TO Fringe Review: Trotsky & Hutch

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Photo by Kevin Thorn

In this fully-improvised, one-hour romp, Impatient Theatre Company Founders Kevin Patrick Robbins, and Sean Tabares play two beat-cops deciphering life. Each improviser gets a suggestion off the top of the show and uses that one thing to fuel his perspective for the next hour. What’s wonderful about Tabares and Robbins is their chemistry. They have worked together tightly for over 10 years, and it’s obvious because either one of them will suddenly transition into another character in another place and time and the other will follow without hesitation. It’s simple premise, it’s good improv, and it’s worth your time.

TO Fringe Review: Sex, Religion and Other Hangups

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In this one-man show, Toronto writer, actor, and improviser James Gangl turns a years-old personal journal into 60 minutes of hilarious, honest, tightly-woven theatre. Gangl performs most his show with the familiar style of an improviser. While he never asks the audience for a suggestion, one feels like he might at any moment – that’ s how at-ease he makes his audience feel. In a five-minute period he goes from manic, unbridled flow to crisp, tight, rhythmic spoken-word poetry to one-man, two-person scenes and back again. Under the capable direction of Chris Gibbs (whose own one-man shows have won over audiences across the country) Gangl gets very personal with an underdog point that makes his message universal. Many people who’ve lived their lives under the hovering thumb of the Catholic Church end up with repressed fetishes and guilt-laden desires. Thanks to Gangl, his journal, and his guts, we end up with one of this year’s must-see Fringe shows.

NSTF Review: At the Sans Hotel

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

Toronto – How would you show a schizophrenic having a mental breakdown on stage? It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, but even if Nicola Gunn’s At the Sans Hotel doesn’t have it exactly right, I have to think it’s got to be pretty close.

Gunn, a Fringe veteran from Australia, took inspiration from the story of Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill German woman who was detained by Australian immigration authorities but turned out to be a permanent resident, in writing her new work. But At the Sans Hotel isn’t really about that story; it begins with a different character entirely talking directly to the audience about her life, drawing the “dramatic arc” on a chalkboard and discussing metaphors in playwrighting, and eventually revealing that the great artist Nicola Gunn isn’t here tonight because she had a breakdown writing her new masterpiece At the Sans Hotel.

It just gets weirder from there. “Sophie” says she has a questionnaire for the crowd, but only mimes handing it out (though she hands out real pencils), but then goes through the questions on stage like “How are you?”, “How are you enjoying the play so far?” and “What is hopelessness?” (“some of the questions are harder than others,” she says). There are several uncomfortable silences, during which Sophie stares straight ahead or sits behind the chalkboard. A light-up sign that says “Rescue Me” comes out at one point, and goes back and forth across the stage for a minute or so. She invites someone from the crowd on stage to play musical chairs with her to win a Nicola Gunn promo photo, then belittles him quite viciously when he loses.

“Sophie” also talks about how much she wishes we could see the great dramatic scene of Gunn’s masterwork, because it has a great sequence where Nicola sits at a table, all you can see is her legs, and asks herself questions. Then this sequence makes up the bulk of the second half of the show, with Gunn acting the part of both the mentally ill person and her interviewer, while the audience can’t see her face. Like Sophie said, it is very dramatic and haunting.

For a show so scattered and disjointed, At the Sans Hotel is surprisingly intimate. At several points it’s hard to tell if Gunn is talking about her schizophrenic inspiration or herself. You can’t help but think, at times, when “Sophie” talks about Gunn having a mental breakdown while writing this play that maybe she’s telling the truth. It’s an unsettling show, funny and creepy and personal and disconnected, all at once.

It’s so rambling and bizarre at times that it’s hard to get a grip on what you’re seeing at times. But Gunn is such a great performer that even when, by all rights, she should’ve lost the audience completely, she manages to bring us back in. Don’t go in expecting a tight narrative, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a “psychological detective story” like the Next Stage website does, but it’s an interesting show that’s well worth your time.

At the Sans Hotel runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week as part of Next Stage. See their website for schedule details and tix.

NSTF Review: The Apology

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Toronto – Apologizing isn’t a big part of The Apology, running now as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival at Factory Theatre. In fact, while the characters continually jump beds, make grand statements and have melodramatic arguments about politics and polyamory and parenthood, and leave each other, come back, then leave again, the only thing they really don’t do to each other is apologize.

The Apology is a quasi-historical, fictionalized sex drama featuring Mary Shelley, most famously the author of Frankenstein; her lover, and later her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley; her half-sister Claire Clairmont; and romantic poet Lord Byron. In this story, the four young idealists decide to leave behind the trappings of England and their high society parents and run away together to write, do drugs, wax poetic about their visions of utopian society and have lots of sex with each other.

Sure, it’s sexy. It’s occasionally rather funny. It’s tragic, and it’s melodramatically over-the-top like an episode of Gossip Girl. The four actors are very, very good, particularly David Beazely as the smoldering, bisexual Byron and Sascha Cole as the ditzy, sweet Clairmont.

It’s also quite dense. It’s occasionally a bit confusing. It’s heavy-handed, and the relentless tragedy to end it off gets a bit tiring. Darrah Teitel’s script feels almost like it’s too smart for it’s own good, particularly when the characters deliver lines comparing the creative process with having children and monsters. In a “playwright’s note” in the program it says that anarchy and feminism are the “twin pillars of this play,” but feminism seems to only really come through the sexual liberation of the two women, and anarchy doesn’t seem to fit in at all, unless having sex with multiple partners is anarchy. The clothes seem to indicate a modern setting for Shelley and her 19th century peers, as do talk of photos in the tabloid newspapers and book launch parties, but it’s hard for the show to work as a period piece when you remove the characters from their time period; in other words, running from the Victorian era-values of their home lives and only communicating with the outside world by letter makes a lot less sense if they’re not actually in the Victorian era.

Still, the acting is quite good, and the on-stage chemistry between the four is worth the price of admission. If you’re turned on by on-stage nudity and almost-sex, then you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. But as a piece of theatre, it’s just ok.

The Apology runs Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week as part of Next Stage. Check their site for details and ticket info.