By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Amazing but true: starting Thursday the Fringe, Edmonton’s favourite summer festival, is back — back in the theatre town where the continent’s fringe phenom began (and “fringe” was reinvented as a verb).
Where The Wild Things Fringe, the 38th annual edition of our monster alternative theatre bash, the continent’s first and still biggest (and bigger than ever), has a record number of shows (258) in a record number of venues (50). So many choices, so little time.
12thnight.ca is here to help you with that. What looks promising? What looks intriguing? What looks too weird, or too risky, not to take a chance on? Just to get you (and me) started, here’s a selection of possibilities that caught my eye — whether for the company, the playwright, the play, the premise, the cast, the director, the form….
The Master and Margarita. With this show, back at the Fringe in a new, updated version after 22 years, Seattle’s ever-ingenious theatre simple — a frequent and distinguished visitor to Edmonton Fringes past — wrap their considerable theatrical wits around an intricately hefty underground novel by the Russian renegade Mikhail Bulgakov. The arrival of Satan in ‘30s Moscow and a hallucinogenic nightmare whirl through town, is interwoven with the story of the “master,” labouring on a novel about Pontius Pilate. Five actors, two onstage musicians (armed with a new score), 35-plus characters.
Queen Lear Is Dead. In all that famous Shakespearean brouhaha about dividing the kingdom (bad idea, dad), haven’t you always wondered how the Lears ended up so dysfunctional? In this new King Lear prequel by Jessy Ardern (who explored another famously screwed up clan in The Fall of the House of Atreus), we get to find out. Mom has passed away, and the Lear girls invite us to a “celebration of life” in her honour. Yes, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia find themselves in Strathcona Baptist Church (BYOV stage 46). As Ardern describes the choose-your-own-adventure, “we’ve rewound… the three of us are waiting for dad to show up.” You can choose who to follow through the church — there are 15 tracks through the storytelling. — “and you’ll still get the full story.”
It’s not a pastiche, says the playwright, “not a cheesy wink-y nod to King Lear. Shakespeare’s tragedy is “a jumping-off point for a contemporary play … about how your family can shape you, how your family can mess you up.” There are “a lot of jokes,” says Ardern. “And cupcakes.”
Fear and Loathing and Lovecraft. There is nothing predictable and everything wild and impossible about the prospect of this solo show wrested by the formidably multi-talented Mark Meer from an obscure freak-out novel, The Damned Highway. It’s a nightmare journey across America which puts together the gonzo (Hunter S. Thompson), the weird (H.P. Lovecraft), and the soon-to-be infamous (Richard Nixon). TJ Dawe has a hand in this, as dramaturg/director.
Larry. Big buzz attaches to this comedy by and starring Vancouver’s Candice Roberts, which premiered at the Toronto Clown Festival last June and played, in an earlier incarnation, at the Edmonton Clown Festival last fall. Roberts’ alter-ego, the title character, was inspired by growing up in rural B.C. in the ‘80s. At 50 paces, Larry, son of Moose Creek, B.C., might look like just one more of those hard-drinking hard-cussin’ macho guys’ guys . But he’s on a discovery quest into his own psyche.
The Trophy Hunt. R.I.P. Cecil. He’s the magnificent 13-year-old lion from Zimbabwe whose death at the hands of a gross American dentist/trophy hunter sparked a global outcry. The latest from Trina Davies (The Romeo Initiative, Shatter, Waxworks) is spun from the story of Cecil’s fate. In an unusual venture, the production — from E-Town’s adventurous Broken Toys Theatre (Betrayal, Star Killing Machine) — is one of a cross-country series of rolling premieres of the play, at Fringes from Montreal to Victoria, each with its own local cast and director.
Crescendo. The Plain Janes, whose chosen turf is the unearthing and re-buffing of forgotten and obscure gems from the musical theatre repertoire, depart from their usual métier with this new “play with music.” By Sandy Paddick, with music by Jennifer McMillan, it’s about the intersecting lives of women who join a community choir. So you don’t need to wonder why people onstage are suddenly bursting into song.
A Momentary Lapse. Teatro La Quindicina returns to a 2005 comedy jointly created by Stewart Lemoine and Jocelyn Ahlf in which an unlikely pair of miscreants — well, breachers of the Criminal Code — find themselves in enforced community service. The new cast includes Ahlf herself, star of Plain Janes’ recent production of Fun Home, as an over-achiever homemaker/ Hansard stenographer/ Lancôme cosmetologist. Her co-stars are Luc Tellier (who should have had a Sterling nomination for his hilarious work in the Citadel’s The Party and The Candidate) as an exasperated high school student, and Mathew Hulshof as (I’m not kidding) The Law, in all its grand permutations.
The Flying Detective. The Accidental Humour Co., purveyors of genuinely multi-media inventions that propel actors from stage to screen and back again (Happy Whackin’ Jim McCrackin, Cowboy: A Cowboy Story), depart from their usual deadpan genre comedy to tackle a real Alberta story, Canada’s first aerial police pursuit. A commission from the Edson And District Historical Society, it launches a provincial tour with this Fringe run. Taylor Chadwick directs.
13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene”. Expert storytellers Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald (Balls of Yarn, Ain’t True & Uncle False, Papa Squat, Evacuated!) step way outside their smart, seductively affable comic mode with a horror “shadow puppet folk musical.” It’s based on a creepy true story from small-town Ohio: an unburied body and recurring shared nightmares.
Eye Candy. Call her fearless. The award-winning Stéphanie Morin-Robert, who might well be the only Canadian theatre artist ever to pop out her glass eye and play with it, theatrically (Blindside), is back at the Fringe — with a new and multi-generational comedy also spun from real life. In Eye Candy she shares the stage with her year-old baby Olive — and her high-risk motherhood journey with the audience. A warm and engaging presence, Morin-Robert is an expert in transmuting personal confession into resonant but light-of-touch comedy.
Look at the Town! I admit it: I’m a sucker for miniature worlds. How will I pass up a play that happens in a tiny village, with tiny characters (and life-sized actors)? The latest from Kenneth Brown has an 11-year-old heroine whose task is to save her town “from the forces of mass production and fear,” as billed. Cast-mates Brianne Jang and Candice Fiorentino of Poiema Productions have been creating miniature houses on a miniature high street. And, as they demonstrated at the Fringe launch this past week, they have the hot-glue gun burns to prove it.
Check Me Out. As Edmonton audiences know from an award-winning archive heavily weighted to female roles, playwright Trevor Schmidt is drawn to writing for women. So a genial comedy of female friendship, set amongst a quartet of check-out personnel at Pennywise Family Grocery, is a draw. That the characters are played by two mother-daughter pairs — Elizabeth Allison-Jorde and Janelle Jorde, Blair Wensley and Morgan Donald — is the kind of bonus you could only find at a venerable institution like the 38-year-old Edmonton Fringe. (More about this multi-generational phenom in a 12thnight.ca post coming soon).
The Green Line. At last summer’s Fringe Makram Ayache made his playwriting debut, impressively, with Harun, a (very) intricate and ambitious exploration of the immigrant kid experience, in all its haunted complexity. He’s a writer to keep an eye on, and there’s a new Ayache to check out: The Green Line follows two queer relationships through war-torn Beirut.
Juliet: A Revenge Comedy. Shakespeare’s women, even the feisty or regal ones, do have a tendency to end up dead (to be fair, so do a lot of the guys). Monster Theatre — which has previously galloped blithely through vast tracts like Canadian history (The Seven Lives of Louis Riel), Napoleon’s tumultuous bio, War and Peace, or Jesus’s lost years — wonders about that. In the new comedy by the quick-witted Ryan Gladstone and Pippa Mackie, Juliet doesn’t die. Instead she enlists the assistance of such heavy-hitters as Lady M and Cleopatra to confront their author. I’m up for that argument.
Red. The indie company Wishbone Theatre has always hung out in the hefty, dramatic, substantial end of the repertoire, where the plays (as opposed to the shows) live. You just can’t be blasé about finding a play of provocative ideas about art, and artistic creation (through the lens of abstract expressionist Mark Rothco), at the Fringe. But that’s what Red is. Wishbone’s 10th anniversary brings Michael Peng back to the stage after a decade to star in Red. The company is also premiering Bluebirds, Vern Thiessen’s new companion piece to Vimy. Wishbone’s co-artistic director Chris Bullough directs.
A Can of Worms. If you were attracted to the macabre playfulness and precise physicality of Falling Awake and Hotel Vortruba, there’s a new Ragmop Theatre show by the team of Canadian clown/movement artist Nayana Fielkov and circus artist Matthew “Poki” McCorkle. This one’s billed as an exploration of our animal nature.
Somehow, every Fringe “list” turns out to be elastic-sided. This one started out as 10 prospects to be curious about, and it’s gotten completely out of hand (I’ve got to stop sleeping with the program under my pillow). I haven’t even mentioned A Life In The Theatre, an early David Mamet (from before he became a right-wing gun nut) I’ve always wanted to see. Or (speaking of wild things) Triassic Parq, an Off-Broadway musical that revisits the famous movie through the eyes of the dinosaurs. Or It’s Rabbit Night! a new show from the brilliantly eccentric Australian storyteller Jon Bennett. Or ThunderCATS, an original satire of the Lloyd Webber musical I’ve seen way too many times. “Queer disco talk shows” aren’t thick on the ground, even at the Fringe. NIUBOI has one; “Earth” gets the director credit for NIUBOI x Earth. I can’t even imagine that conversation….
Wait, there’s more…. Lots more. It’s time to set forth.