TO Fringe Review: Relentless Sketch Comedy

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | 3 Comments

If you have been reading my other reviews or happen to be following my Twitter account, you may recall me whining a lot about how I was scheduled to see six shows on Saturday. This is no one’s fault but my own, of course, as I’ve been writing my own schedule as I endeavour to cover the 2010 Fringe for Panic Manual all by myself.

When I was doing my Saturday schedule I thought to myself “ah, a sketch comedy group, that’ll sooth my fractured nerves at the end of a long day of theatre,” and booked Relentless Sketch Comedy, a show from a duo calling themselves Charles from Seattle.

I have no notes on this show, since as soon as it was over I jumped on the streetcar, went home and crashed, so I’m kind of winging it in this review. From what I can recall, Relentless Sketch Comedy is a mostly ok show. A sketch with a ghost “disguising” himself as Patrick Swayze by wearing a different nondescript sheet over his regular nondescript sheet and turning out to be J.D. Salinger brought barely a chuckle for me (though the EYE Weekly reviewer was totally into it). But a lengthy sketch that started out at Westjet flight attendant comedy school and kept escalating until it ended up in a “jokes race” between Air Canada and Westjet and the Prime Minister bringing in replacements during a flight attendant strike was pretty good. Some bits about alternate realities and marine recruitment were also not bad, while an overabundance of vasectomy jokes and a weird zombie/shock DJ bit fell pretty flat.

The two members of the group, Chuck Armstrong and Charlie Stockman, have good chemistry together, and the writing for a lot of the sketches is less dick jokes and more quantum physics jokes, which is a good thing. But the dick jokes there are aren’t that good, and the hit or miss level of the sketches and some screwed up sound cues makes for a pretty middle of the pack show.

TO Fringe Review: Maude-Lynne Sells Out!

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | 3 Comments

Heh. You know, I just got the joke about the character name “Maude-Lynne” just now as I’m sitting here writing this review. Maude-Lynne. Maudlin. That’s clever.

Maude-Lynne Sells Out! is a pretty clever little show like that, and I thought a lot more of it after leaving the theatre and pondering it for a while than I did while actually watching it. It’s an oddball little show to watch: Maude-Lynne (Morgan Norwich) is a nerdy goth chick who lives in her Mom’s basement, and due to her sister getting married and being given the house has to consider the possibility of moving out of her “beloved withering depths” and possibly even finding a real job. To that end, and because she’s been banned from her business of selling on eBay for dealing stolen merchandise, Maude-Lynne has invited her customers and online friends (i.e. the audience) to her basement to raise a bit of money to aid in the house-hunting through live auction, while at the same time her sister’s bachelorette party is happening upstairs. She’s aided in this by her sidekick Colin (Peter Cavell), who adds musical accompaniement on the keyboard, reads an X-Men comic when he gets bored, and in general has a perfect slack-jawed idiot look about him.

Sure, the songs are just ok and Maude-Lynne’s Wuthering Heights-inspired speech and mannerisms grate slightly after a while. But this show has some real heart to it, and it manages something I’ve rarely seen: it actually has a likeable goth-kid protagonist. In a lot of popular culture, goths are really just there for comedic effect or worse, as a misfit to pity. But goths and geeks are more alike than different, and by virutally any social standard out there I am almost certainly a geek. Sure, goths are obsessed with things like Emily Bronte and dark clothes, while I’m more into things like nu-jazz and the Internet. But Colin reads comics, something I have a soft spot for, and does a quick rendition of the theme song from the 90’s X-Men cartoon show, which I was a fan of when it was running, while Maude-Lynne sings a song about being geeky that questions why a passion for something should be considered wrong.

As the real world intrudes on Maude-Lynne’s gothic fantasies, it’s hard not to root for her, especially if you’re of a slightly geeky bent. It’s a fun and clever show, and enjoyable even if you’ve never read Wuthering Heights.

TO Fringe Review: Georgia and Leona & This is About the Push

Posted on by Brian in Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | Leave a comment

Funny how your opinion of one show can be changed by seeing another one. I came out of Georgia and Leona thinking it deserved a pretty solid 4-rating. Then I saw This is About the Push and actually changed my mind.

I liked both these shows, though. Georgia and Leona is a show of two separate monologues taking turns on stage. The first is that of Georgia (on the left in the promo photo above), who is inspired by a visit from her old friend Donna and the news that Donna has suddenly gotten married to reminisce about the past between them. The second is that of Leona, who, on the occasion of the second anniversary of the death of her friend Carl, was given a stack of old letters he wrote.

The two don’t interact at all, but there is a sort of kinship between them you can feel. Occasionally they’ll repeat bits of dialogue that the other has said. Both have become isolated by their pasts to some extent, Georgia emotionally so from growing up an orphan and her desire for a simple, stable life, Leona physically after her friend’s death shocked her into quitting her job and moving to a remote country home. Their stories are both pretty poignant on the subjects of friendship and love, and both actresses, Misha Bower and Lara Mrkoci (also the playwright and director, respectively), do a great job with their roles.

I did, however, experience a bit of a lull in the middle; clocking in at 75 minutes (note: not the 90 minutes your Fringe program states), it’s hard to keep an audience at rapt attention throughout in a show that’s lacking a bit in serious dramatic tension. Maybe it was that this was the middle of the afternoon and my third show of a six-show day, but my mind wandered more than a little in the middle of this show before coming back for the bittersweet conclusion.

The biggest reason I bumped that show down from a rating of 4 was because the show I saw right afterwards, This is About the Push, seemed to pack as much interesting storytelling into a play that’s half as long.

This is About the Push is sort of a deconstruction of an office pool party from the perspective of the wife of a recently-promoted low-level manager. It has that sort of 50’s Mad Men vibe that a lot of people seem to be suddenly nostalgic about nowadays, but Push uses it to good effect. Three women are discussing this party afterwards, and all the things that seemed innocent to the lead start to look rather sleazy and improper in retrospect. Kimwun Perehinec’s unnamed protagonist is questioned ruthlessly by two other unnamed characters, played by Jennifer Villeverde and Naomi Wright, who also take turns playing various roles of other male and female guests at the party.

All the women gossip and talk about how important their husbands are, while the men are all closed-off and business-like. The protagonist continues to insist that everyone was so nice and nothing bad happened, even as the story unfolds of how the big boss paid her a little more attention than appropriate, and how once the children went inside and the women all stripped down to jump in the pool the rest of the party went out of their way to make her look foolish and things took a bit of a sexual harassment-sort of turn. For the sake of “the push” for her husband’s career, though, no one really wants to talk about that. The way that everyone in the show repeatedly speak in platitudes about everything and everyone being “nice” and “lovely,” with no one saying what they really think, is almost haunting.

The show is pretty up my alley as someone who likes a careful consideration of what’s been said and strategizes about how to get messages across as part of my job and education, and at 35 minutes this was by far the shortest show so far on my Fringe schedule, a definite plus on a six-show day. This is to say that my rating might be a bit inflated for those reasons. Still, This is About the Push is one of my favourites of Fringe so far, and as this is a workshop production of part one of what will eventually be a three-parter, I’m certainly interested in the next two parts.

TO Fringe Review: Carnegie Hall Show! & S&P and Sega Geniuses Vs. The World

Posted on by Brian in Everything, Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | 1 Comment

photo courtesy the National Theatre of the World website

Let it be known that I think good improv is a really tough thing to do. I admire people who attempt it. It’s great fun when it’s successful, and it’s kind of painful when things aren’t clicking.

It’s tough to review too, since it’s so different from one night to the next. I really like the Carnegie Hall Show. I didn’t like S & P and Sega Geniuses Vs. The World much. Your results might differ entirely.

First, the good: the Carnegie Hall Show, put on by locals The National Theatre of the World, is a good show with a lot of laughs. They’ve been doing this show on a weekly basis for something like a year and a half now, so the chemistry between the performers is top-notch. Noon on a Saturday isn’t the easiest time slot to fill, but after a funny song from “Billable Hours” star Brandon Firla (having local actors sing in their show seems to be one of the show’s schticks this Fringe) and a declaration from Ron Pederson that he was already drunk, they were off.

The first half of the show, the premise being a “retrospective of the greatest ever improvised scenes” on a particular subject, was a bit scattered; the topic taken from the crowd was sunscreen, kind of a tough one to get into, but the cast certainly tried, tossing out scenes of the origins of sunscreen from Roman times when “Romulus and Remus were battling Ramses” for control of Rome and trotting out commercial ideas. The second half, a “radio show” improv with a title of “Theatre of Crickets” sponsored by “Johnson’s boar loin,” also taken from audience suggestions, was funnier. Chris Gibbs stood out as particularly good throughout, though fellow cast members Naomi Snieckus, Matt Baram and Pederson all had inspired moments as well. I highlighted this show as one to see before the festival and was not disappointed.

S & P and the Sega Geniuses are two separate local improv groups. The premise was that each troupe would take half of the hour long show, and they each spoke to an audience member before their set for ideas. The two women who were interviewed talked about what they did for a living, what they liked to do on a date, etc., and theoretically the improv was to flow from that.

However, after an hour of random, scattered scenes I was perplexed. The interviews did provide a lot of material, but neither group really seemed to draw much inspiration from them. The first lady they spoke to was genuinely a bit odd; it somehow came up that she didn’t like to eat with her bare hands, and went to great lengths to explain that while she worked for a design studio, she wasn’t a designer. This led to S & P’s funniest line, when one of the performers stated that he worked in a restaurant, but wasn’t a restauranteur. However, the all-male group seemed to think it was funnier to have two of them pretending to make out on stage, run a few scenes on tired cliches about relationships, and inexplicably have some dull characters in an office scene who mostly just said “all right” and “ok” in moronic voices find a portal to another dimension, which really went nowhere.

Sega Geniuses managed to do a little better with their material, which came from a woman who worked a dull office job to support her real passion of stage managing and didn’t like her roommate’s boyfriend. Still, there weren’t a whole lot of laughs to be had, and the last scene when they decided they were doing a production of Oliver Twist, despite the “director” appearing to not know any scenes from Oliver Twist, dissolved into some mild jokes about the lead being a paraplegic and loudly declaring “I’m EQUITY!” Again, there was probably some good material to explore from the interviewee, but it didn’t really shine through in the improv. I wonder if the two groups were a bit worried about offending the two people they interviewed; it’s one thing to take abstract suggestions from the audience in improv, but it would be hard to take specific things from an audience volunteer and make people laugh at them without being mean.