Toronto Fringe: Calling out manipulative sales in the quirky, edgy, razor sharp Everyone Wants A T-Shirt!

Brittany Miranda, John Wamsley, Charlin McIsaac & Madeleine Brown. Photo by Graham Isador.

 

Has a slogan or statement on a product ever made you want to change your life?

Prairie Fire, Please explores the impact of—and calls bullshit on—corporate manipulation of our heart strings in Madeleine Brown’s Everyone Wants A T-Shirt! Directed by Aaron Jan, assisted by Anthony Tran, the satirical, thought-provoking piece is running in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace for Toronto Fringe.

Beatrice Little (Brittany Miranda) and her partner (John Wamsley) need funding to grow Potatogram, their innovative, new messaging business. When Bea’s pitch is turned down by a local shopping mall business maven (Charlin McIsaac), a chance meeting with a former university classmate (Madeleine Brown) offers an opportunity to earn some money in a hot new business: selling products emblazoned with the statement “Women Rule The World”.

Faced with unfriendly responses to her sales pitches, zero sales and competition from a fiercely ambitious colleague (Wamsley), Bea realizes that selling t-shirts isn’t as easy as she thought and finds herself manipulating women so she can meet her weekly sales quota. And what’s that mystery influencer dude on the scooter (Wamsley) up to?

Edgy, quirky and insightful, Brown’s intelligent, darkly funny script plays devil’s advocate on the pyramid scheme sales model, manipulative sales relationships and commercialized feminism; and calls out systemic racism-induced barriers and the cult of celebrity. The sharp, entertaining cast is more than up for the challenge, with Brown, McIsaac and Wamsley shifting deftly between multiple hilarious characters; and Miranda juggling Bea’s journey through the insanely competitive world of the independent retailer (IR), all while trying to keep her primary partnership and business alive. As Bea confronts the dishonesty of it all, she’s got some serious prioritizing and hard choices ahead of her. Can a slogan on a t-shirt be the catalyst for real change—or is it just a way for some corporate entity to make money off our hopes and dreams?

Everyone Wants A T-Shirt! continues in the TPM Backspace until July 14; check the show page for exact dates/times. These guys are selling out—including last night’s 10 p.m. performance—plus it’s an intimate space, so booking ahead is a really good idea.

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Toronto Fringe: Unapologetically unapologetic in the hilarious, sharp Madeleine Says Sorry

Prairie Fire, Please presents an absurd, satirical debate on something we Canadians are famous for: saying “Sorry.” Directed by Aaron Jan, Madeleine Brown’s Madeleine Says Sorry is currently running in the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace as part of Toronto Fringe.

Struggling actor Madeleine (Madeleine Brown) takes professional resentment too far when she kidnaps a dog, then nearly kills it. Now under house arrest, she must attend a session at a special clinic, where Tony (Anthony Perpuse) will coach, craft and assess her apology to the wronged canine.

Hilarity ensues when things don’t go as Tony planned—and a battle of wits gets physical.

Brown and Perpuse are perfectly matched for this rapid-fire, often self-deprecating and satirical trip. Brown’s Madeleine is delightfully unashamed and entitled in her single-mindedness; self-absorbed and lacking in empathy, with her lizard brain ruling her actions. As Tony, Perpuse is hilariously type-A and anal; a reformed bad boy turned scientist entrepreneur clinician, he’s also a super enthusiastic fanboy of David Suzuki.

Can empathy be learned? Can science measure the sincerity of an apology? And can public apologies truly be genuine? One thing’s for certain; that’s the biggest David Suzuki head shot you’ve ever seen.

Unapologetically unapologetic; sorry seems to be the hardest word in the hilarious, sharp Madeleine Says Sorry.

Madeleine Says Sorry continues in the TPM Backspace until July 16; check here for dates/times and advance tickets.

Boys to men in raw, darkly funny & thoughtful look at losing, friendship & fundraising in Rowing

Courtney Keir, Madeleine Brown & Andrew Markowiak in Rowing - photo by Jordan Laffrenier
Courtney Keir, Madeleine Brown & Andrew Markowiak in Rowing – photo by Jordan Laffrenier

Went to a new, alternative rehearsal/performance venue last night to see the opening of Then They Fight’s production of Aaron Jan’s Rowing (directed by Jan) last night at The Fort Studios (1425 Yonge St.).

Despondent, enraged, frustrated and humiliated over a loss, the four young men of the Westdale rowing team sit in their shared hotel room in St. Catharines, solitary and silent. Rock music plays and a banner droops on the wall. All the beer and Springsteen in the world cannot soothe their collective and individual agony. What was to be a post-Henley race celebration/birthday party and Heart & Stroke fundraising event has become a poorly attended wake for the team – and their lives. And as the questions, blame and anger swirl, destruction and chaos ensue.

Really nice work from the cast in this exploration of manhood and success. Crew captain Mark (Zach Parkhurst) is explosive in his rage, mortified that he and the team have failed to continue his proud family legacy and shaming his inherited position on the team – and he’s broiling with thoughts of revenge. The oldest member of the crew, Howie (Drew O’Hara) is about to age out at 26, and has been holding out huge hopes that his five years of blood, sweat and tears on the team would amount to something; the good looking one on the crew, he’s pissed off big time – horny, drunk and looking for some consolation release as he paces the room like a caged animal. The small, home-schooled and child-like Jake (Madeleine Brown) is the crew’s birthday boy; a timid, curious and bright introvert, he’s desperate for his father’s pride and approval as he undertakes a fundraising drive to save the local HSF branch that his father runs. Trying to keep it all together is coxswain Rick (Andrew Markowiak), recently dumped by his girlfriend Clara (Courtney Keir, who brings a driven, grown-up and proactive quality), who’s left him for an older, more mature guy; he’s lost, desperate and out to prove his maturity to win her back.

Add to the mix former crew mate Chris (Lauren Griffiths), a ballsy, brave and direct – sometimes brutally – young woman who moved to Toronto and joined a rival team, but whose heart draws her back to the Westdale crew; and Wyatt (Francois MacDonald), the icy tough, street smart leader of a Toronto crew of young offenders who has a serious beef with Westdale – and the Westdale team must get their shit together, make some choices and take action.

The four Westdale crew mates are each struggling in his own way with preconceived notions of adulthood, success and what it means to be – and what constitutes – a man. The Hamilton they live in is so different than the Hamilton their well-off parents knew – a depressed economy and a downtown core that’s become a ghost town, there is not a lot of hope to be had in their environment. Friendship and loyalties are put to the test – and all are faced with the choice to continue on their present course or turn it around for the better.

Boys to men in this raw, darkly funny and thoughtful look at losing, friendship and fundraising in Rowing.

Rowing continues at The Fort until Oct 17; it’s an intimate space with limited seating, so advance booking strongly recommended (also see the tix link for exact dates/times).

Please note: Although The Fort’s address is 1425 Yonge St. (Yonge/St. Clair E.), the entrance is on St. Clair E., on the south side, between the McDonald’s and 1 St. Clair E. – look out for the signs and the peeps with the oars who will be happy to guide you along your way.

Love, death and the magic of the theatre in wistful, otherworldly then, then.

Jonathan Walls & Nicholas Surges in then, then. - photo by Jonathan Harvey
Jonathan Walls & Nicholas Surges in then, then. – photo by Jonathan Harvey

A community theatre becomes more than an artistic refuge in Messy Kween Collective’s premiere of Kyle Capstick’s then, then. – directed by Evan Harkai and running at Majlis Art Garden (163 Walnut Avenue).

Part indoors/part outdoors, Majlis Art Garden is a magical place all on its own – and it’s been transformed into a community theatre space for then, then., with audience placed along two sides of the playing area (onstage and off) and the house tented along the sides with white silky fabric, reminiscent of a parachute, and a protective tarp above. The sounds of Billie Holiday fill the space during the pre-show, as our eyes adjust to the fading natural light around us.

As then, then. unfolds, a rehearsal for a new play about a pair of star-crossed lovers becomes a backdrop for personal exploration and revelations as the players practice their craft and explore their inner demons and desires amidst the intermittent, menacing noise of aircraft above. The vintage pop music and sounds of planes overhead (identified as “friendly” or “enemy”), coupled with the costuming (40s for the actors within the play, using Elizabethan costumes for the play they’re rehearsing) give a WWII flavour, but there’s an otherworldly, alternate universe quality to the play that defies time and place. The effect is a curious combination of disorienting and fascinating, and places the focus on the characters, and their memories and responses to events they witness and in which they participate.

Lovely work from the cast in this raw, visceral work – each tapping into his/her vulnerability to bring heart-on-sleeve emotions to the fore. As the company’s director Jack, Jamie Johnson gives a kind, gentle performance; extremely protective of the group, especially his young nephew and ward Brian, Jack soldiers on despite feeling his age as he struggles with his own fears – of safety and of being too old for love. Madeleine Brown is adorably rambunctious as the bright, imaginative, plane-loving Brian; he notices and understands things beyond his years, and reveals them with the earnest frankness of a child. Karie Richards gives a compelling performance as Miriam, a woman of a certain age, and intimidating in her seriousness and professionalism; possessing of a quick, wry wit, she doesn’t suffer fools (or ingenues) gladly, and she has the haunted edge of loss about her, concealing a big heart. Is it just her youth she mourns or is there something else?

Michelle Lewis is lovely as the ingenue Abigail; playful, even coquettish, she is a girl on the verge of womanhood, full of spunk and longing, with an enormous curiosity about love and death. As the young male lead Chris, Jonathan Walls brings a great sense of inner conflict and frustration; undone over a stage kiss that misses the mark, he struggles with a heaviness he can’t put his finger on – and one gets the feeling that he’ll jump out of his skin if he can’t sort things out. As Paul, Nicholas Surges gives us a nuanced performance as a young man who takes in a lot as he watches from the wings; he feels much and uses his sharp, mocking sense of humour to cover his feelings – and it appears he’s secretly in love with one of his colleagues.

With shouts to the designers: Johnny Cann (sound and lighting) and Lindsay Dagger Junkin (costumes) for their beautiful work in creating this world.

Love, death and the magic of the theatre as a company of players mines emotion to uncover individual tragedies in the wistful, otherworldly then, then.

then, then. continues at Majlis Art Garden until September 27; click here for advance tickets.

Photography by Jonathan Harvey