Two great shows at Best of Toronto Fringe: Tales of Whoa! & Stop Kiss

Very happy to say that I’m managing to get out to see some shows at The Best of Toronto Fringe up at the Toronto Centre for the Arts this year, including two last night:

Not Bad Abe Productions’ Tales of Whoa!, written by the company and directed by Ken Hall, was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys as the audience went on a big, wacky, sketch comedy adventure into the titular board game.

Ensemble cast Leigh Cameron, Lara Johnson, Kyle Scott and Stuart Vaughan served up some side-splitting good times as a couple of pals get sucked into the game, encountering two crazy characters, then becoming part of the game/various characters themselves in the process. Think Jumanji meets Titanic meets sketch comedy meets gaming.

Personal highlights: a young man on a hot date has to divulge an unusual condition to his prospective partner; the shaky old lady on the subway who refuses a seat and creates havoc among fellow passengers; and an argument between drug store co-workers turns ugly and hilarity ensues when an aisle-clearing brawl breaks out, with interesting weaponry (especially loved the use of the Star Trek fight soundtrack in this scene).

Big laughs delivered with big heart. Tales of Whoa! finished its run at The Best of Toronto Fringe last night, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for these guys.

I also saw Gun Shy Theatre’s production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss, for a second time, last night – and I enjoyed it just as much. A very strong, moving, sweet (and funny) production of a great play. Been bugging Alumnae Theatre peeps to take a look at doing this one. If you missed my earlier bloggage on Stop Kiss, you can check it out here. With thanks to MC Thompson for inviting me along on her comps for these two amazing shows!

Will be back out tonight to see the closing night of Jessica Moss’s Polly Polly, which was so popular during its Toronto Fringe run, that I wasn’t able to get in to see it. Back soon with thoughts on this one-woman hit show.

Choosing to collide in love – Stop Kiss

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Stop Kiss program – Left to right: Kate Ziegler & Melissa Hood (photo by Shaun Bensen)

Saw Gun Shy Theatre’s Toronto Fringe production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss at the Tarragon Main Space last night. Directed by Shaun Bensen, and featuring a stand-out cast, it’s a play I was familiar with, but only on the page. And I was very glad to have gone out to see it.

Set in present day New York City, Stop Kiss reveals the evolution of the relationship between two young women, who start out as the friend of a friend of a friend, then become friends and more, their love put to the test when violence shatters a beautiful moment.

Bright-eyed and fresh off the plane from St. Louis, teacher Sara (Kate Ziegler) and jaded, long-time NYC resident and traffic reporter Callie (Melissa Hood) at first appear to be polar opposites, but find they have more in common than they first thought. And you know what they say about opposites.

Benson has a lovely cast for this production. Leads Hood and Ziegler do an especially good job with Callie and Sara’s unfolding attraction, bringing humour, conflict and sexual tension – not to mention the excited nervousness of entering strange new romantic territory – with nuance and honesty. And when that relationship is threatened by violence and misunderstanding, both fight and persevere – in scenes that are both infuriating and heartbreaking to watch. Can love really be stronger than fear? Callie, especially, finds herself having to choose between facing situations head-on or swerving to avoid them.

Fantastic work from the supporting cast. As the men in Callie and Sara’s lives, Stefano DiMatteo’s George (Callie’s friend with benefits) is a loveable guy’s guy from the block and Mark Paci’s Peter (Sara’s ex from St. Louis) is a stand-up, loyal, if not misguided, friend. Anthony Ulc brings a nice combo of hard-nosed warmth to Detective Cole; Trish Adams is delightfully kooky as witness Mrs. Winsley; and Ronnie Rowe’s nurse is the affable professional you want on your side.

This production is nicely staged for the time and space shifts, with minimal set, and the sound design incorporates ambient city sounds, pop music and moments of the attack, which we never see. And the ending… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Stop Kiss continues its Fringe run at the Tarragon Main Space until Sunday, July 14. Click here for the date/time details.