Ottawa Fringe 2015

The Secret Life of Emily / Frances

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Laurie Fyffe and Michelle Leblanc. Photo: Annette Hegel.

The Bytown Museum, with its historical atmosphere, physical references to the founding of Ottawa and the life of the early settlers in the area, provides the most perfect set one could imagine for this performance. It takes place between 1764 and 1769 between London England and Quebec City, several years after the battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759) when France lost its most important colony in North America. Laurie Fyffe incarnates the British playwright/novelist/essayist and translator, Frances Brooke (1724-89) annoyed by the male dominated theatre milieu in London, after her last play, Victoria was rejected by the reading committee. Her husbad is pastor in the the new British Colony in Quebec, “ that orphaned colony of French peasants” and she is rushing out to join him where she hopes to discover a new land, and revive her work as a writer. She arrives accompanied by her French maid Manon (Michelle LeBlanc) and the story explains how they pass those three years in Quebec City, discovering the history of the country, the elegant social and cultural life of the new British colony with all its military personal, and trying to adapt to Canadian winters which are unbearable.

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EFT-up: Just Like You

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe

Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe

Experimental Farm Theatre is a comedy collective who base their work on interesting contemporary stories. Given the fact that Ottawa improv-comedy is still small, they decided to jump in and enrich it by their endeavour. They produce funny sketches, and, as they say, “We’re trying to get people to just be present and be really perceptive listeners and to advance the story rather than just sacrifice it for the sake of jokes.” Very sound and admirable attitude!

Their first Fringe appearance, EFT-up: Just Like You, proves mean what they say. They find material for the script in the contemporary world: running for mayor, falling in love with the phone, having to spend a night in a disastrous hotel. Another point in their favour is that they don’t only rely on jokes, but rather try to develop strong characters. The audience’s reaction confirms that they are funny. Well, yes, they are energetic, fun to watch, and, sure, the potential is there. Some of material is hilarious, some not so much. Execution is engaging from time from time, though sometimes it is less successful. It is evident that there’s still a lot of learning and polishing to do, but I believe that Experimental Farm Theatre is on the right track. Hopefully, we will see them next year with even better material and acting skills. Still, EFT-up: Just Like You is an enjoyable show to watch.

EFT-up: Just Like You plays in Academic Hall.

Lara Loves Leonard

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

After seeing Lara MacMillan’s exquisite show, Lara Loves Leonard, one understands that it is not just a title of yet another performance at the 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival. It’s the simple truth:  Lara MacMillan loves Leonard Cohen! That love is embedded in every song she sings and in every verse she says.

This show is a tribute to Cohen. MacMillan’s interpretation of his work oozes emotion – passion, desire, and affection. Her voice and her silence speak volumes equally and keep the audience under their spell. By her precise pace and tone, she electrifies every corner of the venue, from the simple stage where she stands alone, to the visitors in the last row. Increasingly, one moment after another, she builds a magic atmosphere of love and tranquility. By the end, one feels that a whole new world living in Cohen’s poetry and music opens up to those willing to listen. With her honesty, expressiveness and deep understanding of art, Lara MacMillan proves to be a perfect transmitter.

Lara Loves Leonard is an absolute must for those who love Leonard Cohen, music, poetry, or simply for those who are in search for an extraordinary 60 minutes.

Lara Loves Leonard plays at Studio Léonard Beaulne

Hootenanny

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

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Photo: Cory Thibert.

A brief note: I happened to see HOOTENANNY! during a performance during which their tech broke down, leaving them with huge gaps in the plot due to missing video sequences that help to advance the plot. And so I will just say a couple words, as I think Kate Smith and Will Somers’ brave work onstage, despite these difficulties, merits some attention!

Meet Hoot and Annie–two Australian children’s entertainers—on their world tour! They will play you some of their most beloved tunes, including one that reminds children to “do your chores or you’ll get a spank,” and another about a hopping possum that meets a not-so-friendly fox. This show is a parody of children’s entertainers that calls to mind the irreverent humour of Will Farrell. Hoot and Annie are contractually obligated to tell you that they are best friends, even since Hoot’s most recent stint at rehab.

Kate Smith & Will Somers have a natural penchant for humour that helped them to pull together a really funny performance. They referenced their own broken video sequences, and tried to make up for the gaps in the plot through some crafty improv. This was a solid performance, and I have no doubt that, once the tech issues are resolved, it will be even better.

Performed and conceived by Kate Smith & Will Somers / Smith & Somers

Keith Brown: Exchange

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

Performed by Keith Brown.

I don’t usually go to magic shows because, frankly, they hurt my brain. Keith Brown’s show, Exchange, does just that. It is a conundrum. A complete question mark. In other words: A great magic show.

Brown is charming and sincere in his performance, while he delivers a set of tricks that defy logic. From impressive feats of memory, to prestidigitation (that I still can’t figure out), and unbelievable guess-work, Exchange is a great performance. What’s more, Brown’s framework is all about creating a bridge between he and the audience, which leads to a very entertaining evening. He has the audience’s rapt attention as he delivers a series of unbelievable tricks that will keep you up late searching the internet for answers.

During the Ottawa Fringe, the climax of Brown’s performance is a feat that supposedly landed him in the hospital, and he has photos to prove it. Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, Brown has the format of his show down to an art and delivers a performance that will stick to your brain like glue, whether you like it or not.

Two Girls, One Corpse.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo, Monique Elliot

Two friends, have gone to a wedding, they wake up the next day and discover a corpse in their apartment. Two legs sticking out from the wings could be the beginning of a sit-com version of Antonioni’s Blow Up which might have lead to a more non-traditional investigation of the presence of the corpse. However, still in TV mode, the writers have chosen Murder She Wrote as their mystery solving model which transforms the corpse into a bit of a sterotype , especially at the end.  Instead there are hysterics, jumpy nervous flippant tv-style dialogue, a perfectly good sit-com style relationship between the two friends who insert Jessica Fletcher into the mix as part of their playing at being sleuths. 

The show is rather well layered as far as the characters and their situation are concerned, Good directing by Dave Dawson whose work is always very competent and fitting performances by the two young women concerned who really seem to be having a great time on stage.  This is a perfect example of the way TV is having a deep deep influence on the  style and narratives of a certain kind of popular theatre these days. Its not a bad thing. It is just very revealing and no doubt inevitable.

Two Girls, One Corpse at Academic Hall. .

Two Girls One Corpse

Created and performed by Marissa Caldwell and Michelle Blanchard

Directed by Dave Dawson

Production of Lazy Sunday Theatre

This Prison or He Came Through the Floor.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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By Johnny Wideman (Theatre of the Beat, Stouffville, Ontario). Performers are Johnny Wideman as the prisoner, writer and director. Benjamin Wert is his astonished interlocutor who pops up through the floor to rescue him, except that  Wideman does not want to  be rescued. This begins an amusing fantasy where a longtime prisoner, on death row, has obviously become  out of touch with the outside reality, while turning into an obsessive compulsive creature in relation to his  prison routines and cannot imagine another kind of life away from this cell, even though it  means he will soon be executed.

What can the new arrival who just bursts through the floor, do to convince this Johnny to leave? A frustrating piece of writing because although Johnny is strong and amusimg and Benjamin tries to clarify everything for him, Johnny cannot be penetrated by any kind of logic as to his situation. He is about to die and he does not seem to care. The point of this is not particularly clear. Is it the dehumanizing force of long term prison? is it a dialogue between two realities trying to grasp the superiority of one or the  other whereas nothing really changes? after about 30 minutes I felt i would have liked to hear more intervention by the new intruder. Johnny’s banter became tiring and kept turning in on itself. Playful preciosity, talking to hear himself toss words about, spouting a logic that did not exist. Even the ending when he suddently breaks into tears made no sense at all since he kept insisting he wants to die.

This Prison or He Came Through the Floor  was not  particularly satisfying although there will soon be a full fledged performance of this show with the dialogue worked out to  a more satisftying stage. 

Venue Studio Léonard Beaulne.

 

Screwtape

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

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Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Fringe.

Screwtape is an adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast (an after-dinner speech given by Screwtape at the Tempters’ Training College for young demons). Both address Christian theological issues, mainly those of temptation and resistance to it. The story is told through a series of letters written by senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. In John D. Huston’s one man show version, Screwtape is a contemporary bureaucrat, who builds his career on preparing young tempters for the serious duty of re-routing the  race away from Heaven and toward Hell.

Huston sticks to the statement in the preface of Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters that states “The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime”…… but … in well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars..” He builds his character with the persuasion and poise bestowed only to those born as natural story tellers. The show is set up as a lecture to junior tempters, which is constantly interrupted by Screwtape’s nephew’s frequent phone calls. (more…)

Three Men in a Boat

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

 

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fringe

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fringe

Three Men in a Boat, a play based on Jerome K. Jerome’s 1889 British travelogue, is a funny and cleverly composed story about three rich friends , Jay, George and Harris, who decide to make an exciting change in their boring, unproductive lives. They decide to go for a boat trip on the river Thames. The audience follows their adventures – or rather misadventures- as the three of them, equally incompetent and clumsy, try to make the best of increasingly chaotic situations. Mark Brownell’s  brilliant adaptation of Jerome’s work keeps the audience captivated from the first to the last minute of the show.

Of course, the impeccable execution helps a lot. Matt Pilipiak’s (Jay) story telling talent is so superb that he changes the genre to a mix of storytelling and painting pictures on the stage through his outstanding acting. Scott Garland and Victor Pokinko are hilarious in their roles of Jay’s friends Harris and George. Their use of body language and facial expressions is essential to understanding the performance. The three of them in the capable hands of director Sue Miner, paint pictures of their life on the river Thames so skilfully that the whole stage comes to life with landscapes and characters, as naturally and convincingly as if they were part of the set. The audience is transported into a different world and time and enjoys every second of it. Three Men in a Boat is a funny, fast-paced, witty comedy and a true artistic experience. No wonder that this show is selling like hot cakes!

Three Men in a Boat

Pea Green Theatre Group’s Production

Three Men in a Boat plays at Studio Léonard Beaulne.

In On It

Reviewed by Kat Fournier

There are moments we plan , and then there are those that sweep through our lives without warning. Too Much Sugar Productions perform Daniel MacIvor’s award winning play, In On It, where three sotrylines converge to portray a story about playwriting and the reaches of authorship in our own lives. Two characters are writing a play. A man facing a diagnosis that sends him into a tailspin. Finally, two characters relive their relationship—from its beginning to its bitter end. It’s about the stories we can control, and the things, desperate as we might be, the we cannot.

MacIvor’s script is beautifully structured and heart-wrenching in its final moments. The directing here fails to create a stage-world that resonates as strongly as the script, and the actors struggle to find their footing in this dramaturgically complicated piece. There are some really touching moments, however, and particularly as the plot beings to reveal its deeper meaning.

Ultimately, the star of this show is its script. Though the production felt like a work in progress, it is a beautiful piece of writing that should not be missed.

IN ON IT

by Daniel MacIvor, performed by Too Much Sugar Productions

Past Reviews