Reviewed by on    Montreal Fringe 2015  

Photo: vi.Va?VOOM!

Photo: Kinga Michalska

This year, the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary by putting the “fringe” in fringefest. Featuring over 100 performances in venues that pepper Montreal’s downtown, the Montreal Fringe Fest is boundary-pushing, multi-disciplinary, multi-lingual, and fearless. With shows running until June 21, the two-hour trip from Ottawa is well worth it.

2056: A Dystopian Black Comedy

In the aftershock of a religious-based war, society has organized itself into hard-gotten peace. In 2056, unilingualism and atheism are more than simply a choice: They are mandated, and there is a harsh penalty for disobedience. Two characters, Knut (Sebastien Rajotte) and Madalyn (Humberly Gonzalez), have been sterilized (both in body and in belief) and forced to cohabitate in a derelict apartment on the outskirts of a contaminated city. Both characters repress their mother-tongues for fear of being found deviant even in their own home. But a small slip and the audience soon finds out just how far the puppet strings go.

Keir Cutler’s script bills itself as a “black comedy”, though the comedy plays second fiddle to its Orwellian, dramatic plotline. The play is a convergence of some top-of-mind themes relating to Quebec culture: language rights, the contentious Charter of Values, and even residential schooling. Ultimately, the play ruminates on the role of the interference of government in culture.

The visual language of the play, from set to costuming, are all quite derivative. However, Cutler manages to break through the doldrums of the dystopian trope by delving into the heart of contemporary cultural politics. What’s more at a mere 60-minutes in length, its trajectory suits the Fringe perfectly.

The play may offer more questions than answers, but it is a production that demonstrates perceptiveness and creativity all the while tackling a complicated subject.

Laureen: Queen of the Tundra

At first you may think that you are at a Canadiana-themed drag-show, but this performance is so much more than that. The cast of Laureen: Queen of the Tundra delivers a variety show that weaves drag, burlesque, confessional, and social commentary into a complex and unabashedly political performance. From gender identity, to missing and murdered Aboriginal women, this show makes it a mission to unearth those dark corners of our society—and to do so with a fine-tuned sense of irony.

Five cast members portray a host of very Canadian icons, from Laureen “The L Word” Harper, to Prime Minister Stephanie Harper, Celine Dion, and plenty more. But this drag-show is much more than meets the eye, which is, incidentally, exactly what the fearless cast of Laureen: Queen of the Tundra want you to know about them, too. Are they one-dimensional? Not even close.

They will distract you with amusing acts only to lasso you with their disarmingly honest testimonials. Irreverent takes on iconic Canadian images are thrust side-by-side against the real-life stories behind the drag-queen. The stories are unexpected, candid, and complex.

The show is zany, laugh-out-loud, and over-the-top…with a side of humanity. The result is incredibly effective theatre.