which are worth remembering so you can see their next work, though they aren't tasty enough to see twice.

- Alex

Copyright © 2008 by Alexander G. M. Smith.