The Fringe for All is a bit like the theatrical equivalent of channel-surfing. It’s the perfect distraction for a short attention span at first, but after a while, as the evening wears on and the empty St. Ambroise bottles on your table accumulate, your brain turns to mush and the weirdness and nudity start to become one giant blur of Fringiness. Despite this, some previews really do stand out. These are my top five:
Most Atmospheric: The Passage
On the unlit stage, the silhouette of a lone woman is merely a patch of deeper black against black. A haunting melody starts to play. She lifts her arm, and her oil lamp comes on, casting her face in yellow light and shadow. This is Nellie Garner, and she’s about to embark on her journey to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. In this moment, we are right there with her, with the barren, cold wilderness pressing in the darkness around us. Espace Freestanding Room (4324 St Laurent). $10/12. Tickets HERE.
Most Polished: Honesty Rents by the Hour
The skit was as follows; an Orthodox Jewish man gets dressed, then, as he is about to leave, drops his bag, and desperately tries to retrieve the condoms that have spilled like confetti from within. This modest bit of cheekiness could easily have been lost among the other more shamelessly shocking Fringe pieces, but instead, it stood out, due to the exceptional quality of the skit. It was streamlined and perfectly paced. Howard Rosenstein’s acting experience and talent is apparent from the moment he arrives onstage, and his performance in Honesty Rents by the Hour will definitely be a Fringe highlight. Rialto (5723 du Parc). $10. Tickets HERE.
I can’t even explain the weirdness that was the preview for Akita. I mean, there was a lot of weirdness at the Fringe for all, but most of it can at least be described, even if it can’t be understood. (For example, Beaver Dream, an honorable mention in the weirdness category, can be described as two women wearing false beaver teeth manipulating beaver puppets. As you can see, it’s incomprehensible, but describable.) The wonderful thing about Akita was its earnestness. The man explaining his desire to be a dog (presumably, an akita) with the aid of his chignon-ed back-up singers was not trying to confuse us for the sake of artistic abstraction – he seemed to honestly want to convey a message, to share an experience… And he failed, wonderfully, absorbingly, and genuinely. La Chapelle (3700 St Dominique). $12. Tickets HERE.
Most Un-Fringe-like: Les Casseurs de Dieu
A Fringe play with religious themes that doesn’t wink at itself with tongue firmly in cheek? Yes, it does exist. Les Casseurs de Dieu is an allegory in which Pilate and Judas appear before a tribunal and discuss the parts they each played in Jesus’ death. The costumes are big and lush and cheesy, like something from a high school production of Julius Caesar. The dialogue is sweeping and epic. This is an old-school piece of theater that takes itself dead seriously. I don’t know what to make of it, but I’m intrigued by this decidedly un-Fringe-like piece. Theatre d’Aujourd’hui (3900 St Denis). $12. Tickets HERE.
Personal Favorite: A Perfect Picture
A young man comes on stage and shrieks. He is a vulture. He asks if we’re hungry. He has pizza boxes passed around, but they’re too light to contain pizza – it’s another cute Fringe gag, I figure. Ten to one they’ll contain a pack of condoms and a silly hat. He lets the tension build, his eyes twinkling playfully in the spotlight. He’s so engaging – we want him to entertain us. Open the boxes, he says, and we do. The room, for a moment goes completely silent – a rarity at the Fringe for All. The box contains a picture of a starving African child with a vulture watching over him. Who’s the vulture now, asks our entertainer. He basks for a moment in our silent confusion, then, amid nervous laughter and horrified gasps, he walks offstage. A Perfect Picture is a play about Kevin Carter, the Pulitzer-winning photographer who took the dreadful picture of the vulture and the child. MAI (3680 Jeanne Mance). $10/8. Tickets HERE.
The Montreal Fringe Festival is on now. A few whows start at Off Fringe venues on May 31 and most start June 9 and continue to run until June 19. Tickets and info HERE.