SummerWorks Play Review: ONE, August 5

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Toronto – ONE, a show from Alberta-based RedtoBlue Performance, has a few things going for it, but above all is this: It’s got to be one of the most visually interesting theatre festival shows I’ve seen in a long time. SummerWorks is a bit more forgiving than, say, Fringe in that there’s an hour and a half of teardown and setup time between shows, rather than the Fringe’s standard hour or less, but still, to get this much design detail not only in limited setup time, but also with a show that’s travelled across the country, is impressive.

According to the program notes, “every element…had to be considered a storytelling component,” according to the show creator, Jason Carnew, and that sort of ambition definitely shows. The detail, the sleight-of-hand with some of the props, the costuming, the excellent sound design…it’s all very impressive, even though the house lights came up unexpectedly and for no reason several times during the performance I saw.

The storyline, well, that’s not quite as impressive. ONE is purportedly a re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, only with the woman, Philistine (Amber Borotsik) in the Orpheus role, in search of her lost love George (Cole Humeny). Along the way she comes across Charon (Keith Wyatt), who manages a storeroom of all the memories of humankind, kept in the form of vinyl records, which is quite a cool idea and makes for the best scenes in the show as he tries to ignore her, then toys with her before finally spinning the recording of Philistine and George’s love. Charon tells her George has drowned at sea, and to find him she must travel to hell, which is pretty much where the close resemblance to Orpheus and Eurydice begins and ends. I hate to say the story is complicated because it’s really not; it’s a fairly straightforward “descent to the underworld” tale. But large parts of it are told through allegory and contemporary dance, particularly Philistine and George’s love and her trip to hell, and many of these bits tend to go on a little too long for my tastes.

Still, it’s a cool production, even if it’s a little too poetic and metaphorical for it’s own good at times. Well worth seeing.

ONE runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

TO Fringe Review: When Harry Met Harry

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Toronto – If you’ve spent much time around the Fringe so far, you may have seen When Harry Met Harry performer Allan Girod handing out flyers or seeing other shows. I think I’ve seen him every day so far. A 6’9 Australian, he’s hard to miss. His pitch when he’s flyering is pretty good, I saw him get a positive response from a lot of people, and quite a few people at his sold-out show on Tuesday were there because he’d personally handed them a flyer.

Girod’s personable nature when handing out flyers is in stark contrast to his regimented, socially awkward character Harry. Harry lives for his job as a print specialist, goes through his checklist precisely during every phone call, won’t answer the phone before 9:00, and won’t speak for a second past noon. He favourite possession is his clock, and he times everything precisely.

Unfortunately for Harry, there’s been some complaints about his conduct, and he has to go to a “Personal Development Workshop,” which he dreads so much he tries to step in front of a car to get out of it. The workshop is where Girod really shines, playing both the over-the-top facilitator who urges everyone to repeat the mantra “conflict good, avoidance bad” and Harry, who’s called on as a volunteer for every exercise and can’t refuse because his boss is watching. It’s an exagerrated version of the sort of workshop many of us office and cubicle dwellers have been forced to attend at one time or another, and at this particular showing the audience really responded to it.

It’s a pretty good show, even though Harry’s story feels a bit unresolved at the end.

When Harry Met Harry plays at Venue 2. Check your Fringe program or the online play listings for showtimes.

TO Fringe Review: Bursting Into Flames

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Toronto – Martin Dockery has gotten some pretty high praise in the past for his shows at various Fringe festivals in the past, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s an energetic and engaging performer, a rapid-fire storyteller who can easily hold an audience for the entirety of an hour-long solo show.

That said, I’m just not wild about his material here. Dockery is in heaven, and describes to the audience all the great things he’s been doing since he got to heaven. He hosts cocktail parties every night. He has a girlfriend. He goes to his friend’s horn recitals. And everybody’s just so nice all the time.

Of course, the same people at the same parties every night gets tedious. He actually finds his girlfriend incredibly irritating, but he keeps going out with her and even gets married to her out of politeness. He doesn’t even like the horn. And everyone’s just a little too nice for comfort.

There’s certainly laughs, and a pretty compelling bit when Dockery describes what torture in hell is like. But some of the gags go on far too long without really being that funny, and the monologue really rambles at times. Dockery is fun to watch, but as good as he is, his script here isn’t that strong.

Bursting Into Flames plays at Venue 9. Check your Fringe program or the online play listings for showtimes.

TO Fringe Review: P-Dale

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Toronto – In P-Dale, a group of four screwups try to stick up a convenience store. They screw it up. It’s not really that good.

What? There has to be more? Ok then…

Our four heroes, Snoop (Brendon Smith), who has big gambling debts, Walker (Scott Walker), an alcoholic who’s homeless, Svelte (Caleb Verzyden), who works in porn, and Twizzle (playwright Luis Fernandes), a goofy white rapper and drug dealer, are all from Parkdale, hence the name. Except for Twizzle, who “reprahsents da P-Dale” but is actually from Richmond Hill.

As ridiculous as Twizzle is, he’s easily the most interesting character. Fernandes manages to inject him with a fair amount of depth in the first half of the show, even while he’s yelling at other characters not to censor him, wearing a strap-on on his face, busting out ridiculous rhymes and breaking the fourth wall. But the nominal protagonist, Snoop, is the least interesting character. He puts everyone off who asks why he’s planning this convenience store robbery until his end-of-show reveal, which isn’t that dramatic. Svelte has little going for him that’s interesting aside from his porn job, and it’s really not clear why he’s involved in this at all. Walker is meant to be a tragic figure, but the script only pays lip service as to why. The show relies on solliloquies from the characters to fill in their back story, and never really gets into how they know each other.

The robbery goes staggeringly wrong, of course, and there’s a handful of ok gags along the way, but it’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny and none of the characters are all that sympathetic.

P-Dale plays at Venue 10. Check your Fringe program or the online play listings for showtimes.