Black Sheep Theatre (Ottawa), The Courtroom
It sounds like an idyllic spot, but Magic Unicorn Island is in fact a refuge about to confront its nemesis: The United Empire. How did the island, a Pacific Ocean home to one million children, get into this position? To answer that, writer/performer Jayson McDonald starts at the beginning — literally. His exceedingly dark-humoured solo show opens with a dude-like God fashioning the galaxy, cycles through millennia of human conflict, and winds up in some distant and ravaged future where the children of the world, led by a precocious and earnest 14-year-old named Shane, establish their own colony on a previously undiscovered island. McDonald’s cautionary tale includes a bunch of other characters including the Empire’s conniving leader, a front-porch philosopher, and a father who spews hatred toward every human including himself. Furious, entertaining and imaginative in accepted McDonald fashion, Magic Unicorn Island is named for a mythic creature, but its lesson is disquietingly realistic. (Continue reading » )
Black Sheep Theatre (Ottawa), The Courtroom
(Ottawa), Arts Court Theatre
War turns the world upside down, causing language to lose its meaning, relationships to be fraught, the grotesque to become the normal. Simon L. Lalande and Danielle LeSaux-Farmer, this cabaret-style show’s writers and principal performers, explore such outcomes of armed conflict in a production that’s long on concept but short on clarity, tension and other elements essential to maintaining our interest. LeSaux-Farmer plays a war correspondent whose encounter with destruction drives her into her own head where memories of remembered happier times play in near-constant performance. Lalande is an angel from Hell (whatever that is), a cabaret performer and other characters. There’s lots of physicality, two on-stage musical accompanists, and frequently baffling leaps in time, place and rationale as the playwrights pile one thing on top of another. That the show lacks structure was cringingly apparent when it concluded in such uncertain fashion that Lalande felt compelled to say to the audience: “The end.” It was indeed. (Continue reading » )
Aplombusrhombus (Ottawa), Academic Hall
An early contender for one of the best shows at this year’s Fringe, Cardinal is a powerfully affecting, clown-based journey into Alzheimer’s disease. Mitchel Rose and Madeleine Hall, dressed in red and white respectively, use just six chairs, a couple of flats and their own bodies to depict an intimate battle between memory and disease. Alzheimer’s being a vicious disrupter of communication, the two speak not a word as they track the confusion, fear and sometimes brief, liberating joy that mark memory’s confrontation with a sly, self-satisfied disease that cunningly builds a kind of symbiosis with its victim. At one point, the two opponents use the chairs as pieces in a game of checkers. You keep hoping that memory will win even though you know how this one is going to go. The show is compassionate, insightful and sometimes very funny as it tries to laugh valiantly at the disease. Most importantly, it’s true.
Nicholas Dave Amott is very young but already accomplished artist, admired for his acting and writing ability. In his latest endeavour “As Rome Burns”, he reaches new highs in both.
The story about an emperor who fiddles while Rome burns might not be a historical fact (historians are still divided on that topic), but it is known that Nero came from a long line of Julio-Claudian dynasty, known for its numerous murders, subnormal behaviour, orgies, and incest. Nero, who was the latest in the line, according the ancient sources, was know for his extraordinary tyranny and his love for theatrical art.
Amott uses historical facts in order to paint a picture of a hated emperor who committed suicide when he was condemned as a traitor and a public enemy. He enters Nero’s mind skilfully, revealing the emperor’s inability to face reality and his constant hiding behind the imagined world. Power over Rome was not enough for him – he had to have power over people close to him, over friends and relatives and all those faithful. He craves validation, absolute surrender and unquestioning support. In the wake of his narcissistic nature, completely devoid of reality, he destroys everybody and everything that he touches- even stripping people of their humanity and identity. (Continue reading » )
Concrete Drops (Brooklyn, N.Y.), The Courtroom
Credulity meets manipulation in this gripping, twist-and-turn of a two-hander by fringe favourite Martin Dockery. He plays a lost, naïve soul attempting to record a demo CD by a beautiful, rich songstress played by Vanessa Quesnelle. They squabble, drink, draw closer together, move apart as it slowly becomes clear that there’s more of a back story here than first appeared. To say much more would be to say too much, but the back story soon becomes front and centre as events grow darker and the characters – finely drawn by Dockery and compellingly embodied by both actors – slowly open up before us. That Dockery and Quesnelle are married in real life adds another dimension to the drama and heightens its intimate, almost voyeuristic air. This production marks the Canadian premiere of Love is a Battlefield, which is a welcome addition to Dockery’s canon. (Continue reading » )
Ottawa Fringe Festival 2016: Fugee’s excellent script and mostly well-oiled performances speak to the heart
TWA (Third Wall Academy, Ottawa), Academic Hall
Kill someone when you’re 14 years old, and your own life – likely now one of crippling self-hatred, anger and isolation — is in many ways over. Back up a bit to see why you committed the act and you’ll probably find it was almost predestined by events over which you had no control. That’s pretty much the case of Ivory Coast-born Kojo (Patrick Bugby), a child soldier and orphan who becomes a refugee among other abandoned child refugees (eight other student actors playing multiple roles) and who sees his own life, once a joyful thing of family and tall trees and potential, shrink to almost nothing. The script by British playwright and screenwriter Abi Morgan is powerful, its execution by this ensemble of under-20 performers mostly well-oiled and passionate. There are problems – characters are not always developed; the high-pitched screams of one actor are painful overkill – but under director James Richardson, Fugee speaks to the heart. (Continue reading » )
Doctor Keir Co (Montreal), Studio Léonard-Beaulne
Just when you thought the question about whether Shakespeare actually wrote Shakespeare was one of those arcane discussions that had finally been consigned to the dumpster of literary history, Keir Cutler raises it again in this lecture-style, partly autobiographical and largely uninspiring comedy. Turns out that the contrarian Cutler’s interest in disputing Shakespeare’s authorship of all those works (he does marshal some enticing arguments for his position) is at heart a rallying cry for independent thinking in the face of smug, conformity-loving academics who simply squelch any discussion of uncomfortable questions like the authorship one. The show has a undisciplined feel, including an extraneous homage to his bright, ambitious parents and an account of how, on the path to a PhD, Cutler discovered that he’d score top marks only by parroting back to professors their own opinions. I don’t know about you, but my own, extended university experience completely contradicts the latter. This show is Cutler’s eighth Ottawa Fringe appearance. (Continue reading » )
Love is a Battlefield written by Martin Dockery, performed by Vanessa Quesnelle and Martin Dockery; Dramaturgy by Vanessa Quesnelle.
The epitome of the best in Fringe performance, actor, director, story teller, mimic, mime, creator of stage events that are completely original, Martin Dockery is back in Ottawa under the fringe spotlight with his just as brilliant partner Vanessa Quesnelle. The woman with the velvet singing voice that one could listen to all day, as the character says in this show, also proves how she can hold her own in this brief encounter that appears to be improvised but that is tightly scripted I was told.
A singer has hired the character played by Dockery to make a recording of her latest song. It all takes place in her apartment while her husband it out. Simple enough; however as emotions heat up, unexpected information is discovered, the simple arrangement becomes an accumulation of complex possibilities and relationships that make the dialogue more and more ambiguous as the interlocutors, avoid clear answers, respond to questions with questions, and create an atmosphere of mistrust that persists until the very end, which in itself is purposely unclear.
It is hard enough to raise a child as a single parent, but try to raise a daughter as a single father, and you face a real challenge. Well-known Canadian poet, spoken word artist and motivational speaker Dwayne Morgan talks about that difficult time when his daughter reaches puberty, and the father takes on the role of the mother. How do you explain the changes her body is going through and how do you deal with other new issues that will come soon? Morgan’s story explores not only a father-daughter relationship, but much more than that. He incorporates in his narrative problems of growing up in today’s wold, such as sexism, racism, and generally cruelty that a sheltered young girl does not know. (Continue reading » )