Jul. 19th, 2017 09:45 pm

Raspberry season

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Locally grown raspberries are back. Don't tell strawberries, but raspberries are my favourite. I live on the 26th floor, high above the ground, and I like it a lot, where I never have to shovel snow or cut the grass, but I think the one thing that could get me back into a house would be the ability to grow my own raspberries. They're great. Nuts to grass, though.

I've had 'em plain, over ice cream, and my favourite so far, macerated with sugar, a little vanilla, and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters. I haven't even baked them in to tarts yet.

Of course, this means the wheel of summer is turning. Plums will be soon. We'll be at peaches (which signal the wane of the season) before you know it.
Jul. 17th, 2017 09:19 pm

Best of Fringe

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When I sat down to draw up a schedule of what to see when at this year's Fringe (not something I've done in the past), I realized I could see as many as 40 shows; I wound up seeing 37. Which is great! My goal was too high, more than I think I could have stomached (while still going to work, that is). My feeling overall for this year's fest was that the average was higher but the variance was smaller, viz. I saw more 3s but fewer 4s.

Here's a list of things I gave 3.5 or 4 to (no 4+'s this year), in alphabetical order:
32 Short Sketches About Bees
About Time
Bendy Sign Tavern
The Diddlin' Bibbles
High Park Noir
In Search of Cruise Control
Interstellar Elder
The Life Henri
Macbeth Muet
Multiple Organism
Murder in the Cottonwoods
Shakespeare's Ghostbusters
Shirley Gnome
Special Constables

That's 15 of 37, which is a decent score. Last year (a particularly good crop in retrospect) I had 14/26 and 13/31 the year before that.

All of this said, the only thing that really blew me away now that the dust is settling was Macbeth Muet, with Interstellar Elder and Shakespeare's Ghostbusters rounding out my top 3. I'm not confident I enjoyed myself as much as I have in past years; I can't be sure if that's because I saw stuff that just wasn't as good or I was overexposed. But to my mind, I would have taken any one of a dozen of the good shows from the past couple of years over any of this year's choices (except for those three).

Did I miss out on anything? Delirium was supposed to be quite good, as were Maddie's Karaoke Birthday Party and The Seat Next to the King. I shy away from dramas, though. I'm satisfied with everything I made it to.

New Fringe club worked out just fine. I was concerned that no one would go (an outdoor hockey rink doesn't have the same ambience as Honest Ed's back lot), but whenever I went, I wound up running in to people. Having everyone corralled inside the boards probably made security a lot easier, too. It'll be interesting to see how they tweak it next year.
Jul. 16th, 2017 11:20 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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The Diddlin' Bibbles edition.

Beneath the aw-shucks hayseed façade lie a pair of pretty talented musicians and songwriters. I found their meta-commentary on the Fringe to be on point without being mawkish, and the success-goes-to-head narrative to be well executed.

The bit about the prayer headsets was just weird, though. I guess it paid off in a small way toward the end.

4/4. I went on Conor Bradbury's strong recommendation, and I can see why he liked it (his big dumb sense of humour was well-represented).

Not Oasis' Alone in this Together edition.

A reasonably well-assembled sketch show. Still a bit paint-by-numbers in parts (oh, this joke has clearly run its course, so here comes the wacky tilt and/or callback to end the sketch), but there were some good multilingual puns.

3/4. Big ol' duck.

Fest wrapup tomorrow. Final score: 37 shows in 12 days.
Jul. 16th, 2017 02:31 am

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Not Enough edition.

Megan Phillips tells the story of how she realized she had and got a handle on her anxiety by attending a 10-day no-talking vipassana meditation retreat. Some have complained that her use of audio loops to illustrate how it can feel was distracting, but I felt it was an effective inclusion.

That said, I wonder if and hope that the attention of a mental health professional and/or medication are also a component of the equation. Anxiety is serious business, yo.

3/4. Focus on the sensations...

High Park Noir edition.

Clearly written by someone who knows their tropes: the world-weary detective, the eager new girl, the old flame, the messy climax, the bittersweet ending.

Any show that includes live jazz is an automatic 3 from me, but this one earned it that way and more in other ways, too.

3.5/4. I couldn't get over the fermented garbage juice.

Special Constables edition.

A remount of a Circlesnake production from 2012, but it still works well. It's a big, dumb, fun show. The seeds of the cinematic stage combat that Sex T-Rex is now known for are apparent to the discerning viewer (the two companies share roots, the least of whom is not Conor Bradbury). 80 minutes long, but didn't drag at all, which was great.

4/4. Problems can be solved by punching (apparently).

Pillow Talk edition.

A trio of young comedians do a sketch show. Some of the sketches were a bit by-the-book, which made then unexciting viewing, but there were a couple towards the end (truth-telling sisters, mothers envisioning futures for their children) that were pretty good.

3/4. What I really want is...

She Grew Funny edition.

Joanne O'Sullivan tells the story of how she relates to her daughter now that she is 6, and how she deals with the death of her mother, which happened when she herself was 6. O'Sullivan is a standup (she writes for TV now), so her stagecraft is excellent and material still had jokes, but this is heavy stuff.

I'm not sure it's really the show for me, but the house was full and they all seemed to like it.

3/4. She had a Manhasset stand she never referred to on a cool trilobal dolly just the right size.

White Wedding edition.

Set in a backstage area of a wedding, I'm not sure that this is a story that really needed to be told. Kayla Whelan did a good job, and I love that they actually had older actors for the appropriate parts (Dave the chill late-40s guitarist was great).

It seemed to be messy in the end for that sake of being messy. If anything, it felt too personal, like we're eavesdropping on a conversation unnecessarily. But perhaps that was the intention...

2/4. But why was it told?

Caitlin and Eric are Broken Up edition.

A retrospective of a fictional relationship. This was well performed, but I found it difficult to sympathize, because it seemed that the conflicts all presented boiled down to "dude didn't prioritize the relationship." Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch are both gifted comedians, but once I noticed that detail, I started laughing a lot less.

I dunno. I didn't set out to watch this show with a critical feminist lens, but that's what happened anyway.

3/4. I maybe didn't have the best time, but there's something worth seeing here, certainly.

I think seven shows in a day is too many shows.
Jul. 14th, 2017 09:32 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Only two today. I am feeling the effects of staying up too late too many days in a row.

Shirley Gnome edition.

Shirley Gnome is a singer-songwriter from Vancouver whose work is a deep, rich blue. Hits included "You can fit anything up your vagina (if you try)", "This is the part where you can leave the show", "God speaks to me through my burning bush" (featuring an incredibly lush merkin).

3.5/4. I was reasonably entertained but I don't think I'll be singing any of these later.

Murder in the Cottonwoods edition.

Without giving too much away, I think I can say that this was a well-done Lynch-ian pastiche. Unlike many efforts in that direction, this one actually has a good conclusion.

3.5/4. A couple of loose ends, but nothing too serious. It even managed to leave a relevant plot point completely unspoken and only discovered through careful watching.
Jul. 13th, 2017 10:51 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Chad Mallett edition.

I free admit I went to see Ted Hallett and Matt Folliott just to ring up the scoreboard. I've seen them both better, individually and combined. I'm not sure what was working against them here: the too-big stage, or the too-small house, or the too-early time (5:15PM), or the too-obscure get, or the self-imposed rigours of the format. It's supposed to be two best friends going on vacation, but they pulled Thessaloniki, and neither seemed too confident to deal with Greece.

2/4. Other reviews have raved, so perhaps I just pulled a dud.

The Teeny Tiny Music Show edition.

The band is enthusiastic, but a bit messy. There's some plot (ish), but it's not quiiiite enough to tie together this jukebox musical. The vocals were frequently overpowered.

But! If people had D&D character sheets, Hayley Pace would have an 18 under CHA, and it is by strength of her charisma alone that this show is not a hot mess but instead oddly enjoyable. She needs a better director who can stand up to her (I don't know that Ryan Percival is capable of that), but good gravy if she isn't sex in tap shoes, an accordion, and fox ears when things start firing on all cylinders.

2.5/4, I guess? I usually use 2s to mean "this was competently executed but meh", whereas here it means a strong performance makes up for many shortcomings.

A Flea in Her Ear edition.

This is a French farce originally written in 1907 translated by the lead actor who knows it from his time in the Balkans, where it apparently has played in Belgrade for over 40 years.

I have structural concerns. The actors all spoke in ludicrous French accents (to varying success) that made them very difficult to understand (this pays off in one joke in the second act when a throwaway character turns up who only speaks "English"). For some reason they only used half-height doors, I assume so the cast would have to squeeze through them to make things funnier. Naturally, as a sex farce also containing mistaken identity, things get madcap, and it doesn't really pay off in the end.

I can't recommend it, I'm afraid. It's energetic and the cast has decent chemistry, but the characters are all ridiculous, and the plot is contorted and too long, and the accent thing is bizarre. It might have been saved by tighter direction and more rehearsal, but I'm doubtful.

1.5/4. One again, the whole thing could have been avoided if married couples just talked to each other.
Jul. 12th, 2017 10:18 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Adventure Theatre Danceband's The Fateful Agenda edition.

This was a much better show than the rather thin crowd suggested it would be. A grab bag of both dancers and dance numbers: the cast individually covered ballet, burlesque, hip hop, line dancing, and tap, each dancing with their personal style flavouring their group choreography. The dance selections, too, were in part determined by audience choice, with an either/or presented to the crowd three times.

Generally I like the idea of giving that control to the house, but in this case, I think it would have been more effective to not, both to spread out the featured dancers (all were clearly quite talented but did not equally share in stage time) and reduce the amount of choreo involved.

All said the cast was both gorgeous to look at and great in motion, and while I don't think this is destined for any best-of-fest lists (plot is but a mere suggestion that sometimes feels ignored, to say nothing of character, or the questionable presence of the on-stage band, or the use of prerecorded narration), it was certainly not nearly the worst thing I've been to because it remained fun to watch.

2.5/4. Full points to the cowboy to full commitment.

Adam Bailey's The Life Henri edition.

A non-fiction lecture on the life of painter Henri Rousseau. Bailey omits a few details to make a better story, but the choices are reasonable. Art history and painting in particular aren't really my bag, but Bailey is a good storyteller and this is well-told.

3.5/4. I would have liked a little more on the art and a little less on the man.

32 Short Sketches About Bees edition.

Well, there were indeed 32 sketches in this 60 minute show. Some were quite good, but others were less so. Chris Leveille, Shannon Lahaie, and Leigh Cameron were all particular highlights.

Perhaps I'm a bit jaded by my high level of exposure to comedy in Toronto, but I felt this was at best "pretty good", but not "outstandingly good". About Time is far more polished in presentation and probably slightly better on average, but I think when this show hits, it's funnier.

3.5/4. Bees, Plan B, Bea Arthur, herpes, and in one case, er, lizards.
Jul. 11th, 2017 10:29 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Lysistrata edition.

This is a burlesque adaptation of Aristophanes. There are few really good numbers, including a dynamite rap to end the first act, but the concept exceeds the execution on the whole, I'm afraid; the cast are neither exceptional actors or dancers, leaving me with a head full of notes on how they could have done better.

I also object to being forced to stand for 90 minutes. Site specific in a narrow bar does make the action in-your-face, though.

3/4. It was good, but not 5 N's good.
Jul. 11th, 2017 10:01 am

Two Movies

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I went out to see two movies yesterday, at two separate theatres, which happens so rarely I can count the times that it has happened on one hand and still have fingers left over.

First up, we took Declan out to see Cars 3. If you completely ignore Cars 2 (or think of it as an unfortunate direct-to-video Mater movie), this is the actual sequel to Cars. It's funny and touching and FEELS like the first movie, which the second never did. And yes, at one point there were onion ninjas in the theatre. Declan flaps his arms when he gets super excited. There were a few points where I was convinced he was going to fly away he was flapping that hard and fast. Worth watching with, or without, kids in tow.

Later, I went out with [personal profile] clawfoot for Spider-Man: Homecoming. I wasn't expecting much, which is probably why I enjoyed it so damn much. The acting was superb and the casting was pretty much perfect. Tom Holland is spot on for Peter Parker, and Michael Keaton made the Vulture human. One other thing that I noticed was this: the cast was MIXED race. Not everyone who was named/part of the comic's rich and varied history was white. They found the best actors for the roles, skin colour be damned. It made me believe in Spider-Man's universe just a little bit more. It's also funny and heroic and the end-credit scene is probably my favourite of the lot thus far.
Jul. 10th, 2017 10:57 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Vasily Djokavich: Russia's #1 state-approved comedian edition.

This is a decent schtick (bureaucrat is assigned job of "comedian", anti-jokes ensue), but it needed more Yakov Smirnoff (accent not strong enough) and slightly less length overall.

2.5/4. It ended with a bit of unnecessary meanness (it actually would have been a lot more effective if his wife hadn't turned out to be a dude in a dress, but just some lady), but he did manage to get me to laugh pretty hard on a bit about Rasputin's penis.

Dear Uncle Wish edition.

This show was lovely to watch. The script could maybe have used one more edit to tighten it up here and there, but the heart really shone through. Great performances by all involved, from the accents and beyond.

3/4. I particularly enjoyed the circle of mail.

Interstellar Elder edition.

In a play almost completely without words, Ingrid Hansen gives a tour-de-force physical performance exploring what it could mean to be randomly(?) selected to be the sole caretaker of a ship carrying the cryogenically preserved remnants of the human race. The loneliness, responsibility, and frustrations of such a task are all beautifully communicated. Hansen's gifted in dance, puppetry, and clown, and all are put to great use in making comedy out of a pretty bleak situation.

3.5/4. It really does have "one of the best endings in all of the Fringe" (Montréal Gazette)

I have seen 19 Fringe shows heading in to the halfway mark. If I follow through on my planned timetable, I'll be at 32 going in to the final weekend, and I could very well hit 40, but I feel like I'd probably just be running up the scoreboard at that point.
Jul. 10th, 2017 01:29 pm

Keeping it in the family

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So my sister-in-law kind of dropped an unexpected bombshell on me: she wants to try D&D! AND my sister wants to try it, too! I'm kind of floored. I guess I'm not so much floored by SiL as I am by my sister; I mean, she always did enjoy fantasy and science-fiction novels and television shows, but not as much as I did, really, and she was never really the creative/imaginative type. I have a strong suspicion that she's mostly going along with it for her wife, but I hope she has fun with it, too.

In my head, the chances of SiL wanting to play a druid are hovering somewhere around 97-98%, and the same chances for my sister choosing to play a fighter. But then, this whole thing is surprising enough that I'm pretty much prepared for them to ask to play anything. My sister as a swashbuckling bard? Sure! SiL as a plucky young sorcerer? Why not! It is a game of imagination and possibilities.

We're going to their place for a weekend, where I will walk them through character creation and their very first dungeon crawl. I really, honestly, truly have NO idea what to expect. D&D is so different from group to group. It's one of the things I love about the hobby. Different group, pretty much different game.

I will keep you posted! I am sure hilarity will ensue.
Jul. 9th, 2017 11:26 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Six Quick Dick Tricks edition.

Now this is a magic show. Tim Motley has great stage presence and patter, well integrating his shtick into some pretty impressive mentalism. The plot, such as it is, does feel as hastily written as he admits it was, but his audience work and finesse makes up for it.

3/4, if only because the finale lacked the wallop to make this truly memorable.

Sam Mullin's Weaksauce edition.

Sam Mullins is a good storyteller, and this is a show where he tells a good story about first love at a hockey camp held at the University of Guelph in a dorm that (allegedly) was built from the same blueprints as a Panamanian prison. This particular detail really captured the Brutalism of late-20th-century Ontario University architecture for me. His character work is also quite good, pulling off a great Robert Webb-esque accent for his British rival.

3.5/4. I have absolutely no criticism to offer, just that this is good while it happens and then it's gone, which (minor spoilers) mirrors the story, I suppose.
Jul. 9th, 2017 12:46 am

Extremely short fringe reviews

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A Magic Show edition.

Well, this one did what it said on the tin, barely. A cavalcade of lame tricks and bad dad jokes from a real, actual dad.

On the one hand, I feel like I shouldn't be so hard to someone clearly living a dream. On the other, pulling punches helps no one.

1.5/4. This show would have been improved immeasurably by opening a copy of "Magic for Dummies" (a real, actual book that contains some excellent advice and easy-to-perform tricks), instead of relying on those hobbyhorses "grey elephants in Denmark" and the three unequal ropes trick.

La Fille du Laitier's Macbeth Muet edition.

I came in not expecting anything and was absolutely blown away. This is The Scottish Play re-done without dialogue, presented through puppetry and slapstick. The two performers stand behind a table, and between the fake blood and eggs-as-babies, there's an unholy mess. And yet, every beat of the plot comes through clearly.

Without speech, the sound design becomes essential, and Jon Lachlan Stewart's soundtrack did a fantastic job, from the scene changes marked with "ding!"s to the pop music marking the more comedic sections. That said, let it not take away from the amazing performances of Jeremie Francoeur and Clara Prévost, inventive and hilarious and completely enjoyable in every way.

When I'm asked at the Tent for my recommendations, this show will be top of list.

4/4. My first standing ovation this fest.

A Peter n; Chris-tmas Carol edition.

I'm not sure why Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson decided to do a Christmas show, but it certainly worked for them. They did a pretty good job evoking the holiday spirit in the middle of July. My recollection is that many of the bits were fairly clever, but I'm not sure I could sketch out a specific one if I had to now.

3/4. This was pretty good, but it wasn't standing-ovation good.

The Coincidence Men's Shakespeare's Ghostbusters edition.

Aw man, now this is my jam. Delightful, silly, hugely enjoyable. It's everything I wanted in a Fringe show, and I left enormously satisfied. It was fun to watch, which is not something I can say about some of the stuff I've seen.

Presented as a staged semi-reading, I didn't find that having the performers read off stands for some of it to be distracting at all. The cast are all old hands, and they continue to show those upstarts how it should be done. Even at their weakest moments, their stagecraft and presentation never faltered.

4/4. "If spirits be the problem that troubles thee most, / Whom wilt thou call? The busters of ghosts!"
Jul. 8th, 2017 02:58 pm

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Theatre Arcturus' Rough Magic edition.

After their stunner Weird last year, I was really excited for the return of this company. This one shows the relationship between Caliban and Ariel before and during The Tempest. Their game, she is upped: amazing costuming and makeup, outstanding direction (they pulled Kevin Hammond from the pro Shakespearean circuit), and of course, beautiful aerial silk choreography.

If anything, the choreo is an even better inclusion than it was last year, since Ariel is a sprite of the air, and it lets Lindsay Bellaire float and drift above the surface of the stage with all the lightness there should be. Philip Pstuka as Caliban is no slouch either, sinewy and flowing, a creature of the ground.

The creatures debate meaning, faith, service, and freedom. Pstuka's script is very good at sounding Shakespearean, and once again he manages to find both a fit and a twist around the original text. It's not quite to the level of amazing writing that Weird was, but it's very close.

3/4. All this over barnacles.

For the Love of Pie edition.

This is an attempt at doing a period piece, a cooking show host just on the edge of going over the hill. It's so-so; Melissa Paulson does pretty well at the character switch, playing three distinct roles, but the plot is scanty and the whole thing is quite short.

2/4. The idea of three-pie meals (a vegetable tart to start, a meat pie for main, a sweet pie to end) is not completely unappealing.

There'll be another tranche later today.
Jul. 8th, 2017 12:18 am

Extremely short fringe reviews

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Mind of a Snail's Multiple Organism edition.

I think we all expected great shadow puppetry after their last two, but to that winning formula they've added some really inventive video projection work too. Come see a gross painter, a love story of toothbrushes, toilet humour, and yes, a naked lady.

3.5/4. It really is a magnificent beard.

Sex T-Rex's Bendy Sign Tavern edition.

A series of delightful gags and great puppet work. I particularly feel for Danny Paget, who served drinks to tables for two solid hours with one hand in a puppet head. He must have shoulders of steel. Elliot Loran on the piano was a joy, backing the players as needed and playing jazz fill otherwise. The core team (Conor Bradbury, Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray, Julian Frid, Joseph Adelman) were all in top form, puppeteering with aplomb.

While each sequence is individually great, the through line isn't quite there, and the resolution feels as though it lacks motivation. Sex T-Rex's problem (insofar as it's a problem) is that they hit a remarkable emotional note three times in a row (Callaghan, Wildkat, Swordplay), so now we expect it every time, and this show (I'm afraid to say) doesn't have it (this was, alas, my concern about Wasteland, too).

3.5/4. I spotted the Callaghan's Hu Nab Ku and Salvatore's sword behind the bar (appropriate, as this show also contains a Salvatore).

Hexen edition.

I liked this a lot more than I expected (I only saw it because it fit into my schedule for the evening). A dance-heavy "but at what price luxury" parable type of deal. A perfectly reasonable showcase for a collective of young triple-threats.

I think the thing I will remember most about this play is being crammed into the corner of a tiny patio on a bench seat with no space to either side. Not a comfortable arrangement, but the intimacy of the space (officially they say 25 for this back patio of a Kensington café, but even that's a bit of a squeeze) definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the performance.

3/4. They're undone by... rocking chairs? Sure, why not.

The Templeton Philharmonic's About Time edition.

Easy pick for Best of Fest: the polish in their work here is amazing. The writing is tight, the staging is smooth, the bits are all funny and well-paced, the use of voiceover is exceptional. I can't say enough good things about the work of Brianna Templeton and Gwynne Philips. Easily one of the best sketch shows going*.

4/4. Imagine time is like a sketch revue...

* - The only rival I can think of might be 32 Short Sketches About Bees, which is also getting great, er, buzz, and I've scheduled for Wednesday
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