Toronto Fringe: Channeling Diamond and Bowie to tame the beast in entertaining, uplifting Kneel! Diamond Dogs

Kneel Diamond Dogs splitThe music of two pop icons collides in mikeylikesit productions’ one-man music battle extravaganza Kneel! Diamond Dogs, starring Michael Posthumus and directed by Rosemary Doyle, and running during Toronto Fringe in the Tarragon Theatre Extraspace.

Damon MacHavoc (Michael Posthumus) is an emotionally troubled young man who can’t seem to leave the house. Haunted by dreams of a beast, he awakens to a voice – and that voice is Neil Diamond. And he becomes that voice. Things start to turn around for Damon. He gradually makes it out into the world, drawn to the local karaoke bar, where he feels compelled to sing and becomes a regular favourite. He moves out of his parents’ house, gets a job at a record store and meets the lovely Chloe. Then, without warning, another voice: David Bowie. Now home to two conflicting alter egos, Damon becomes the battle ground for the ultimate Yin vs. Yang, no holds barred sing-off battle for ultimate supremacy.

Posthumus gives a remarkable, high-energy performance, with bang-on impersonations – both vocally and physically – and even throws in a special surprise guest. Channeling both “Everyman turned up to 11” Diamond and the strange glitter chameleon Bowie, he gets every inflection, every rasp, every phrase just right.

And while one might debate as to whether Diamond jumped the shark with “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” we can all agree that music really does soothe the savage breast. I dare you to not sing along.

Channeling Diamond and Bowie to tame the beast in entertaining, uplifting Kneel! Diamond Dogs. See it now!

Kneel! Diamond Dogs continues at the Tarragon Extraspace until July 10. For ticket info and advance tickets/passes, check out the Fringe website.

Toronto Fringe: Beautiful, lyrical, engaging storytelling in Vanessa Smythe’s In Case We Disappear

in_case_we_disappear-web_1-250x250So many great storytellers at Toronto Fringe this year – and I was very excited to see Vanessa Smythe’s solo show In Case We Disappear at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space last night. I’d seen her perform excerpts of the show, and this was my first time seeing it in its entirety.

Standing with the microphone, Smythe tells us about the boy who made who love poetry, an imagined conversation with a guy at Shoeless Joe’s, her little brother’s grade 8 graduation and a drunken Facebook booty call, among others.

A present and engaging performer, Smythe weaves her words through spoken word rhythms and sing song musical stylings, taking the audience right along with her. We forget that that one story was an imagined conversation. And we cry with joy over her big sister’s pride and support – and with how it’s always a little bittersweet when the young people in our lives grow up. (Or is that just me?) My point is – Smythe’s words affect you. Deeply. The stories resonate, inspire and move – and make you laugh.

Part spoken word, part storytelling, In Case We Disappear is a poignant and fun collection of stories, and a beautiful, lyrical and genuine performance from Vanessa Smythe.

In Case We Disappear is another show that’s set to head to Edinburgh Fringe. The show has two more performances in Toronto Fringe: July 10 at 12:00 p.m. and July 11 at 1:45 p.m. It was sold out last night, so book ahead for this one.

Toronto Fringe: Moving account of a shameful piece of history in Man’s Dominion

mans_dominion-web-250x250My first show at Toronto Fringe yesterday was a recent addition to my schedule, as I arrived early at the Tarragon Theatre [link] Extraspace to get a ticket at the door for LA-based Pachyderm Productions’ Man’s Dominion, written by David Castro and directed by Dennis Neal.

I’d first learned about Man’s Dominion while standing in line at the Tarragon for another show on Sunday night, as Castro was chatting up the show and handing out flyers – and this was no drive-by flyering – he took time and really engaged with people. Coincidentally, actor Tim Powell was one of the Fringe guests on Radio Regent’s Stage Left the next day, where I was co-hosting with host MC Thompson – giving me a chance to meet him and hear about the show.

Man’s Dominion is a one-man piece of history storytelling that features the voices of 10 eyewitnesses of the 1916 lynching of a circus elephant in Erwin, Tennessee. Yes, you read that right. The people of Erwin lynched an elephant. Her name was Mary, and she was condemned to death for killing her trainer, Red Eldridge, who was on his second day on the job. The crowd, already shouting for blood, had their righteous indignation fuelled by Rev. George McKee, who quoted from Genesis 1:26, citing man’s God-given dominion over the animals.

Actor Tim Powell gives a powerful and thought-provoking performance, opening as Ringmaster and Sparks Circus owner Charlie Sparks, and finishing as Mary. Eldridge gets a say too, and it’s believed that it was his application of the bull hook that set Mary off. Deftly shifting from character to character, with diverse dialects, and social and cultural backgrounds, Powell shows us multiple points of view (which Castro has incorporated in such a way that we get a balanced overall account of what happened, leaving us to decide for ourselves whether the townsfolk did right). Hobo Joe (a clown) provides some much needed laughs, but with the dark edge and rough delivery of a hard-drinking, hard-working circus life. Rev. McKee is quiet and introspective on the outside, concealing a heart of fire and brimstone, and a mind full of harsh vengeance.

The most heartbreaking moments come when an Irish roustabout is ordered to put a chain (the noose) around Mary’s neck, and an elderly black baggage handler endures jeers of “This is what you get!” as Mary is unloaded at the train station, where an industrial crane will be her gallows. It is this man who points out the full quote from Genesis 1:26, highlighting how selective the religiously self-righteous can be with how they enact the words of scripture. And then Mary herself, who with dignity and honesty gives us her last words.

Man’s Dominion is a moving account of a shameful piece of history, with just the right amount of comic relief to make the senselessness bearable, and featuring a stellar solo performance from Powell.

Man’s Dominion continues at the Tarragon Extra Space, with just two more performances: July 10 at 8:00 p.m. and July 11 at 12:00 p.m. See this show while you can; these guys aren’t local and who can say if/when they’ll be back in T.O.

Toronto Fringe: A quirky fun two-hander hashes out life, love & show business in A Lesson in Gabby

a_lesson_in_gabby-web-250x317Last night, I was back at Tarragon Theatre, to the Extra Space this time, for Mark My Words-Ink’s Toronto Fringe production of A Lesson in Gabby, written by Labe Kagan and directed by Jacqui Burke.

Playwright Jerry Kessler aka Groucho (James Robert Woods) is famous – or, rather, infamous – for his offensive, but radically funny work; and he’s finding himself in a rut both personally and professionally. Stuck in the memory of failed marriages and past wives, he’s unable to disentangle himself from his ex Gabby. Enter his friend, real estate agent and amateur actor Melville (Stephen Flett), who he offers to write a monologue for so Melville can nail his next audition. Enter a parrot and the seed of a new project is born. Enter some transcendental practice and positive thinking – with some angels thrown in – and Groucho has an opportunity to extricate himself from said rut.

Really nice work from Woods and Flett, who manage the comedy nicely while keeping the humanity of the characters and avoiding getting too shticky with the material. Woods’ Groucho is a grumpy, manipulative, cheap and talented bastard, with a sweet guy under there somewhere. Flett’s Melville is Groucho’s wise-ass father confessor – and a pragmatic mensch who will not be trod upon.

A Lesson in Gabby is a quirky fun two-hander featuring some snappy dialogue between two middle-aged Jewish guys as they hash out life, love and show business.

A Lesson in Gabby continues at the Tarragon Extra Space until July 12; check here for exact dates/times.

Toronto Fringe: A complex relationship plays out randomly in Howland Company’s brilliant 52 Pick-up

52_pick-up.web_-250x250The Howland Company’s production of TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi’s 52 Pick-up, directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia, is a truly unique, moving and entertaining theatrical experience that audiences are loving at this year’s Toronto Fringe.

Part sharply written theatre and part improv, 52 Pick-up tells the story of one relationship, played out over 52 short scenes, all dictated by words or phrases written on a deck of playing cards. The actors throw the cards into the air, then randomly select one and play the scene – repeating until they’ve gone through the entire deck.

The show will never play the same way twice, partly because of how it’s structured and also due to the fact that the pair of actors changes with each show: Ruth Goodwin and Alex Crowther, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Kristen Zara, Hallie Seline and Cameron Laurie, and Paolo Santalucia and James Graham.

The performance I saw yesterday featured Seline and Laurie – and they were a joy to watch. The relationship has broken up and we see them play out scenes from their history as a couple. Seline is lovely and sassy as the world traveller girlfriend of the pair, delivering some awesome emotive punctuation at the end of each scene, carrying through the mood as she places the finished card into the box. Laurie is adorkably sweet in a Harry Potter sort of way (he wears glasses in this), a homebody and so perfectly his girlfriend’s opposite/complement. Both actors are engaging and truthful as the couple struggles through the relationship’s ups and downs. Try as they may to be good sports with the other’s foibles, baggage and divergent life goals/desires, the two eventually come to face the reality that the relationship is just not meant to be.

From their awkward first meeting, to sharing personal histories, to the chilly silences and curse-laden fights, we see the world of this relationship play out over the course of 75 minutes – and, as the scenes are drawn randomly, the relationship is not revealed in a chronological arc. And I love how it all begins and ends with “Tell me a story…”

52 Pick-up is a remarkable show – a brilliant concept with an outstanding cast.

The show continues its run at the Tarragon Extra Space until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times. Strongly suggest advance tix for this one, as it’s an extremely popular show that folks will likely try to see more than once.

Toronto Fringe: Hell hath no fury like these two women in Rarely Pure Theatre’s Valkyrie

valkyrie_.web_-250x250Rarely Pure Theatre has a reputation for producing dark, edgy and thought-provoking pieces – and its Toronto Fringe production of Thomas McKechnie’s Valkyrie, directed by Bruce Gooch, is no exception.

BFF gal pals Bradley (Monique Renaud) and Erin (Katie Ribout) have transformed themselves into knife-wielding, gun-toting, Krav Maga-practising avengers, Valkyries on the hunt to exact furious vengeance on faithless men who cheat on their wives. But their latest target (Spencer Robson) is markedly different from the others.

As the Valkyries, Renaud and Ribout are fierce and fearless, merciless in their violent pursuit of retribution. Renaud’s Bradley is like a pacing tigress waiting for the cage to be opened so she can gladly tear out the throat of her prey. Ribout’s Erin is the brains – the alpha, it turns out – of the operation, measured and calculating, and keeping her friend on a leash until it’s go time. Robson is devilishly charming, vulgar and dangerously seductive as their intended victim, whose presence has an unexpected effect.

In the face of such extreme violence – done in the name of justice, but really about personal empowerment – Valkyrie leaves questions:
Are the Valkyries in this play avenging angels or crazed pseudo-vigil antes?
Why does Erin agree to continue their project when it’s clear that Bradley could so easily lose her shit?
Does the punishment fit the crime?

Valkyrie is an intensely dark, raw and disturbing look at how far people will go to regain power and control over their lives.

Valkyrie continues at the Tarragon Extra Space until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times. I highly recommend purchasing your tix in advance, as last night’s show was jam-packed.


Toronto Fringe: Big wacky fun look at life, love & motherhood in Parallel Play

parallel_play23Caught some seriously funny sketch comedy goodness at Toronto Fringe yesterday – comic revue Parallel Play, written and performed by actors/stand-up comics Elvira Kurt and Megan Fahlenbock, and directed by Linda Kash – on now at the Tarragon Extra Space.

Kurt and Fahlenbock (who Fringe folks may remember from Mum and the Big C a couple of years ago), have created a hilariously frank and true-to-life look at the life of women, told through a series of comic scenes and one very funny song (written by Kash).

Highlights for me include the two grandmothers accompanying their grandchildren plus nannies to the playground; Kurt, the eastern European immigrant, and Fahlenbock, the duck-faced with lip collagen Rosedale matron, find common ground despite their cultural differences. Kurt totally nailed the dyke in the bathroom rant, as did Fahlenbock with the final word. And I really loved the brain (Kurt) and heart (Fahlenbock) scenes, book-ending the show nicely and highlighting life’s moments throughout.

With shouts to Lindsay Jenkins’ minimalist, but extremely effective, design.

Parallel Play is a big wacky fun look at birth, life, love, relationships and motherhood – played out by two very funny gals.

The show runs at the Tarragon Extra Space until July 13 – check here for exact dates/times.