Shopping at Barbra’s place: Buyer & Cellar. A Fringe review

Gregory Caswell in Buyer and Cellar. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Buyer & Cellar, Stage 10 (Acacia Hall)

It can’t possibly be true. And yet it is.

Yes, Barbra Streisand, mega-star celebrity and über-shopper, does have an entire mall in her basement. That’s the bizarre, open-for-satire, real-life proposition of this funny, whimsical fantasy spun from preposterous truth.

You can see the documentary evidence with your own two eyes in the hard-cover tome that Alex More (the puckishly charming Gregory Caswell) is waving at us, gleefully, at the outset of Jonathan Tolins’s Off-Broadway solo hit Buyer & Cellar. I checked. On amazon.ca you can snap up My Passion For Design, Barbra’s 2010 coffee table ode to her own exquisite taste (published by Viking) for as little as $54.26, with more deluxe editions at $139.06 (“only 1 left in stock – order soon”).

“Remember, this the part that’s real!” says Alex of the subterranean array of quaint faux-19th century shops under Barbra’s vast Malibu estate where she keeps her stuff: a tribute to  “decades of fame, fortune, and unbridled acquisition.”

The not-real part, extrapolated in witty fashion, is that even if it has but a sole customer (“the lady of the house”), a pretend mall cries out for a pretend sales clerk. Alex, our narrator, is the out-of-work gay L.A. actor, who lands a job minding the stores. And the fun of Buyer & Cellar is the seductive way Alex draws us into his incremental encounters with celebrity stardom — from play-acting with “Sadie” (as his employer wants to be called at first) to the illusion of friendship.    

In Barbara Mah’s production, Caswell is impressively dexterous as Alex who, like the play he’s in, develops a certain unexpected sympathy for his multi-talented imperious celebrity employer, despite her grotesque consumption habits. As for Barbra’s secret dream to play Mama Rose, let’s just not go there. He conjures a gallery of characters, notably his choleric failed-screenwriter boyfriend Barry, who offers a withering running commentary on everything Streisand, including her legion of gay disciples. 

And as for the grande dame herself, Caswell wisely doesn’t go where too many have gone before: she’s not an impersonation, just a husky voice with some New Yawk in the accent.

There’s a sadder but wiser tone that filters through the acid hilarity in this odd, light piece, and Caswell doesn’t shortchange it. Our relationship with celebrity is a queasy one, and Buyer & Cellar is smart about that. Lightweight, and something more. 

(As seen at a preview)

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The trouper, the angel, and the mantra: the show must go on!

Linda Grass, Sue Huff in The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

If there ever was a dramatic testimonial to theatre as a collaborative art form, in the grand odds-against “show must go on” tradition, it’s got to be the back story of The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, premiering against all probability at the Fringe Friday (Stage 1 (Old Strathcona Public Library). Catastrophe, suspense, resourcefulness, and generosity are all involved. Also, painkillers.

The play, by David Cheoros and Linda Wood Edwards — of MAA & PAA Theatre and Northern Sabbatical Productions respectively — reimagines a fascinating piece of our history. In Big Valley, AB, 1921, an entrpreneurial madame (Sue Huff) starts a brothel. An upright Christian woman (Linda Grass) runs a local boarding house. And, fictionalized by the play, the former  strikes up an unlikely friendship with the latter.  The brothel burned to the ground on Dec. 26, 1921 and although no charges were laid, the speculation is that townspeople were responsible.

Which brings us to the terrible events of the beginning of August 2018 when Huff developed a scary mysterious ailment, with paralyzing instant-rheumatoid arthritis-type symptoms, and was rushed to Emergency. This crisis was discovered to be Reiter’s Syndrome, a rare condition which most people have never even heard of. And, as Huff says, “for a week I was completely incapacitated, on heavy pain meds and anti inflammatories, and feeling worse by the day. Although the cast and crew were amazing and supportive (rewrites, adjustments, even working out alternate blocking where I never leave a chair)…I was really wondering if I could do the show.” 

Sweethearts of the 49th by Andrea House, Stardust Players. Photo supplied.

Enter Andrea House. She’s the strikingly multi-talented actor/ playwright/ singer-songwriter who created Sweethearts of the 49th, premiering at the Fringe (Stage 39, CKUA Performance Space), with House’s daughter Etta in the cast. And House is also in the cast of The Soldier’s Tale, the adventurous Alberta premiere of the multi-disciplinary collaboration between C.F. Ramuz and the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. And she’s also a gifted (and very busy) acupuncturist.

Linda Grass and Sue Huff in The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921. Photo supplied.

“And she does house calls!” says Huff. “In between her own Fringe rehearsals, a full-time job and kids, she found time to come to my house and suss out the mess I was in! In addition to providing  treatment, she  also pinpointed that the underlying gastro infection which triggered the syndrome was still active. She confirmed my hunch that many of the side effects I was experiencing were due to the opioids and basically turned the whole boat around for me…. Andrea was able to do what no one else has: sort through the myriad of symptoms and find the epicentre. She was also able to restore my faith that I will get better (Reiter’s Syndrome can take up to a year to resolve completely).”

House told her, “You will do the show. You will probably have a limp and need a cane, but we will get you there!” 

By Aug. 5, Huff reports that “we did the photo shoot for our show today at my house and with a lot of help and patience, I was able to sit in chair for 45 minutes!! We did all the pics from the waist up, so the knee wasn’t visible. Watching me come down the stairs, on my butt, at a snail’s pace was a sight and there were lots of nervous jokes about having me inch on stage this way.”

Things have gotten slowly better. “The show must go on”  has become “the show will go on (dammit)!” The production has been completely re-blocked so Huff can play Madame Hastings from a chair. “Lots of Fringe love!” says Huff, who describes her character as “a wonderful mixture of bravado and insecurities … smart, funny, manipulative, shrewd, and at times petty and petulant.”  

 

 

 

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Random thoughts and suggestions on Fringe opening day

Mark Meer, Mark Meer, Mark Meer, Mark and Mark Meer in One Man Walking Dead. Photo by Ryan Parker

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

In the ongoing quest to devise a fruitful plan of attack for seeing Fringe shows, one long-time theatre administrator I knew eliminated pre-festival anxiety (and also 99 per cent of her theatre-going activity) by her strict policy of only seeing shows from New Brunswick. I do not recommend this. 

I’ve known people to seek out Fringe shows with the most lurid come-hither titles (a risky method). Or the most wilfully baffling, like Tomatoes Tried To Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life or Bushtits, Shih Tzus & Private Dicks: All’s Fur in Love & Noir. Or an antidote to the above, like the phlegmatically-named Good Improv by an Edmonton company called … Good Improv.  It’s billed, incidentally, as an “original fusion of raw Hip Hop and improvised Sketch Comedy.”

Some Fringe-goers let themselves be won over by fanciful or enigmatic theatre company names (2018 contenders include Soul Pancakes, Cursive Writing, Complaint Department, Clutch At Your Pearls Productions, Squirrel Suit Productions). One of my fellow reviewers of yore deliberately sought out the shows with the most warnings. He would have been all over a show All Proceeds Go to: It’s plastered with warnings about “violence, cartoonish violence, nudity, sexual content, sexual violence, death, adult content, language, eating disorder, body image, drugs, alcohol, religious content, political content, gunshots.”

At Fringe time, it’s perfectly OK to survey strangers: servers, baristas, street guitarists, pedestrians jaywalking, your acupuncturist or yoga instructor — and best of all, the hip and discerning guys working the Strathcona parking lot. 

12thnight.ca has posted a selection of promising possibilities for your consideration: have a peek at those to get yourself started: click here. Here are some other thoughts: 

The loneliness of the long-distance soloist: As you’ll have noticed by now, the Fringe is a magnet for performers who populate the stage single-handedly. (Sometimes you want to call it brave, sometimes crazy, sometimes both).   

It’s possible that Charles Ross’s One Man Lord of the Rings, back again this year, has set the bar for narrative complications (he also does a solo Pride and Prejudice and Stranger Things).

The virtuosity index goes right off the grid, however, with the riotous prospect of One Man Walking Dead, “a one-man parody of the zombie TV series spawned by the zombie comic book.” In this enterprise, Mark Meer, who’s one of the country’s great improvisers, and celebrated as Commander Shepard in Bioware’s Mass Effect series, attacks (ha!) a scripted show, one he co-wrote with T.J. Dawe. “One man. Eight seasons. Many zombies.”

T.J. Dawe in A Canadian Bartender at Butlins. Photo supplied.

The art of the storyteller. The Fringe has attracted some of the continent’s most dexterous. T.J. Dawe, who’s done (and contributed to) more Fringe shows than you’ve had green onion cakes, is one. He’s rueful, funny, and smart. In honour of its 15th anniversary Dawe has revived A Canadian Bartender at Butlin’s, among his best.

Another is New Yorker Martin Dockery, a master at the unspooling shaggy dog structure of storytelling. He’s bringing Delirium to our Fringe. Which sounds like a match.

A  third is the Australian Jon Bennett (see below), the reigning monarch of the domesticated Power Point.

• It’s an unpredictable world out there in the 227-show universe of the Fringe. Hey, even the number of shows can change: two weeks ago, there were 228. I noticed the return of an assortment of Fringe hits I’ve seen and enjoyed in previous Fringe editions And here are four shows of that ilk. Will they be even brighter? Tighter? More fully developed? Maybe (after all, the Fringe is a chance to  to test out and improve bright ideas). 

Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide To The Near-Post-Apocalyptic Future. Apocalyptic visions don’t come funnier, or more poignant. What do our earthly prospects look like to the young? In this 2014 production from Victoria’s SNAFU, two earnest 14-year-olds imbued with educators’ zeal kidnap a school assembly in order to take charge of our fates. They have an hour to train us how to survive the (very) imminent, and inevitable, cosmic catastrophe.

Jon Bennett: How I Learned To Hug and Jon Bennett: Fire In The Meth Lab. The manically comic Australian performer Jon Bennett, a masterful storyteller and memoirist in the shaggy dog tradition — applies his unique style to matters of romance and family dysfunction. He’s a riveting performer with a rarefied appetite for personal embarrassment and capacity for outrage. He incorporates a hilarious selection of home photos into his free-wheeling Power Points, and his audience participation skills are sophisticated enough to be easeful.

Stéphanie Morin-Robert in Blindside. Photo by Tristan Brand.

 Blindside. Stephanie Morin-Robert’s charmer of a memoir has been here a couple of times, most recently last summer. If you still haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a uniquely graceful, unsentimental, and funny tribute to human resilience — a recollection of a childhood in which she lost her left eye to cancer at age two. She’ll demonstrate (really): it’s that kind of show.

Making it up. It’s an improv-rich town. There are virtuoso performers here, and they regularly improvise entire musicals (The 11 O’Clock Number), or intense dramatic encounters between humans and programmed robots (Human Machine: Artificial Intelligence Improvisation), or plays set in the ante-bellum South (Big Ol’ Show).

Kory Mathewson and Julian Faid in TEDxRFT. Photo by Aaron Pedersen

The apotheosis of improv dexterity has got to be TedxRFT. Two brainiac Rapid Fire Theatre stars, Julian Faid and Kory Mathewson will actually improvise an entire TED Talk from a subject suggested by the audience and slides they’ve never seen. Clearly this can’t be possible, which makes it an irresistible proposition.  

Taking a risk: Take your cue from Fringe artists who are stepping outside their chosen turf to try something new. Mike Delamont, for example, the highly engaging comic performer who stars in the hit God Is A Scottish Drag Queen (he has an all-new instalment this year), is adventurous that way. Maybe Baby, in which he co-stars with his wife Chantelle Delamont is billed as a “comedy/drama” and chronicles their struggle to be parents. 

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Great moments in history … on balconies. Heather D. Swain stays home for her new Fringe show. A Fringe preview.

Heather D. Swain in From The Balcony. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

One evening two summers ago the veteran Fringe and Street artist Heather D. Swain was sitting on her Strathcona balcony having a cocktail with friends, watching The People go by. And that’s when it came to her.

“This would be a perfect venue for a Fringe show!”

Extrapolation followed. “Wouldn’t it be cool if I never left a prop at home when I went to rehearsal? Wouldn’t it be cool if I didn’t have to rent a venue to do a Fringe show?”

Swain’s apartment in the only two-storey on the block has housed a succession of artists — theatrical, visual, culinary — in its time. The much-beloved late stage manager Cheryl Millikin once lived there; so did the painter John Freeman. “It had that energy around it,” says Swain. She and her artist friiends all call her balcony “the Juliet balcony” actually knowing that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet doesn’t mention one thing about locating the famous balcony scene on a balcony.

Anyhow, Swain’s bright idea was planted in the summer of 2016. And it had a bonus: the following summer would the 25th anniversary of her arrival in Edmonton from her home town of Toronto (she prefers to call it “Ontario” to avert latent hostility). “I came here in 1992 to do a Fringe show,” she laughs. “I got here in March with five grand, and my money had to last till the Fringe.” Hmmm. Five months of rent to pay before the Fringe opening night of One Morning I Realized I Was Licking The Kitchen Floor:  a comic look at depression. It would be touch-and-go.

“I quickly found out that this is the best English-language theatre community I know in the country.” She never left. 

In the end, the stars didn’t line up at last summer’s Fringe for Swain’s anniversary theme.  It would have to wait till the 2018 edition of the summer festivities.

The choice of venue was inspired. But “what the heck would the show be?” 1992, incidentally, was another first, too.  That was the year the Fringe launched its own bright idea, BYOVs (bring-your-own-venues) for shows that just couldn’t be contained in any of the dozen officially appointed Fringe venues. To qualify, artists had to demonstrate that their show was “site-specific,” that it resonated with and gained by a particular non-traditional venue. Those days are long gone. All you need these days for a BYOV is $550 bucks to be part of the box office and program, a locale willing to put up with you, and a lot of energy. 

So, inspired by the original BYOV spirit, Swain, who’s afraid of heights, started research into balconies for the show that would happen on her own.“The power to sway people’s choices, the beauty, the romance of the balcony,” as she says of the thrust of From The Balcony. “Think of the iconic moments in history that happened on balconies: I couldn’t get them all in. Hitler, the Queen, the Pope, Eva Peron….

Her landlord stepped up. When he was interviewing prospective tenants for the first floor apartment under Swain’s he told them “if you’re not OK with having a Fringe show on the balcony above and people standing in front of your deck, and not being able to use your regular door during the Fringe, you can’t move in!” The four university students who live were cool with all of the above. 

So the audience, a maximum of 54, stands in the yard at 2 p.m. daily (a time chosen for sun placement and lighting), shoulder to shoulder, looking up. “I stop twice during the show so they can do the neck exercises my physiotherapist recommended,” Swain says.  “My greatest fear is that it’s seem like I’ve set up my own standing ovation.”

When the show is done, the star closes the sliding balcony door, and steps back into the green room, which magically turns back into her living room. “Then I go into the kitchen, open the fridge, and pour myself a glass of prosecco.”   

From The Balcony opens Friday at 2 p.m. on Stage 34, “260 steps west of the Fringe box office” and runs every day through Aug. 26. Tickets are “$13 with neck brace, $12 without neck brace.”

 

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When worlds collide: Chris Bullough is feeling the reverb in his new Rig Pig Fantasia. A Fringe preview

 

Michael Anderson and Dave Horak in Rig Pig Fantasia, Wishbone Theatre. Photo by Laura O’Connor.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“ Here I am,” sighs Chris Bullough wincing slightly over his de-caf last week. “An artist. My artistic career funded by oil. Questioning the ethics of oil production and use.” 

His new play Rig Pig Fantasia, which premieres Friday at the Fringe in a Wishbone Theatre production, is fuelled (so to speak) by that kind of tension. And Bullough is feeling it; even his mop of red hair seems slightly askew. “I feel the hypocrisy of it as I drive around.”

Being conflicted  (and the spirit of full-disclosure) seem built into the Bullough talent. It’s given Edmonton audiences an array of boldly original performances (Richard III for one), and an assortment of new plays and experimental creations (Or The Whale among others) since he graduated from the U of A, first  as an actor, then a director, then a co-founder of a theatre company, Wishbone, with fellow actor/director Michael Peng.   

For one thing, Fort McMurray is Bullough’s home turf; that’s where he grew up, until he came to the big city to study theatre. “I feel such a love, a loyalty, to that community,” says Bullough of a place embedded into the boreal forest that was attacked by the terrible fire of 2016. “I’m both haunted and fascinated by that ancient forest; I’d flip into it on my bike on my way home from school….”

His parents arrived with five-year-old Bullough and his little brother from Thunder Bay, “driven by the downturn of the late 70s early 80s,” fully intending to return to Ontario to build a house. “And we never did.”

“It was an incredibly cosmopolitan and welcoming community,” he says of Fort McMurray. “People from all over the world orphaned by economic circumstances found themselves in that boreal world together…. And in a way, you could choose your family. With people there it was ‘what do you need?’”

The love of the arts? That’s where his was nurtured! “An incredible community theatre…. My drama teacher is still a mentor to this day!”

“And all this nature! In the springtime people would gather to watch the river ice break up, an incredible thing. The northern lights. And the boreal forest in the middle of it all, so dark, dense, mysterious….” Fort McMurray was “a fort in the woods.”

Those ideas found their way into Bullough’s experimental Or The Whale, an imaginative fantasia inspired by Melville’s Moby-Dick which premiered at Studio Theatre in 2016 — a rare collaboration between the U of A drama department and an indie theatre. 

Bullough and his Wishbone partner Peng (who’s in Rig Pig Fantasia, along with Dave Horak, Laura Raboud, Michael Anderson, DJ Creeasian) lit on a connection “between the whale oil of New England and the oil we take from the ground.” 

“We tried to splice them together,” says Bullough. He grins. In the end, he thinks, their ingenious allegory had to cede to the power of Moby-Dick’s universal story: the  human quest for meaning in the face of our mysterious existence and death.

Or The Whale “was the spiritual awakening of Rig Pig Fantasia!” declares Bullough, who came at acting via improv, sketch comedy, and clowning. One of his characters “discovers in himself a latent love of dance,” a sort of grown-up Fort McMurray Billy Elliott. “He’s buried it, though. He’d taken lessons as a kid but only because it was good for hockey.” 

Then “he falls for an artist,” one who believes in art as an agent for social justice, and everything changes. “She opens a world to him. And he starts trying to bring two worlds together. Are they oil and water? That’s the question.”

Dave Horak, Michael Anderson in Rig Pig Fantasia. Photo by Navras Kamal.

“Industry vs. environment: why can’t we just come together and figure it out? If we’re the intelligent hard-working creative people we claim to be, we should be able to…. But it’s a chasm,” sighs Bullough. “How do we change in ways that don’t polarize us? I’m wrestling with it, and my own hypocrisy, even as I’m putting on this play!”

“It’s so incredibly loaded! Anything that seems to threaten my ability to take care of myself and my family, well…. But we all know we need to stop using fossil fuel. We do. We know it though we desperately want to believe otherwise, that we’re not responsible for global warming.. When you have kids and you see environmental regulations being dismantled ….” He trails off.

“The Fringe is a good place to explore this, to start a conversation about how to move forward,” thinks Bullough, who seems to be an explorer by temperament (his next project, already in progress, is a collaboration with an alternative magician). “I’m trying to let the piece be what it wants to be, to let the characters come alive and own it.”

He quotes fellow theatre artist Ron Pederson, who said to the crowd on Sterling night in June as he accepted an award that “in theatre we’re in the transportation industry!” Says Bullough, “I loved that! Exactly! Taking people on a journey!”

What theatre teaches is “the silent power of an image…. The forest, that sky, those stars!”

Rig Pig Fantasia runs Aug. 17 to 26 , on Fringe Stage 1, the Westbury Theatre.

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A tale of two Fringe directors. Chapter 2: Michael Bradley

 

James Hamilton in WASP. Photo supplied.

Bevin Dooley and Ben Proulx in Walk. Photo by Ian Scott.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A cultural theory: There’s a kind of crazy total-immersion charge about the Fringe that’s a magnet to Edmonton theatre artists. It explains why veteran Edmonton theatre pros — Bradley Moss, Trevor Schmidt, Darrin Hagen, Dave Horak, Collin Doyle, Kate Ryan, Cat Walsh, Chris Bullough, Stewart Lemoine, the list goes on… — are still up for doing the Edmonton Fringe after so many summers of kissing summer holidays goodbye. And it explains why up-and-comers are keen to be there too, in a big way. 

We meet two directors — young but with startlingly hefty and adventurous credits already — each making their Fringe debuts with not one, but two high-contrast productions. Both Michael Bradley and Suzie Martin entered the world of theatre via acting; both are recent U of A directing grads.

Director Michael Bradley. Photo supplied.

This Fringe Michael Bradley ricochets between realism and a crazier, more playful version of “reality.”

Some days the Kingston native who arrived here from the working actor’s life in Toronto, directs rehearsals for a serious new drama, Liane Faulder’s Walk, in which a Canadian soldier and his family struggle to recover themselves and their equilibrium after he loses his legs in Afghanistan. On alternate days, he’s in another theatrical universe altogether: reclaiming Steve Martin’s quirky  dark-hued satire WASP, which targets ‘50s suburbia and all its white middle-class capitalist privilege. 

Bradley, an artist of the exploratory stripe whose work includes theatre creation and research, has U of A directing credits that include his own adaptations of Hamlet and Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea. A workshop to investigate power and gender in Richard III is upcoming, in the fall. 

There was a personal resonance for Bradley in Walk, which marks the playwriting debut of veteran journalist Faulder (she fashioned it from her non-fiction book The Long Walk Home): the world of the soldier. “I come from a family of soldiers and retired soldiers,” Bradley says. His grandfather was a soldier. His father served in Afghanistan, the regiment sergeant major at the base. there. His brother-in-law is a soldier; he and Bradley’s dad were in Afghanistan at the same time in 2006.

The military life “is an important part of the Canada of now,” muses Bradley. “But it doesn’t seem to be part of our arts conversations.… In America, it’s part of the conversation all the time.”

The lives of soldiers, fraught as they are, come wrapped in a carapace of secrets. “They’re a mysterious group of people,” says Bradley. As he points out, his father would have known, and well, every soldier who was injured or killed in his time there. “It just doesn’t come up that much…. The play has been a way of getting to know the people I know, from another avenue.”

He’s “very conscious” of Walk’s exploration of “how veterans are when they come home. I like this play for that…. Fictionalizing (the true-life story of amputee soldier Paul Franklin in Faulder’s journalistic book) gives us a more complicated relationship with the characters.”

Casting came with its own challenges, of course. Faulder and Bradley launched an international campaign to find an amputee actor. Theatre has a history of know-how in faking it. “But for me, it was important to present something so truthful with no layer of theatrical artifice,” says Bradley. And in the end, he thinks, “it’s not about amputation any more, or even PTSD. It’s about a family….”

Joelle Préfontaine and Ben Proulx in Walk. Photo by Ian Scott.

After casting the net widely, he and the playwright settled on an actor who was not  a double-amputee. Ben Proulx, who comes to live theatre from the world of stand-up comedy (with occasional forays into television) lost one of his legs to childhood cancer at three. So Faulder re-worked the Walk story to embrace a soldier who’s lost one leg and is in grave danger of losing the other to critical injury.  

And there’s been a gender adjustment. In Bradley’s production, the soldier’s fellow Afghanistan vet is played by a female, actor, Bevin Dooley, a playwright/ dramaturg herself. It’s “a wonderful way to acknowledge female presence in military life,” says Bradley. We can be more nuanced in our storytelling….”

As for WASP, a 1995 Steve Martin play of the absurdist stripe discovered by Bradley’s actor wife Nicole St. Martin a decade ago, Bradley is fascinated by its currency, the way it captures “the creepy nostalgia” of Trumpian America for the storied ‘50s when America allegedly was great and middle-class white privilege had legs.  “It speaks about the strange sense of disenfranchisement from the inside.”

“People! This is not real! What is this thing you think you remember? It’s nostalgia for an illusion. It’s dark and getting darker.”

Walk runs Fri. through Aug. 26 at Fringe stage 17, The Roxy on Gateway. WASP runs Thurs. through August 26 at Fringe stage 5, King Edward Elementary School.

 

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A tale of two Fringe directors. Chapter 1: Suzie Martin

Cat Walsh and Lora Brovold in Fetch. Photo supplied.

 

Sarah Ormandy, Robert Benz, Cat Walsh, Cody Porter in Tragedy: A Tragedy. Photo by Mat Simpson

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

A cultural theory: There’s a kind of crazy total-immersion charge about the Fringe that’s a magnet to Edmonton theatre artists. It explains why veteran Edmonton theatre pros — Bradley Moss, Darrin Hagen, Dave Horak, Trevor Schmidt, Collin Doyle, Kate Ryan, Cat Walsh, Chris Bullough, Stewart Lemoine, the list goes on… — are still up for doing the Edmonton Fringe after so many summers of kissing summer holidays goodbye. And it explains why up-and-comers are keen to be there too, in a big way. 

In two companion 12thnight.ca posts, meet two directors — young but with startlingly hefty and adventurous credits already — each making Fringe debuts with not one but two high-contrast productions. Both Michael Bradley and Suzie Martin entered the world of theatre via acting. Both are recent U of A directing grads who came here from Somewhere Else, fell in love with the theatre scene here, and moved. And both are artists we’ll be watching in seasons to come. 

There is nothing remotely conventional about either of the plays Suzie Martin is directing at this year’s Fringe. 

By day she rehearses Tragedy: A Tragedy, a comedy by the elusive American playwright Will Eno. She’s been eager to do it for … years. A local broadcast news team intrepidly steps up to cover a disaster: The sun has set and may never rise again. By night, it’s Fetch, a new play by Cat Walsh (Do This In Memory Of Me, The Laws of Thermodynamics) an intricate two-hander in which one version of a woman confronts another with duelling stories. 

Director Suzie Martin. Photo supplied.

Martin, who arrived at the U of A from her home town of Winnipeg where she trained as an actor (and has done every kind of theatre job including admin and stage management), finds the 2001 Eno comedy bristling with an eerie renewed topicality these days. “After the American election in 2016, it really resonated with that feeling the world is ending,” she says. “It felt like everything was over. And here we are in this world now. Still. How can this be? The world continued. We’re living in the Trump era and — even if the world is getting meaner and more insular — we haven’t ceased to be!”

Intriguingly, “the style is quite a merger,” says Martin, who seems to have made something of a specialty of strange fusions. Witness her production last season of Small Matters Productions’ physical theatre comedy Over Her Dead Body, starring the legendary clown guru Jan Henderson.

Tragedy: A Tragedy, Blarney Productions. Photo by Mat Simpson

On one hand, she says, Tragedy: A Tragedy is “a media satire about the vapidity of the 24-hour news cycle” where “investigative” reporters armed with mere scraps of real information inflate them gravely into news. In the play, the characters communicate (and miscommunicate) only through earphones.

“But underneath all that, framing it in a way, is the tradition of absurdism, of Beckett,” says Martin. “What do you do if language breaks? If it’s an empty shell? If God is dead, and what we look to as our anchor points aren’t there?…. We used to look to the fourth estate for that!”

“Who do we look to for answers when it’s dark and we’re scared? Mythologies are about that.” In Canada “we’re next-door neighbours of a crazy myth-making machine. We’re close by, but they’re not our myths.”

Tragedy: A Tragedy “is not meant to be just a parody of the news media: that’s what’s brilliant about it,” Martin thinks. “There’s the very funny comedy of that…. But then you realize there’s a real desire and commitment of these (media) people to do their job.” She laughs.  “I think of it as an existentialist bedtime lullaby disguised as a parody of the news.”

Cat Walsh and Lora Brovold in Fetch, Interloper Theatre. Photo supplied.

Fetch, by Cat Walsh (who plays the broadcast team’s legal counsel in Tragedy: A Tragedy), breathed public air in a reading at the 2017 SkirtsAfire  Festival.  “Two versions of one woman telling a story in tandem … it’s all about possible and alternate worlds,” says Martin of a black comedy inspired by the famous Schrodinger’s Cat “thought experiment” in which really smart people can prove, using (or misusing?) quantum science, that a cat in a box is both alive and dead.  

So, Fetch gives us two women, both named Hannah Morgan, and “two monologues intercut with joining scenes.” Says Martin, “we meet them in a room that’s a mirror image of itself.” The spirit of competition — “No I am the real Hannah Morgan — is alive and kicking. And, as the title obliquely promises, there’s a dog. “A quantum dog,” amends Martin. “Fun, in a dark, slightly creepy, way.”  

It isn’t the first time Martin has explored possible alternate universes in the theatre. Martin’s directing resumé, which has everything from Shakespeare to Pinter, opera to The Gas Heart by the Dadaist Tristan Tzara, includes Jenny Schwartz’s God’s Ear (her master’s degree production). The off-centre play about a couple in free-fall, which looks like poetry on the page, has unmistakeable affinities to Tragedy: A Tragedy“I would say both are concerned with what Don DeLillo describes in his 1977 novel Players as an attempt to ‘organize the emptiness’. And I think its safe to say those preoccupations are up my aesthetic and philosophical alley at this point!  

Meanwhile she’s enjoying the free-floating “strangeness” of her Fringe productions, and adjusting to the uncertainties of the freelance director’s life. “I have had the great fortune to direct six shows and assist on four across two provinces in the last two years,  as well as teaching at both the U of A and the (Citadel’s) Foote School…. I am getting used to living my life with only the next few months in view.”  

Tragedy: A Tragedy runs Aug. 16 to 25 at Fringe Stage 3, Walterdale Theatre. Fetch runs Aug. 17 to 26 at Fringe Stage 28, The Playhouse.

 

 

 

 

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The secret life of small towns: Michele Vance Hehir’s One Polaroid takes us back to Roseglen for the third of a trilogy. A Fringe preview.

Boyan Peychoff, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer in One Polaroid. Photo by Nathaniel Vance Hehir.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

She lives in a city (one where a great big 37-year-old Fringe starts Thursday). But small towns have always had a particular fascination for Michele Vance Hehir.

The secrets both open and closed, the partial knowledge, the gossip, the dropped hints, the shared memory,  the microcosmic social hierarchy, the proprieties observed and transgressed … they’ve insinuated themselves into her plays before now.

And they’ve found their way into One Polaroid, the third of a Vance Hehir trilogy that has snuck us into the small fictional prairie town of Roseglen at different periods in its history. The Blue Hour, a full-length seven-actor play slated to run at SkirtsAfire in 2020, is post-war Roseglen. Ruination (3 short stories), a trio of intricately interlocking monologues with a mystery, which premiered at last summer’s Fringe, is Depression era Roseglen.

Now we’re back in town and it’s 1973. Two unmarried sisters of a certain age, who have a dysfunctional sibling relationship, are awaiting the annual birthday visit of their nephew.

The townspeople people came first. A decade ago, armed with a grant to create characters, Vance Hehir wrote a series of monologues “I fell in love with one of the characters,” she says. And, encouraged at the Citadel’s Playwrights Forum, “I built a play around a young girl and her family….”

And so The Roseglen Trilogy was born. But that’s not where the ideas started. “My mom was an amazing storyteller!” says Vance Hehir, a dexterous hand at creating formally intricate multi-vignette plays (Ruminations of Maud, Ruminations of Gayle) with dimensional characters. “She could actually tell you a book, or a movie. She told me the movie House of Wax, and described it so vividly and in such detail that when I actually saw it I was disappointed.”

“She told me stories of growing up in a small B.C. town in the Fraser Valley, which Chilliwack in the ‘50s was (the family arrived here when Vance Hehir was six). “She talked about the dark side, that everyone knows your business…. Her storytelling really influenced me.”

Playwright Michele Vance Hehir. Photo by Nathaniel Vance Hehir.

The other major inspiration, says Vance Hehir, was “the road trips we took, lots of them; it was what we could afford to do.” Prairie towns — and she’s seen copious numbers — intrigued her.  Especially towns with Pentecostal currents (Vance Hehir’s dad, who’s of that religious persuasion, is the source of that fascination).

In The Blue Hour, which won the 2017 Alberta Playwriting Competition, the pastor of the Last Hope Assembly has a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl, and “it destroys everybody in that small town.” In Ruination’s three “short stories,” connections between people gradually add up and emerge into a story  and a strikingly harsh one — driven by religion and reputation, prejudice and revenge. No event is stand-alone, even the mysterious burning down of the Chinese laundry.

The two sisters of One Polaroid (Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer), unmarried in their 50s, live in a Roseglen that seems to be fading into its finale. “I play with time,” says the playwright. “It moves more quickly or slowly in the course of a full day between the rising and setting of the sun.”

“Their nephew (Boyan Peychoff) always comes to visit on his birthday. And there’s silliness and cruelty,” she says. “They play ‘name that tune’. There’s humour in those family relationships, and how a third person affects a sibling relationship.”

Can the trilogy expand? “I do feel this is the final chapter,” Vance Hehir says of One Polaroid. “But….” With that “but” we’ll have to stay tuned.

One Polaroid runs at the Fringe’s Stage 9 (Telus Phone Museum) Aug. 17 to 25.

  

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“Grotesque fun” with Shakespeare: Macbeth Muet and the return of Surreal SoReal. A Fringe preview

Jérémie Francoeur in Macbeth Muet, Surreal SoReal Theatre. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“Grotesque fun,” says Jon Lachlan Stewart. “There’s a lot of laughs in our production. And then there’s not….”

He’s talking about Macbeth Muet, a 60-minute version of Shakespeare’s swift and brutal tragedy that dismisses every Forsooth and Hark! like so much lint: it is completely text-free. Fair is foul, and both are silent.

The Surreal SoReal production that arrives at the Fringe this week from Montreal is the latest sighting of a talent, and a company that has, from the start, surprised the hell out of everyone.

Lachlan Stewart’s was one of those startling debuts, the kind that makes the Fringe grapevine light up. The buzz knocked the old Fringe greeting “so, have you seen …?” right off its standard moorings. “So who is that kid, anyhow?” 

Fourteen summers ago, Edmonton audiences met Lachlan Stewart, at 18 and just out of high school, in an electrifying, explosively physical solo show of his own creation. In Little Room, Lachlan Stewart captured the furious, morbid energy of a teen protagonist channelling his future in advance, regrets included, in a staccato barrage.

What happened after that defied expectation every time out. Bold original experiments: a multi-perspective action flick unspooling in the mind of the protagonist (Big Shot), for example. An expressionist tale of a failing ‘50s marriage in the style of vintage black-and-white television (Dog). An off-centre folk tale that followed stringless marionettes searching through a town for their creator (Grumplestock’s). We wore colour-coded earphones for The Genius Code, with its simultaneous versions of a multi-perspective love story gone wrong.The Survival of Pigeons As Studied By Human Lovers was a cross between a Discovery Channel nature doc and a bittersweet ‘relationship comedy.’ The list goes on. Surreal SoReal’s idea of decking the halls at Christmas-time was a collection of short plays by Samuel Beckett.

There may well be a Surreal SoReal play in the arc by which Lachlan Stewart, now based in Montreal and working largely in French, returns to his home town, and the Fringe where it all began. And he’s bringing Shakespeare with him.

Macbeth Muet is a two-actor version of Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition created by Lachlan Stewart and Marie-Hélène Bélanger for La Fille du laitier. That’s the Montreal “theatre delivery” company Lachlan Stewart and two of his francophone NTS classmates founded to take theatre to the people — in a truck. 

As Lachlan Stewart points out, with Macbeth Muet (i.e. mute) there’s no question of translation, either between our two official tongues or Shakespeare’s Elizabethan lingo and our own. Its two actors, Jérémie Francoeur and Clara Prévost, preside over a table of homely objects — eggs, cutlery, tablecloth, cups, oven mitts — and a cast that includes marionettes.

Macbeth Muet, Surreal SoReal Theatre. Photo supplied.

The seed of Macbeth Muet, says Lachlan Stewart, was planted in the NTS audition assignment to “perform your favourite play in three minutes.” When it came time to pick a project, I added an actor. And we worked on it as a silent film, with those kinds of gestures, grand guignol, fake blood…. We played around with sound design and music.” Their inspirations included “puppetry, object theatre (where  found objects take on a life of their own as characters), dance.”

And something happened. “It became less of a joke and more the best way of doing Macbeth,” says Lachlan Stewart of his favourite Shakespeare play “and one of my favourite plays, period.”

It is, after all, “a visceral, physical sort of play, very action-based, with all sorts of content that’s weird and ‘doesn’t belong’.” Characters arrive onstage, report terrible battles, leave.  Or start revolutions. Some parts “last a page.”

Approaching Macbeth with straight-ahead humourless seriousness “is a really narrow-minded way of looking at it,” Lachlan Stewart argues. Which certainly explains why the great theatre archive is full of productions of Macbeth that just seem to peter out instead of escalate.

“The archetype of a power couple working through problems together can be very naturally funny,” he says. “Breaking Bad is a kind of shadow of the story of Macbeth. House of Cards is Richard III and Macbeth. So intense, but we laugh; we’re thrilled….”

“There’s absurdity, in theatrical terms. Seriousness and the absurd go hand in hand in Macbeth. A strange and godless situation.. It started out with us having fun. And then it became a very (viable) production of Macbeth.”

“At the beginning of the play people are talking about a battle and a hero. And I’ve never seen a production of Macbeth that stages that battle. It’s always bugged me. Or the battle near the end when Macbeth feels himself to be invincible. We stage both of those battles!” 

Meanwhile, Lachlan Stewart’s life, “changed forever” by a son now 2 1/2, includes continuing dates for Fille du laitier’s repertory lineup, including Checkout 606 (two grocery cashiers in mid-existential crisis as the veggies come to life around them) and Tong: a tip of the tongue opera (a kids’ show based on a ‘20s Dada-ist poem and named for the start-up sound of a computer). Macbeth Muet, which has already been to New York, will pick up its oven mitts for an upcoming tour that will take it to Europe, to Austin, to the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary….

Laughter and horror are not mutually exclusive, argues the multi-talented actor/playwright/director (he directed the original Tiny Bear Jaws production of Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare For The Inevitable). “It’s rooted in our culture…. It’s a good time in our culture for irony and for humour,” says Lachlan Stewart. “A lot of people can appreciate pop culture ironically.…”

“Humour doesn’t diminish what’s profound, what moves people.”

Macbeth Muet runs on the Fringe’s Stage 9 (Telus Phone Museum) starting Aug. 17. 

  

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The Fringe is back, bigger than ever! So … what looks promising?

Jessy Ardern in The Alien Baby Play, Impossible Mongoose. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The rumours are true: the Fringe is back, larger than life,  in the theatre town where the continent’s fringe phenom began. Fringe ‘O’ Saurus Rex, the 37th annual edition of Edmonton’s full-bodied summer theatre bash, starts its 11 day-and-night life Thursday night. And there are more choices than ever before.

So … what looks good? 

Lifting the 153-page glossy Fringe program is an upper-body workout. But do not be overwhelmed, my friends. Be curious instead.

Everyone’s a critic and a talent scout (and possibly a future playwright) at Fringe time. And there’s no wrong way to fringe (a verb that’s an Edmonton contribution to the international lexicon!)— except to stay indefinitely in the beer tent and fail to see a show.

12thnight.ca is here to help as you plot your own foray into the unpredictable 228-show Fringe galaxy. Have a look at a some intriguing prospects to consider. We’re in this together; I haven’t seen them yet either. 

Sometimes the play, or the playwright, caught my eye. Sometimes actors, or the director, or the company — theatre artists experimenting with something new. Sometimes a premise too bold, or improbable, audacious or just plain weird, to ignore.

Jérémie Francoeur in Macbeth Muet, Surreal SoReal Theatre. Photo supplied.

Macbeth Muet. Surreal SoReal, one of Edmonton’s most adventurous theatre indies, now Montreal-based, is back at the Fringe. And this time they’ve brought William Shakespeare with them. Don’t be arguing that you don’t understand Bard-speak. Jon Lachlan Stewart’s 60-minute version of Shakespeare’s swift and violent tragedy (with Marie-Hélène Bélanger) eliminates that problem: it’s completely word-free.” The visceral (and gory) non-stop action of the play happens with two actors, puppets, an assortment of objects that spring to hand. 

Punch Up!. Laugh or die: Talk about raising the stakes on black comedy. The Funniest Man Alive, who’s lost his sense of humour to the vicissitudes of divorce, is kidnapped by a thoroughly unfunny guy who’s fallen in love with The Saddest Girl in the World. If he’s going to make her laugh, and thereby save her life, the love-struck nebbish needs some last-minute coaching. 

Perry Gratton, Evan Hall in Punch Up! Photo supplied.

The Pretty Boy Projects production, directed by Braydon Dowler Coltman, introduces Edmonton to the work of another hot up-and-comer. That would be Kat Sandler, the innovative Canadian playwright whose immersive, follow-the-actors political satire double-header The Party premieres at the Citadel this coming season.

The actors, Merran Carr-Wiggin, Evan Hall, and Perry Gratton — paid-up members of that new generation of theatrical multi-taskers fuelled by the Fringe — started producing at the festivities when they were still in theatre school (Notes From A Zombie Apocalypse, 2011). Last summer, Hall directed  A Quiet Place; he and Carr-Wiggins co-starred in a revival of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, the story of a friendship chronicled in blood, bruises, and broken bones. No crutches this year.

Luc Tellier in Tragedy: A Tragedy, Blarney Productions. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Tragedy: A Tragedy. There’s always something subversive and strange lurking under the apparently harmless surfaces of a Will Eno play (Thom Pain (based on nothing), The Realistic Joneses). In Tragedy: A Tragedy, an Eno from 2001, a local broadcast team is pumped up, in that breathless 24-hour news cycle coverage way, to report on whether the sun will ever rise again. An all-star five-actor cast, including Robert Benz as the team anchor, is directed by Suzie Martin. 

A Lesson in Brio. “I’ve thrown out the rule book,” says Teatro La Quindicina’s playwright muse Stewart Lemoine. His latest comedy, which premieres as part of the company’s summer season (one of two new Lemoines at the Fringe along with The Many Loves Of Irene Sloane),  is “a presentation … on brio: what you do to acquire it if you don’t have it, how you might show it if you do.”

Patricia Cerra, Jenny McKillop, Rachel Bowron, Mathew Hulshof in A Lesson in Brio, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

Jenny McKillop is the presenter;  the other three actors (Mathew Hulshof, Rachel Bowron, Patricia Cerra) are there to assist with the presentation. Brio is in short supply in the world: take notes.

Concord Floral, 10 Out Of 12 Productions. Photo supplied.

Concord Floral. The play, by the young Canadian star Jordan Tannahill, is fascinating: a teenage “gothic suburban thiller” set in a derelict greenhouse where the town kids hang out to, you know, party — and (à la Boccaccio’s Decameron) they’ve fled a mystery “plague.” But, hey, have they brought it with them?

With its cast of 10 young U of A theatre grads, Mieko Ouchi’s production revisits the exciting workshop version I caught last season.

Jessy Ardern in The Alien Baby Play, Impossible Mongoose. Photo supplied.

The Alien Baby Play. How can you not want to see what’s up from Impossible Mongoose? The adventurous little indie with high-speed mythology and myth-making on its mind has already given us The Fall of the House of Atreus and Prophecy. This latest, a highly unusual one-act by the American Nicholas Walker Herbert, is  “interesting and strange and kind of lovely in the oddest, Fringiest way,” as director Corben Kushneryk puts it. “The only woman since the Virgin Mary to be impregnated by a creature not of this world has invited the audience to her place to witness the birth. And meet the (alien) father.”

“All our work has surrounded myth,” says Kushneryk. “And this kooky comedy has that aspect! It’s fun, it’s grotesque….”  His production stars Impossible Mongoose’s resident playwright, Jessy Ardern.

Timysha Harris in Josephine. Photo by Von Hoffman.

Josephine. This award-winning “burlesque cabaret dream play” from Orlando, which spent five weeks Off-Broadway this winter, has attracted rapturous reviews everywhere it’s been. It tells the remarkable story of ground-breaker Josephine Baker, the first African-American international superstar, who electrified France in the early ‘20s. Triple-threat Tamysha Harris, who’s toured with the legendary Euro-dance company Pilobulus (among other credits), stars. You’ll get to see Baker’s celebrated “banana girdle” routine in motion.

Andrew MacDonald-Smith and Belinda Cornish in The Real Inspector Hound, Bright Young Things. Photo by Ryan Parker.

The Real Inspector Hound. Bright Young Things, who gravitate to the ‘well-made plays’ of the previous century, hang out at the Fringe with the likes of Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan, Harold Pinter, and last summer, the great Fringe existentialist himself Sartre (a crack production of No Exit). They’re back with an ingenious, very funny early (1968) Tom Stoppard country house whodunnit infiltrated by a couple of pretentious theatre critics (an outlandish notion, right?). Mark Bellamy’s eight-actor cast of Edmonton stars is joined nightly by a different celebrity every night as the much-ignored corpse.

Hotel Vortruba. Vancouver’s Ragmop, a dexterous physical comedy theatre duo of surreal proclivities (Falling Awake), return with a new production. And I for one don’t want to miss a chance to check into a hotel on the frontier between waking and dreaming. 

Collin Doyle and James Hamilton in The Zoo Story, Bedlam Theatre Concern. Photo supplied.

The Zoo Story. “I’ve been to the zoo. I said, I’ve been to the zoo. MISTER, I’VE BEEN TO THE ZOO!” Collin Doyle and James Hamilton, playwright/actors both, and frequent collaborators in Bedlam Theatre Concern, have a 25-year history with Edward Albee’s first play, the 1958 one-act that catapulted him to stardom with its escalating park bench encounter between a middle-class book editor and a rather menacing loner. 

In the fall of 1993, they were two 18-year-olds — and each got a $100 acting award at the Provincial One-Act Festival. “The Glory Years! as Doyle recalls. “We didn’t really know who Edward Albee was; we just really loved the play.” The next time was the 2002 Fringe, and Doyle and Hamilton were 27 and knew exactly who Edward Albee was.

This time, directed by Theatre Network artistic director Bradley Moss, Doyle and Hamilton are in their early ‘40s.  “We always wanted to do it again. And this time we’re the right age,” says Doyle, who hasn’t been onstage as an actor in a decade.

“What’s changed is the perspective on how much time has gone by,” says Doyle, whose Terry and the Dog won this year’s Sterling as outstanding new play.. “Both of us feel the history (of the characters) more…. And for me, as a writer, I realize how much I’ve stolen from the play, a lot of the structure of storytelling….”

Camille Ensminger and Oscar Derkx in The Soldier’s Tale. Photo supplied

The Soldier’s Tale. There are exciting firsts attached to this rare production of a strikingly multi-disciplinary World War I dance/theatre/music collaboration between the great Russian composer Stravinsky and the Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz. It’s never been fully staged professionally in Alberta (and since it requires three actors, a dancer, and seven top-drawer musicians, you can guess why). And it marks the Fringe debut of Edmonton Symphony Orchestra chief conductor Alexander Prior, who’s at the head of an unusual ensemble of professionals; Farren Timoteo directs; Laura Krewski choreographs.  

Christine Lesiak in For Science! Photo supplied.

   For Science!. Billed as “Bill Nye The Science Guy meets Blue Man Group,” Christine Lesiak’s first new Fringe show in five years brings together her “science nerd brain and clown heart,” as she puts it. Lesiak, an artist of the experimental stripe, is the possessor of an unusual skill set: you can never be jaded about running into clowns who are also space physicists. It was as a physicist that Lesiak arrived from the Maritimes in 1993 — long before Edmonton audiences met her feisty red-nosed clown Sheshells or advice columnist Aggie, who improvises shows from audience questions.

An absurdist homage to science nerdism, For Science! is “a series of scientific experiments” of increasing challenge in which enthusiastic audience members are invited to assist. The worthy purpose, declares Lesiak (a founder of Small Matters Productions), is “the most fun possible.”  Lesiak, who co-stars with Anna Pratch, calls it “audience interaction for the age of #MeToo.”

Cat Walsh and Lora Brovold in Fetch, Interloper Theatre. Photo supplied.

Fetch. And speaking of physics, the latest play by Cat Walsh (Do This In Memory of Me, The Laws of Thermodynamics) was inspired by the elusive Shrodinger’s Cat paradox beloved of physics majors. In her new two-hander (which started life as two monologues) Walsh applies the idea (sans cat, but there’s a toy dog) to “doubles … the “two opposing possible existences” of a character. “The two Hannah Morgans have the same origins, their paths diverge, and then become more and more entwined,” says Walsh of a strangely adversarial relationship. “You know that sense you get that there was a moment in life when things could have been different?” Walsh co-stars with Lora Brovold.

Julie Niuboi Ferguson in Scorch, Blarney/ Bustle & Beast. Photo by Liam Mackenzie.

Scorch. Thorny issues of gender identity and “gender fraud” — infinitely complicated by the confusions of first love — are at the heart of this 2016 solo play by the Irish playwright Stacey Gregg, inspired by a real-life U.K. court case of recent vintage. The innovative performance artist Julie NIUBOI Ferguson stars in Brenley Charkow’s production. 

Boyan Peychoff, Julie Golosky, Jennifer Spencer in One Polaroid. Photo by Nathaniel Vance Hehir.

One Polaroid. The dark secrets that filter through prairie storytelling and under the placid surfaces of the landscape are the natural theatre habitat of playwright Michele Vance Hehir. Her new play is the final chapter of a trilogy (The Blue Hour, Ruination) that has taken us, pre- and post-World War II, to the small prairie town of Roseglen in 1973. We meet two fractious sisters who may well be the ones to shut out the lights in a fading town.

Everything’s Coming Up Chickens! A Revue. The Plain Janes are ideally equipped to do musical revues. They’re besotted with musical theatre — every forgotten corner, every obscure gem, every over-produced flop. Artistic director Kate Ryan describes their first revue in eight summers at the Fringe as “a kind of love letter to our artists and the (crazy) life in the theatre.”

Karina Cox, Jarrett Krissa, Kendra Connor, Garett Ross in Everything’s Coming Up Chickens! A Review, Plain Jane Theatre. Photo by db photographics.

It’s inspired by “the mother of all backstage musicals Gypsy  (as the title tips off). And Ryan and musical director Janice Flower have culled widely: from Irving Berlin (his 1933 revue As Thousands Cheer), Charles Strouse (Applause), Tick Tick Boom by Rent creator Jonathan Larson, among other musical offerings . And hey, even satirical numbers from Scrambled Feet and Upstairs at O’Neals, revues produced by the Janes’ predecessor Leave It To Jane.

Dave Horak, Michael Anderson in Rig Pig Fantasia. Photo by Navras Kamal.

Rig Pig Fantasia. The highly original actor/playwright Chris Bullough, who grew up in Fort McMurray, has fashioned a play for Wishbone Theatre that wonders about oil, the art of dance, the boreal forest, “what it means to be a man.” 

Whoa….This list is getting way out of hand. And I haven’t even mentioned WASP, in which Steve Martin hones his razor wit on ‘50s suburbia. Or The Great Whorehouse Fire of 1921, unearthed by David Cheoros and Linda Wood Edwards from the under-tilled soil of real Alberta history. Or Liane Faulder’s Walk, inspired by her journalistic book The Long Walk Home. There’s an alluringly scary recent Caryl Churchill (Escaped Alone):  apocalyptic visions over afternoon tea. There’s a new Kenneth Brown, Roy and the Red Baron, which imagines a limbo encounter between history’s most famous fighter pilot and the Edmontonian who shot him down …

I’m leaving you with dots … your cue to explore. Stay tuned for Fringe reviews, previews, interviews on 12thnight.ca. 

    

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