TO Fringe Reviews: Wedding Night in Canada, The Devil and Billy Markham, Underbelly Diaries Redux

Some capsule reviews today, as I’m falling a little behind in my writing and have a hefty 5-show day scheduled tomorrow. Apologies to anyone who would’ve liked to see full reviews for these shows.

Wedding Night in Canada

I think that I’m just not the target audience for this show. I realize that I’m at the age and stage of my relationship that talking about getting married no longer sends me running from the room. I do sometimes lose interest pretty quickly when that talk comes around, though, and I have a healthy dislike for those wedding reality shows on TV starring horrible people that my girlfriend enjoys and likes to point to and say “see, aren’t you glad we’re not like that?”

In Wedding Night in Canada, half the play is spent with the bride monologuing about things like the dinner menu, how great her engagement was, and what it felt like to walk down that aisle. The rest is the groom and best man trying to convince the bride to come out of the room she’s hiding in for her wedding reception; she’s upset because the Leafs are in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals, and somebody has brought in some TVs so the reception guests can watch.

You can insert your favourite joke about the unlikeliness of the Leafs contending for the Stanley Cup anytime soon here. I might go with something like “Leafs in the Cup finals? If this play is set that far in the future, shouldn’t she have a little robot holding the train of her wedding dress off the floor?” But then, I’m not paid to write comedy. I just couldn’t get into this show; my natural defense mechanism for wedding talk is to go into “nodding and uh-huh-ing” mode, and there’s not really enough laughs or hockey talk here to hold my interest.

The Devil and Billy Markham

I have great memories of listening to Shel Silverstein read his poems from A Light in the Attic when I was a kid. I didn’t really know that he used to write for Playboy back in the day, or that he had a play based on something he wrote for that magazine in 1979, namely The Devil and Billy Markham.

It’s a series of short stories of Billy betting against the Devil and usually losing. The tales are entertaining enough, and Tom McGee tells them pretty well in the play’s only role, that of the storytelling janitor. It’s sort of in the style of those old Silverstein tapes that I loved as a kid in that it’s really just a recital in as entertaining a voice as the performer can make it.

But those Silverstein kid’s poems were, well, short, and you could turn them off when you wanted to. The Billy Markham stories are interesting, but with no visual aides for McGee aside from a mop, a bucket and an easel, I’m not sure they’re interesting for 60 minutes of straight recitation. It’s obvious that McGee has a real love for the material, and Shel Silverstein was nothing if not imaginitive, but the storytelling alone is not quite enough to distract when the hard chairs of the St. George’s Auditorium start to get uncomfortable.

Underbelly Diaries Redux

It’s possible that you’ve heard of Aaron Berg before; he’s a comedian who’s apparently toured fairly extensively. He also used to work as a male stripper. This show is mostly about his experiences in that line of work.

It’s also got some pretty interesting and seemingly heartfelt thoughts on being Jewish, and near the beginning there’s a very funny infomercial-style bit for steroids, which you can certainly believe Berg might have some experience with, being built like a truck as he is. But it’s mostly about how he came to take his clothes off for money by following the Al-Pacino-in-Scarface mantra of doing whatever you have to do to get to the top, how he learned the trade, as it were, and some of the sideline activities that come along with being a stripper.

There’s parts of this show that are funny enough that I was howling with laughter. It’s not for the faint of heart, or people who dislike off-colour humour. Berg gleefully delves into the gross and obscene sometimes, and it probably contains more than you ever wanted to know about things like guys being paid to masturbate in front of other guys. It could also stand to be 10-15 minutes shorter, but aside from the jokes about Jamaican dudes with 14-inch dicks and stories of building his rep as “the funny stripper” and bringing his gentile stripper girlfriend home to meet the parents, there’s a level of introspection here that makes the show work.

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Posted on by Brian in Everything, Fringe, Reviews, Theatre

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