Chuck Charmsson’s (reluctant) Fringe Binge!

Well, I tried really hard to see none of the 100 productions at this year’s Fringe Festival, but in the end, my girlfriend managed to drag me out to seven shows.
First was Under Milkwood, by Dylan Thomas. A young cast of 11 actors tackle an astoundingly poetic text that shows us a day in the lives of many townspeople in a Welsh village. Each actor displays impressive character work, taking on many roles. It’s almost solid enough to distract from the overly simplistic set which consists essentially of hanging bed sheets and wooden blocks painted with seaside vistas.
Speaking of bed sheets and young ensembles, Great. Now I have to Burn the Sheets also had a decent cast of young actors turning in charming performances, but the big difference between these two shows is the quality of the text. As it is, this Sex in the City style romp about a 20-year-old’s misadventures in dating lacks a credible plot, character development and effective staging to make it successful. My girlfriend: “Great. Now I need a rewrite.” Me: “Great. Now I need a refund.”
Hanakengo/Shoshinz: In their second appearance at the Montreal Fringe, performance art duo Hanakengo brought along with them Shoshinz, a duo of musical maids who sing, dance, mime, and mug along to Japanese electro music. Hanakengo, now well-known to Fringe audiences for their clownish, high-energy performances, do much the same, decked out in white tights with puffy white balls all over them. They are play and joy personified. Unless you hate fun, go see them next year.
We did so well with that Japanese entry, my girlfriend convinced me to go to Yabu No Naka: Distruthed next. To be honest, I started dozing off halfway through. It was just so hot, and the lighting was so uniformly dim. My girlfriend assured me that it was “high quality theatre by very well-trained actors in a physical theatre style.” From what I could gather (the story was told in four different languages), it was a story about a murder, retold three times with each suspect taking turns as the murderer. My girlfriend digs that new-school mime style where things like sword fights, chases, and rape are staged with highly stylized movement and a large dose of imagination, and she was not disappointed.
The Last Dance of Marsha Kane was the first of three one-person shows we saw. Concordian Rena Hundert wrote and performed this play about a sugar addict waiting for a metaphorical bus on the last day of her life. At least, that’s what I think it was about; Hundert’s script is wonderfully quirky, funny, and remarkably fluid – so much so that the mood can successfully shift from whimsical to deadly serious in a single sentence. Unfortunately, it is at times too obtuse for its own good.
Still, with the creation and committed performance of such a lovably singular character, Hundert proves she is one to watch in the future.
American Squatter proves just how effective simplicity can be in the theatre. One man stands at a microphone and tells the story of his journey from middle-class Southern Cali skateboarding to squatting in abandoned London Council flats, along with his relationship to his father throughout. Projected on the screen beside him are images and videos providing often hilarious documentary evidence of the transformation. Told with such humour and honesty, there is a lot of power in such simplicity.
In Maxim and Cosmo, fringe veteran TJ Dawe uses his trademark comic rant style to expose and explode gender stereotypes.
The thing is, TJ couldn’t make it to the show the night we saw it – something about a two-day gig in the Virgin Islands-and so he assembled a group of about 14 artists from the Fringe circuit and they all took turns reading the script onstage.
On one hand, we felt gypped for not seeing the very funny Dawe perform his own text. But on the other, we had the definite sense we’d just witnessed a bit of Fringe magic. Many of the readers, like performance poet Jem Rolls, or “American Squatter” star Barry Smith, made this a sort of all-star event. Also, the first part of the show talks a lot about the uniqueness of Fringe festivals as a medium for performance with its unbiased and unjuried selection system, its DIY, spontaneous, anything goes spirit.
At one point, Rolls read a section where Dawe actually quoted him – such meta-theatricality reinforced and illustrated the potential for magic the Fringe festivals breed. Be sure to check it out next year!


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