Toronto Fringe: Telling stories in the darkly funny, quirky, satirical News Play

Clockwise from bottom: Andrew Cromwell, Rouvan Silogix, Greg Solomon, Madeleine Brown & Charlin McIsaac. Photo by Graham Isador.


Theatre ARTaud and Lal Mirch Productions, in association with Prairie Fire, Please give us a dark satirical look at storytelling and journalism in Madeleine Brown’s sharply funny, quirky, edgy News Play, directed by Aaron Jan and running at the Annex Theatre.

Brother and sister children’s book team, illustrator Phoebus (Greg Solomon) and writer Joy (Charlin McIsaac), have hit a wall in their career; the fire woman superhero featured in their books is scaring kids and making them feel bad about themselves. When they return to their hometown Peterborough to visit their cousin Winny (Madeleine Brown), a troubled pyromaniac since the death of her parents in a fire when they were all kids—and the inspiration for their work—they find themselves suddenly becoming journalists. Winny’s recent fire escapade accidentally killed two Peterborough Examiner reporters, and Editor in Chief Art (Andrew Cromwell), former classmate and school bully, blackmails them into working for him in exchange for not suing Winny. The goal: sell 100 papers.

The siblings’ first assignment is producing an exciting piece about a local natural landmark—a big rock. They strike gold when Winny injures her hand while punching it, spinning the event into a story of significant bravery and resilience, while also making the town’s “crazy fire girl” look good in the media. This inspires local charity organizer Lyle (Rouvan Silogix) into inviting Winny to be the torch putter-outer at an upcoming event supporting those who’ve soldiered through personal injury.

Things go from crazy to bad to worse when Joy decides to take things to the next level. How far will she go for subject matter that people will want to read? Will her relationship with her brother, who’s against her increasingly extreme methods, be the same? And will their cousin Winny survive it all?

Great work from the cast is this sharp satirical trip. McIsaac and Solomon are great foils as the positive, cheerful Joy and the cynical, edgy Phoebus. Brown gives a lovely vulnerable performance as the shy, awkward Winny, who really does have reserves of strength that largely go unnoticed; still living in a town where everyone thinks she’s crazy, Winny perseveres because it’s her home. Cromwell plays the edge of menacing bully and charming manipulator as Art; you can tell immediately that Art was the school bully, and he’s desperate and amoral enough to go along with whatever scheme will sell newspapers. And Silogix gives lovely comic turns as the clueless, enthusiastic charity organizer Lyle and the gruff Greyhound bus driver.

Telling stories, making up stories and reporting stories—sometimes, they can overlap and get all mixed up. Are we fetishizing personal injury in our news media and charities? And is fake news, however small and local, ever harmless?

News Play continues at the Annex Theatre until July 13; check the show page for exact dates/times and advance tickets.

Toronto Fringe: Boy meets girl in three variations in entertaining, thoughtful Meet Cute

tumblr_np8mf5mfiO1uqj540o1_1280Another brilliant two-hander at Toronto Fringe is Erin Norah Thompson Entertainment and V.TAV Productions’ Meet Cute, written by Thompson, and directed by (in order of scene appearance) Ria Tienhaara, Julie Cohn and Adrianna Prosser – running at the Annex Theatre.

It’s a boy-meets-girl story, but differs in the telling, as we see the same scene played out in three very different ways (each with its own director).

Starring Thompson and Jesse Bond, each get to play the aggressor and the object of desire, and an adorably awkward unfolding of mutual affection. (And I’m not telling you anything that isn’t in the Fringe program.) Behaviour and communication are perceived in very different ways – good intentions or otherwise – depending on how these are received. This would be a great workshop piece on issues of consent for high school and post-secondary students.

Excellent work from Thompson and Bond, playing very different versions of their characters in each scene – and finding that line between creepy and endearing.
A guy and a girl meet at a bus stop in three remarkably different variations of the same script in the entertaining and thoughtful Meet Cute.

Meet Cute has two more performances at the Annex: July 10 at 4:00 p.m. and July 11 at 2:15 p.m. If you haven’t booked in advance, I’d advise getting to the venue early.

Toronto Fringe: A smart, funny & thoughtful look at our attachment to social media in Gavin Crawford: “Friend” “Like” #Me

gavin_crawford_friend_like_me-web-250x250It was a day of solo shows at Toronto Fringe yesterday, starting with Gavin Crawford: “Friend” “Like” #Me, written by Crawford and Kyle Tingley, and directed by Tingley – running at the Annex Theatre.

YouTube. Facebook. Twitter. Cellphones. We sure are attached to our social media platforms and mobile devices – often emotionally so.

A master of voice disguise and dialect, his face morphing as he changes character, Crawford is a hilariously funny and engaging storyteller. From the annoying, know-it-all arts critic to the hipster upspeak Shakespeare recitation to the straight guy in the bar just trying to sort it all out, Crawford serves up some astute observations about the ever evolving nature of language and the methods we use to communicate – all with a large helping of LOL. And the t-shirt he wears for this performance is purrfect! (You’ll have to go see it for yourself – ‘cuz I ain’t no spoiler.)

Gavin Crawford: “Friend” “Like” #Me is a smart, funny and thoughtful look at our attachment to devices and social media – and how we relate to each other.

Gavin Crawford: “Friend” “Like” #Me runs at the Annex Theatre until July 9; see the show’s Fringe page for dates/times. The house was packed last night, so advance booking strongly recommended. In the meantime, give Gavin Crawford a follow on the Twitter.

Toronto Fringe: Danger, romance & chimps in Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

adventures_of_a_redheaded_coffeeshop_girl-web-250x250The adventures of our favourite coffeeshop girl continue in Rebecca Perry’s Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, directed by Matt Bernard and running now at the Annex Theatre for Toronto Fringe.

When last we saw our intrepid Joanie Little (in Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl – and you needed have seen this to join in the fun of Adventures of a…), she’d just found the man (Marco) and job (interning with Dr. Jane Goodall) of her dreams. Bad news: the dream job is located at the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania!

Trekking from the urban jungle of Toronto to the actual jungle in Gombe National Park, Joanie joins Goodall, and other interns and staff, to study chimps in the wild and assist with preparing the sanctuary chimps for the wild. In addition to the challenges of the work and conditions, and navigating a long-distance relationship, being a pale-skinned, redhead has its own difficulties – and our feisty gal isn’t always sure she’s up to it. But if you didn’t know it already, you’ll soon learn that there’s nothing small about Joanie Little.

Masterfully shifting between multiple characters and dialects – including Goodall; Joanie’s male Scottish tent mate, also a redhead; and the African park security chief – Perry incorporates music (with live sound cues signalling character changes) and storytelling to take us on an entertaining and moving ride. And, just as she gave her human coffeeshop patrons animal attributes as she studied them from behind the counter in Confessions of a…, she anthropomorphizes her chimp charges, and discovers an interesting emerging dynamic between the dog-like Fetch and sanctuary tenant Cora.

Also a lovely crooner, Perry can serenade like nobody’s business, charming the sold out house with standards and Celtic roots-inspired ballads, accompanied by Da-Rell Clifton on percussion and Quinton Naughton on keys. Her performance of “Caledonia” is particularly beautiful and heart-wrenching.

With shouts to set/props designer Claire Hill and costume designer/makeup artist Ellie Mac.

Rebecca Perry has done it again, this time giving us danger, romance and chimps in Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl. Joanie Little is an anthropological warrior princess!

Perry is remounting Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl at Brampton’s Rose Theatre July 9-11, then taking that show to Edinburgh Fringe. You can support her efforts by purchasing a CD of songs from Confessions and Adventures, and more – available after each Fringe performance or on Bandcamp.

Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl runs at the Annex Theatre until July 12; check here for dates/times. Definitely pre-book your tix for this one – last night was sold out and it’s sure to sell out again.

You can also follow the Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Toronto Fringe: A moving, entertaining & eye-opening look at LGBT life in Salvador

salvador.web_-250x250Living in Canada, it can be easy to take our rights and freedoms for granted, and sometimes we need to be reminded that people in other countries are still struggling and fighting – and this is especially true for the LGBT community.

Salvador, written by Rafael Antonio Renderos and directed by Sam Graham, is one such reminder – on now at Toronto Fringe. A Young Man (Renderos) travels to his family’s homeland, El Salvador, to research gay rights violations. There, he interviews Joaquín Caceres (Jamie Johnson), an HIV+ gay man, human rights/LGBT activist and founder of Asociacíon Entre Amigos, and he learns of the history of horrors and routine rights violations suffered by LGBT people, all the while repressing his exuberant gay self.

Appearing throughout the play is the Spirit (Jaime Hernandez-Lujan), a stunningly beautiful and vivacious drag queen. Through verbatim theatre (the interview), storytelling and drag performance, the journey unfolds as the Young Man corresponds with his lover back home in Toronto. And he ends up learning much more than he expected – mainly, about himself.

Renderos is beautifully idealistic, curious and open-hearted as the Young Man, struggling with his own sexual and gender identity even as he hears about Joaquin’s fight. Johnson gives Joaquin a strong sense of passion and drive, tempered with good-humour and warmth; this is a good man risking his life in the fight for human rights. Hernandez-Lujan (also known as drag performer Lucinda Miu) gives a lovely performance as the Spirit, going from flirtatious, entertaining and whimsical to tender and melancholy throughout her various numbers, as she plays various characters, including Joaquin’s mother. It is as if the Spirit is the Young Man’s true self come to life – and when he puts his own internal repression and fear aside, he lip syncs and dances with such release and joy that I couldn’t help but be brought to tears.

Salvador is a moving, entertaining and eye-opening story of LGBT cultural and self-discovery.

The show continues at the Annex Theatre until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times.

Toronto Fringe: Brave, sexy & frank talk about women’s joy of sex in Slut

slut_poster_image-7968Beer in a Glass Productions’ presents Erin Thompson’s Slut, directed by Dahlia Katz and running at the Annex Theatre as part of Toronto Fringe. Not used in a pejorative way, the “slut” in the title is used thematically – it’s one of the labels used to describe women who enjoy sex – and we get to meet and hear the experiences of such women throughout the course of Thompson’s one-woman show.

Based on real-life events, and using elements of ritual, mythology, storytelling, movement (with choreography by Ayesha Mansur) and song, Thompson plays key character Diana, who reveals the various women to us. A five-year-old who enjoys the forbidden game of showing her vagina in exchange for her best friend showing his penis; a painfully shy and hopeful teen; a party girl world of one-night stands, a taste for dirty talk and kink; a woman who wants to have a baby and settle down with her own kind of chosen family.

Accompanied by Apollo (Robert Steven Wilkinson) on keyboard and vocals, Slut features original songs written by Thompson and Wilkinson, highlighting each woman’s life experiences, and choices to love and express love. Thompson’s performance is deeply human, open, honest and entertaining – engaging the audience and gently challenging preconceived notions and stereotypes. And maybe even evoking understanding and acceptance.

Slut is a brave, sexy and frank one-woman history of women’s joy of sex.

The show continues at the Annex until July 12 – check here for exact dates/times. Advance tix or lining up early highly recommended.