Montreal Fringe Festival 2014 Reviews : Round 1

hosts. PHoto Rachel LEvine hosts. Montreal Fringe Festival Launch. PHoto Rachel LEvine

Best Chest in the West

Watch Out Wildkat is a wickedly funny “buddy-film” set in the Wild West. Okay, it’s not a film, but it has cinematic ambiance and grandeur. Cowboy tropes colour this story of Wildkat, a female bounty hunter who seeks vengeance on the fly who killed her Pappy. The fly, as it turns out, is the devil himself, and getting hold of Pappy requires all of Wildkat’s wit, wisdom, and gunslinging grit. The show’s cast are Toronto’s sketch-improv comedy group Sex-T-Rex, and their experience and dynamism come through in every well-executed scene. The actors take on a range of characters and provide “special effects” where needed. The use of paper cut out boats and trains with finger people allow for perspective switches, taking a clever approach to mimic film production in a way unavailable to stage performance. Props are also cleverly minimal, finger guns and broom/mop horses. Characters are spot on and Kaitlin Morrow shines as Wildkat. No joke runs too long and the song/dance numbers excellent. I can’t even being to name all my favourite moments: a peyote sequence, a Mexican nunnery, and the defeat of some right hand men. Despite the goofy name, this is a smart show and a not-miss this year. Rachel Levine

More Opinions, Please

Jess Salomon’s IMO is straight-up stand-up. Openers change each night and DeAnne Smith may have blown the load a little early at the one I saw. Salomon is funny, but her jokes didn’t hook the proper, polite, and sweet crowd that came. Her greatest talent is that she can make something funny out of topics that seem untouchable, such as when she talks about her privileged Westmount upbringing or the how she learned about the holocaust. Sometimes she belts one out of the park with a wry observation, but others never get past an internal chuckle. My expectations based on the title of the show were for more opinion on current news items, so some jokes seemed a little tired – is Justin Bieber still funny? didn’t those gay penguins split up in 2011. Rachel Levine

Perspective is Everything

Having seen My Pregnant Brother, I’m not entirely sure how My Playwright Sister would seem to someone who missed the original (there are special double shows on June 15th and 20th where it is possible to see My Pregnant Brother performed free before My Playwright Sister). Johanna Nutter’s original show about her relationship to her transsexual brother’s pregnancy remains one of my favorite Fringe shows ever (clearly the Edinburgh crowd has a few issues to work out). Of course, I’m comfortable with the conceit that autobiographical shows are subject to the biased worldview of their originators, and do not necessarily reflect the facts. But, then again, I’ve never been turned into a character as Nutter’s brother, James Diamond has. My Playwright Sister lets Diamond set the record straight through a retelling of Nutter’s original. A gifted filmmaker, the show opens with his captivating film The Man from Venus (1998). It gives a mosaic-like overview of his earlier life before the transition. Following this, the siblings begin to dissect Nutter’s play. It’s difficult to tell what is theatre and what isn’t, in part because Diamond either is or plays a character who is naturally uncomfortable in front of the audience. Perhaps it is best not to overthink the meta-matter of what is real and what is craft and just take this show at face value. The contrast between the two is strong: dramatic, extroverted Nutter has trouble “hearing” her brother, while introverted, terse Diamond holds back the depth of his words and is only able to voice himself through his actions and art. An excerpt from his diary reveals the eloquence and range of his rich inner life that he does not say aloud. The swapping of stories about their different memories on specific shared events will be familiar to anyone with a family (= everyone). Some audience members walked out in tears. Rachel Levine

Hit by Retrograde Mercury, Full Moon, Friday the 13th, and Red Hair

Set 50 years in the future, Project Gingervitis follows what appears to be a war against Irish terrorists, anger over government funded sunblock programs and the opportunity to genetically alter the DNA of babies. This combination of events have led to the disappearance of red heads. A ginger called Subject Red-1 is born in this society and spends the next 30 years of his life locked up in a lab. While much is done to point out the dangers of the recessive MC1R gene with a very sophisticated humour, the show also raises some rather serious reflections about race hygiene and variation in a population. Jordan Lloyd Watkin’s creative one-man show unfortunately met with technical difficulties on its opening night (we were informed that a macintosh containing all the show’s meticulous video had the misfortune of getting too close to the business end of a glass of water). Nonetheless, playwright, actor, and filmmaker Watkins demonstrated professional grit as he endured glitches that disrupted the dynamism of this fast-paced, sci-fi piece. Rachel Levine

Shaken and Stirred

Turning Tricks, to quote the Charming and Lovely Girl at the Door, was a “nasty vaudeville”, a raunchy, unapologetic adventure that blurred the lines between comedy, philosophy and sex. I arrived feeling stiff and British, and I left feeling stiff and Britilicious, if you know what I mean. It followed the adventures of Goldie Showers and her Golden Girls, a traveling group of performing magicians. When they awake the genie of the Book of Faces, they’re in for a dark ride down. The story contrasted the raw, sensual realness of the bodies before us with cyberspace’s all-permeating virtual reality. The issues it touched were neatly stacked into one another. They were gaudily witty, wisely on-point, and added to rather than distracted from the fantastic performances of the ladies and gentlemen onstage. The sound quality took away from the song sequences a little bit, but the dances made up for that easily. Some of the dances consisted of mind-bendingly impressive shows of physical prowess, but lots were simple, fun and energetic. And I must admit, when I recognized the genie’s song from Aladdin, I gave a happy squeal (yes, even in these moments, I am a Disney dork). The energy was high, and the atmosphere was sexy – well, more like titillating, in the corny way that AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip is titillating. Despite all the weirdness the evening portended, the show was extremely non-threatening, and more quirky than edgy. Turning Tricks was honest, erotic, and delightful – kind of the way really good sex ought to be. I am so glad it was this brilliant piece that introduced me to the world of “nasty vaudeville”. Lyla McQueen Shah

For schedule of all the Fringe shows, including those listed above, be sure to check HERE.