Fringe Reviews: The Last Buffalo, [sic], Leacock Live!, Teaching Shakespeare

Fringe fatigue is setting in, and so I think this might be the last of my Fringing for the year. Here’s some brief reviews of the shows I saw on Wednesday. All these shows are on at Tarragon, and they all have one or two performances left.

Also, big congrats to Panic Manual friends PICK OF THE FRINGE! for being one of the Fringe patron’s picks.

The Last Buffalo

The brother and son of Jimmy Quinn (Don Berns) come together to mourn him after his death. This sort of “let’s reflect on the death of <blank>” plot is pretty familiar in dramatic theatre. The Last Buffalo tries for a father-to-son and brother-to-brother relationship/love angle as it’s emotional centre, but it never gets to the level of “tear-jerker,” try as it might. Berns is ok as the dead father/brother, who pops into memories the other two characters are having, and it’s funny to hear his voice on stage, as Berns is a pretty notable voice talent for commercials and TV shows (for fun, his demo reel from PNA Agency is in the mp3 attached to this post).

But the other two get most of the stage time, and what they say never really resonates. The brother (Greg Dunham) has a long monologue about a story where his uncle was mean to him that just doesn’t pop for me, while the son (Alex Fiddes) talks a lot about his up-and-down relationship with his dad but when the two are actually on stage together, it’s really not illustrated that well.

I felt bad that when I saw this play on Wednesday, it attrached only about ten people to the 200 seat Tarragon Mainspace, but I really can’t recommend it.

[sic]

Three struggling creatives who are neighbours and friends hang around their apartment building being strange and lusting after one another in [sic]. And that’s it, really.

The appeal comes from the oddness of the characters and the quirky dialogue. The plot, such as it is, is a bit nonsensical and not the easiest to follow; to whit, I think their landlady is killed during the show, possibly by one of the three, but no one seems especially concerned about it. Every so often everything on stage will stop and the characters all look up to listen closely to what I think is meant to be their upstairs neighbours bickering, though it’s pre-recorded and not always easy to hear.

Still, the plot’s pretty secondary. All the enjoyment from the play comes from the eccentric characters and their odd interactions, marked by the staccato, smart dialogue.

Leacock Live!

Leacock Live! company Act II Studio is a Ryerson drama school for people over 50, and they’ve mounted this sort of group reading, or “reader’s theatre” as I guess it’s called, of a couple of Stephen Leacock stories. The 15 or so people on stage in period garb, ranging in age from 50 to late 80’s, tell two tales from the fictional town of Mariposa, one about the local bar’s efforts to keep their liquor license, the other about a day trip on the town’s crappy old cruise ship.

I can’t deny it’s got a certain amount of charm, and it drew a sellout crowd the day I went. I guess lot of people really love Leacock or find the idea of a bunch of older actors onstage at once reading from black binders, occasionally messing up and stepping on each other’s lines, especially compelling. I’m not sure I get the appeal. It did get a patron’s pick from the Fringe, however, so it must be doing something right.

Teaching Shakespeare

A remount of a show that’s had great success in the past by experienced Canadian playwright/actor Keir Cutler, Teaching Shakespeare is a very funny one-man play that parodies a college class on Shakespeare. Cutler’s frantic college professor on the verge of a breakdown is a great parody and I imagine a lot of people will see an old teacher of theirs in his performance.

Shakespeare is totally infallible and unquestionable; if there’s anything we don’t like in his work, it’s because we don’t fully understand it, he insists. Rhyme schemes and monosyllabic word choices are examined in ridiculous detail. He brings out the class’s student evaluations, which are full of negative comments about how he goes off on odd tangents and can never finish the assigned scene for the day, and demands to know who’s written them. Of course, he doesn’t finish the assigned scene for this “class” either, mostly because he keeps going off on wild tangents.

The funniest bit occurs when he wants to demonstrate Shakespeare’s device of having the main character of his plays disappear from the action for a while. He does this by leaving the stage. When he comes back, he gets the class, i.e. the audience, to tell him what they were thinking when it happened, the correct answers being “where is he going?” and “is he coming back?”, and then acts as though something really profound has been discovered. Cutler’s expressiveness, particularly his slightly crazed, wide-eyed expression, adds a lot, and it’s for good reason that this show, which Cutler premiered in 1999, has been a hit wherever it’s gone.

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

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