Toronto Fringe: Big wacky improv fun in ancient Trannah with Sex T-Rex in D&D Live!

Sean Tabares, David Hadley, Thomas Sharpe & Anonymous. Photo by Nicolas Melo.

 

Sex T-Rex is back at Toronto Fringe, this time with some Dungeons & Dragons-inspired improv fun with D&D Live! at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

Our imperious Dungeon Master invites you to his great aunt’s rec room for an evening of adventure and daring deeds in the ancient world of Trannah, as a group of intrepid heroes battle their way through horrible monsters, strange magic, debilitating injury and personal demons to achieve the fruit of their quest. Along the way, audience members will help decide their fate by rolling the die.

The epic ensemble includes Josef Addleman, Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Kyah Green, Ted Hambly, Liz Johnston, Isabel Kanaan, Stephanie Malek, Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray, Sean Tabares and Chris Wilson.

Will the stalwart band of adventurers end up in the Ruins of Forthright Ed’s, The Tomb of Eton (as we did last night), Fort Ork, Castle Ohma or in one of any other ancient Toronto-inspired locations? It’s a lot of big, wacky improv fun; full of silly antics and surprising twists as we cheer our heroes along their journey.

D&D Live! Continues in the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 15; check the show page for exact dates/times. This is an extremely popular company—and these guys sold out a late show on a Monday night—so book in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Toronto Fringe: Coming out in 1977 in the funny, touching Out

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Big Bappis is out and proud at Toronto Fringe, with its production of Greg Campbell’s one-man show Out, directed by Clinton Walker and running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

A coming out origin story, based largely on Campbell’s own experience as a teen in Montreal, we follow 17-year-old Glen as he embarks on his journey of self-discovery with friends Dmitri and Marco. Protesting Anita Bryant, seeing The Boys in the Band for the first time and dancing at their favourite gay club, Glen explores his sexuality, his dance moves and learns what it is to be queer in the late 70s. All the while, he’s closeted to his parents, who suspect something’s up, and his mother’s pleas to “tone it down” so as to not upset his father, who turns to the bottle in times of trouble and takes it out on her. And then, the penultimate coming out experience when Glen and his friends sign up for their gay youth group’s road trip to NYC Gay Pride Day, and Glen’s decision to come out to his folks.

Campbell is a charming and engaging storyteller, weaving cultural milestones with Glen’s personal anecdotes. And while this tale is full of sex, fun and music, he doesn’t shy away from the challenges Glen faces with his family, particularly his father. He gives Glen a lovely sense of wonder and exploration; a sensitive and curious young man, he fearlessly dives into new experiences and men despite the heartbreak and homophobia.

The magic of the movies. The power of disco. The wisdom of The Village People. Coming out in 1977 in the funny, touching Out.

Out has one more Fringe performance at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse: today (Sat, July 9) at 2:15; for ticket info and advance tickets, check out the Fringe website. Then, it’s off to the Toronto Centre for the Arts for Best of the Fringe, with performances on July 14, 16 and 23 (see the link for show times and tickets).

Toronto Fringe: Take a trip into the Underworld with the beautifully theatrical, sensuous & thought-provoking Persephone

persephone 2A well-known myth gets a new, feminist-inspired perspective at this year’s Toronto Fringe in Pencil Kit Productions’ lush, multi-disciplinary staging of Persephone. Directed by Claren Grosz and created collectively by the company, the show is currently running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

In this version of Persephone’s journey to the Underworld, we are shown several sides of the story – and everyone seems to have a different version. Love-struck Hades (Christopher Sawchyn) makes a request to Zeus (Felix Beauchamp) to arrange a marriage with his daughter Persephone (Sydney Herauf), but clearly no one checked in with her mother Demeter (Jacklyn Francis). Beside herself with worry as she searches for her beloved daughter, Demeter casts the world into winter in protest in an attempt to force Zeus’s hand and get Persephone back. In the end, though, it is Persephone who decides and enacts the terms of her release.

Using movement and dance that is both playful and erotic, as well as music and song – and with a delightful comedic introduction to the tale – the ensemble does a remarkable job with the storytelling. Herauf gives us a fulsome, well-rounded performance as Persephone; going from precocious, curious child to a strong-willed teen who questions authority, to a young woman discovering her own desires and choices as she navigates the decisions that were made for her. Sawchyn is imperious and seductive as Hades; and despite his commanding personality, he’s far more sensitive and accommodating than one would think. A lonely god, he seems to really want to get to know Persephone and cares about her welfare and happiness. This in contrast to Beauchamp’s cocky Zeus, who is decidedly more old-school patriarchy; with a laissez-faire attitude toward fatherhood, his power is absolute – but despite his arrogance, he’s not stupid and knows he must make a compromise with Demeter or the people will perish in the harsh conditions of her imposed winter. Francis is lovely, majestic and nurturing as Demeter (aka Mother Nature); in today’s terms, her parenting style would be called “helicopter,” and her fear for her daughter’s safety, while well-founded, is overly controlling at times. Afraid to let her daughter go and ferocious in her pursuit to get her back – you don’t wanna mess with Mother Nature.

Really nice work from the members of the chorus, who portray multiple characters, including trees and a river. Laura Katherine Hayes give a great turn as Persephone’s irreverent, playful friend and lover Diana; and Augusto Bitter and Fiona Haque do a lovely re-enactment of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale. Keshia Palm injects some fabulous sass; and Sheree Spencer brings mystery and some beautiful violin music.

With shouts to the design team: Sim Suzer (costume) and Kennedy Brooks (lighting) for their evocative work on this production.

Take a trip into the Underworld with the beautifully theatrical, sensuous and thought-provoking Persephone.

Persephone continues at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: The savagery of civilized society in sharply insightful, brutally funny God of Carnage

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Halo Productions brings biting social commentary to Toronto Fringe venue the Helen Gardiner Playhouse with Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Katherine Bignell.

When their 11-year-old son Henry is badly injured by stick-wielding playmate Benjamin, Veronica (Françoise Balthazar) and Michael (Mike Lummis) invite Benjamin’s parents Annette (Angela Froese) and Alan (Stephen Flett) to their home for a meeting about the severity of the situation. The initially civil discussion turns to heated debate, then to violent argument as the adults get caught up in their sons’ playground altercation and reveal their own deep-seated prejudices, neuroses and hypocrisy.

Set in Veronica and Michael’s living room – the minimalist set design all in red, including two vases of red tulips – it becomes clear that Veronica and Alan are the alphas of their respective pairings, while Michael and Annette defer to their spouses, even to the point of mirroring their opinions; but as the action continues, the true natures and attitudes of all are revealed.

The cast does a great job, transitioning from well-mannered and even legal language to insult and cursing as civil conversation turns into drunken living room brawl. Balthazar brings a crisp, fastidious sense of decorum to the highly educated, well-travelled Veronica; and her liberal thinking and good manners reveal an underlying self-righteousness and ferocity. Flett is suitably despicable as the no bullshit, wry-witted Alan; a lawyer attached to his cellphone as an important pharma client deals with the possibility of a drug recall, he puts his career first, but actually does have a heart under all that brutal honesty. Lummis’s Mike seems affable and caring enough at first, a modern-thinking man who eschews violence and is concerned for his son; he soon reveals himself to be a phoney, as his layers are peeled away to reveal a conservative, callous hypocrite with less than friendly opinions on marriage and children, as well as gender and race. And Froese does a lovely job with the mousy, nervous Annette; adrift and put-upon, she is seething underneath and actually mad as hell. Like Mike, she defers to her spouse till she can’t take it anymore – and erupts in a rant about the state of their lives before settling in to intoxicated bliss.

The savagery of modern civilized society in sharply insightful, brutally funny God of Carnage.

God of Carnage continues at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 9. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: A big gooey fun love letter to T.O. in Bad Dog Theatre’s Toronto, I Love You

torontoiloveyou1More comedy fun last night at Bad Dog Theatre Company’s Toronto, I Love You – directed by Julie Dumais Osborne and now playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse during Toronto Fringe.

Live and unscripted, the Bad Dog Repertory Players treat the audience to a night of improv, based on audience input. Last night, we were asked to give them a location in the city – a special, perhaps secret, place that we love and feel good in. From the audience: the bat cave at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – and it was both funny and surprising that, while most of the audience had been there, a majority of the players had not. From the players: the annual Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade and actor Jess Bryson’s backyard patio in Parkdale.

Off they went and created a series of interwoven scenes: an earnest young man’s love of the ROM turns critical when he is forced to make a difficult personal choice that would mean saving it from destruction; a woman who is extremely attached to her carved pumpkin finds herself attracted to a friendly neighbour and struggles to love a human being; and a Parkdale neighbourhood feud between ex-in-laws blossoms into attraction between the siblings of the divorced couple.

It was an awesome fun time!

Shouts to the players: Craig Anderson, Jess Bryson, Nick Di Gaetano, Kyle Dooley, Colin Munch (also appearing in Punch Up), Etan Muskat, Paloma Nunez, Evany Rosen, Hannah Spear, Sean Tabares and Anders Yates.

Toronto, I Love You is a big, fun gooey love letter to T.O.

The show continues at the Helen Gardiner until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times. Advance tix or lining up early highly recommended for this one too.

FYI: August 11-16, Bad Dog Theatre Company will be celebrating the opening week of its new space at Bloor/Ossington (875 Bloor St. West, above the post office). Go check these guys out – they do nightly shows, as well as classes.

Toronto Fringe: Karie Richards’ birdy – a moving & brave piece of storytelling

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Karie Richards – photo by Lesley Marino

I kicked off this year’s Toronto Fringe with a solo show: Karie Richards’ birdy … or how not to disappear at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre.

Directed by Jeff Culbert and created by Richards during a Playfinding Master Class with Daniel MacIvor at The Banff Centre, birdy is a brave and touching piece of storytelling.

Performing solo, on a naked stage and with no props, Richards speaks to us as “birdy,” an anxious and fragile – but extremely positive and empathetic – woman who longs to do good for, and make connections with, others. As birdy struggles to calm her inner turmoil, her lightness of voice and presence is both soothing and eerie, her smile at times masking deep anger and confusion about the callousness of the world around her.

While birdy’s take on life is very specific to her situation, we can all relate to how she feels. Featuring a lovely a cappella performance of the song “Come to Me,” written by Casey Hurt, and stories from childhood memory and daily life, birdy is moving piece of storytelling – powerful in its fragility and strong in its vulnerability.

birdy runs at the Helen Gardiner until July 13 – check the birdy page on the Toronto Fringe website for dates and times.

 

 

Toronto Fringe Festival – I’d also highly recommend…

Here are a few other Fringe shows I’ve seen and would recommend:

Radio:30 – I missed the original run of this show (1999) and was so glad to catch it this time around, thanks to the suggestion from Alumnae Theatre pal Brenda Somers as we met up over brunch last Friday. Chris Earle may be older, but he’s still got game. This play is hilariously funny and remarkably poignant at the same time. Running at the Tarragon Main Space.

Peter ‘n Chris Explore Their Bodies – Peter and Chris come highly recommended by – pretty much everyone – so I very happily accepted my pal Kat Leonard’s offer to get advance tickets to see this show. Sketch comedy meets hysterical storytelling, as Peter and Chris go on a journey inside Chris’s body to take on an unknown enemy who has turned Chris into a hypochondriacal mess. Running at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

A Young Lady’s Guide to Vivisection – Had my pal Lizzie Violet and I at “vivisection.” A highly entertaining and informative look at female medical students taking part in the first co-ed program at Queen’s University. Energetic, fun ensemble cast – love the cross-casting of female actors playing male characters and one male actor playing a female character. Running at Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre.

Still looking to get out to more shows this week, so I’ll be back with further Fringing adventures soon.