Toronto Fringe: A powerful, intimate, darkly funny examination of the nature of art & personal validation in Bakersfield Mist

ytheatre Collective explores the nature of art and the human need for validation in its powerful, intimate and darkly funny Toronto Fringe production of Stephen Sachs’ Bakersfield Mist, directed by David Eden and running in the Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church Chapel Room.

Based on the true story of Teri Horton and a thrift shop find, Bakersfield Mist takes us to the trailer park home of bartender Maude Gutman (Marie Carriere Gleason) and her meeting with renowned New York art historian Lionel Percy (Thomas Gough), who’s been tasked with authenticating a painting Maude found in a thrift store.

What’s interesting about Maude’s dogged determination to have this work verified as an important American Master work is that it’s not about the money—it’s about the validation. She is deeply concerned about authenticity and personal validation; and this is something she has in common with Lionel, whose stringent standards of professionalism and honesty are the hallmarks of his work.

Hard-drinking, tough-talking and down-home friendly, Maude is the polar opposite of the sharp-pressed, formal and aloof Lionel—but as their meeting continues, they learn they have more in common than they could have ever imagined in that they are both fastidious, proud, stubborn—and haunted and troubled.

What makes art—and people—important? And who is to judge?

Bakersfield Mist continues in the Trinity-St. Paul’s Chapel until July 13; check the show page for exact dates/times.

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Toronto Fringe: Delightful fable-inspired storytelling in magical, thoughtful Curious Contagious

curious_contagious_picture_2I first saw Vancouver’s Mind of a Snail perform Against Gravity two years ago at SummerWorks – and loved it – so I was excited to see that they were coming to Toronto Fringe this year to perform Curious Contagious in the Factory Theatre Mainspace. I caught their opening show yesterday afternoon. Mind of a Snail is Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner.

Curious Contagious is a surreal, fable-inspired tale of a virus’s journey through a unicorn’s body. *SPOILER ALERT* Unicorn dreams of building a Donut Palace and just as the dream appears to be realized, construction is delayed when Unicorn contracts a puzzling illness after being bitten by an Amphibian on the build site. The virus’s life inside Unicorn is almost a play within the play, and includes entertaining narration courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood Arrow. Unicorn visits the Doctor, but traditional medicine cannot stop the virus, so the Doctor must resort to surgery – and Unicorn loses its horn. In an interesting moment of discovery, Amphibian introduces Unicorn to a mysterious, shaman-like Creature who lives underground at the building site and who now has possession of Unicorn’s horn. The Creature strikes a bargain with Unicorn to give the horn back – and the Unicorn must choose between its dream of building a business and its most beloved body part.

A beautiful and inspiring piece of visual storytelling, Curious Contagious uses shadow puppetry, live action movement and original music; and is suitable for all ages and accessible for non-English speakers. Gabriel and Ziner’s work is innovative and engaging, featuring quirky fun performances and mad puppetry skills. Part art, part theatre and part infotainment, it’s a thought-provoking commentary on viral illness and environmental responsibility.

Delightful fable-inspired storytelling with an environmentally friendly sensibility in magical, thoughtful Curious Contagious.

Curious Contagious continues at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

SummerWorks: Big satirical fun with corporate branding & conspiracy in Tough Guy Mountain: a play

ToughGuyMountainaplay-400x533When I go to the Factory Theatre courtyard box office to pick up a program for the SummerWorks production of Tough Guy Mountain: a play, I’m directed to a stack of pink and white tri-fold brochures. Designed as an Intern Initiation Manual, the document includes illustrations of all of Tough Guy Mountain’s (aka TGM) key corporate players – executives, assistants and interns – along with brief descriptions. It’s a workplace field guide.

Written and directed by Iain Soder, with music by Rory Maclellan, Tough Guy Mountain: a play is set in the headquarters of “an extra-dimensional corporation that creates and manages premium quality brands.”  The futuristic pre-show music serves as a soundtrack, accompanying pre-recorded informational sound bites about the company and being a good intern. The show also incorporates projection with computer animation and live action (especially effective, and hysterically funny, with Holographic Kyle, played by Cale Weir), music numbers and even a dance break or two.

It’s Lisa’s (Jessica Brown) first day as an unpaid intern at TGM and, like Alice through the looking glass, she enters a strange new world of interesting and eccentric corporate entities. And manages to discover a conspiracy against art, finding herself forced to take action to save what’s important to her.

Really nice work from the cast in this fast-paced, crazy look at corporate branding and conspiracy. Brown shines as the wide-eyed, eager and ambitious Lisa, a plucky young intern who is clearly nobody’s fool. Other stand-outs include Elizabeth Johnston as the hilarious sharp-tongued dragon lady Queenie Empress; Jonathan Carroll as the neurotic and impulsive exec Joan Popular; and writer/director Soder’s slick, arrogant Ivan Phone. And big LOLs from William James Kasurak as the driven, robot-like Intern Phil; Sam Roberts as the obsessively committed Intern Stan; and Cat Bluemke as Beige Cathy, the perfectly efficient, deadpan executive assistant with a glare so withering, she doesn’t need to say a word. Shouts to Inez Genereux (TGM’s fashionable, artsy client) and Atleigh Homma (the precocious and sassy Holographic Lisa).

And shouts to graphic designer Bluemke for the most innovative program design I’ve seen.

It’s big satirical fun with corporate branding and conspiracy in Tough Guy Mountain: a play.

Tough Guy Mountain: a play continues at the Factory Theatre Studio until Aug 16 – check here for their scheduling.