TO Fringe Review: Die Roten Punkte – KUNST ROCK

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

This show is my unabashed favourite of the Fringe so far. There’s so many things to like about Die Roten Punkte’s KUNST ROCK! that I’m not entirely sure where to begin. If you’re a music fan and are irritated that your favourite Toronto indie blog (this one, naturally) has been taken over by theatre reviews, you should do two things: the first is to calm down, things will be back to normal soon, and the second is to go see this show.

Die Roten Punkte is a two-piece band from Berlin made up of siblings Astrid and Otto Rot. She plays drums, he plays guitar, and they sing songs about things like bananas.

It’s all a terrific parody, of course, as Astrid and Otto strut around making a complete mockery of all kinds of stuffy, pretentious rock. There’s a pretty clear White Stripes caricature here, but it’s all such good-natured fun it’s fruitless to list everyone Astrid and Otto might remind us of on stage. The two of them flirt with members of the audience, dance, run all around the theatre, speak with artsy German accents, load their sampler with sounds from whatever they can find, and actually happen to be pretty good musicians, too. Their stage banter is terrific, and they speak just loudly enough when they’re away from their microphones so you can hear them bicker on stage. Their “mini-rock opera” is about the death of their parents, and their subsequent escape from an evil aunt and uncle; Astrid sings that they were killed by a train, while Otto is convinced their parents were eaten by a lion. They claim that to write their new album they spent three months in a bunker for “creative development,” and for days listened only to the sounds of things like water dripping into a cup and a brush rubbing against a pineapple.

It’s absurd, it’s silly, it’s loud, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Don’t wait until the weekend to see it; Astrid and Otto only have Thursday and Friday shows left in Toronto during the Fringe. After that, you can catch them at festivals in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver. Check out their website for the full tour schedule.

TO Fringe Review: Poison the Well

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

First, if you’re doing the Fringe this year, try to see something in the Annex Theatre. Monday was the first time I’d seen anything in this venue before, and it’s just a really gorgeous space.

Should the show you see at the Annex be Poison the Well? That’s a tough one.

Poison the Well is about a fictional terrorist hostage-taking in Russia by Chechen rebels. For dramatic reasons that I’m not entirely sure that I buy, the Russians send a single lawyer from an oil company, which has interests in the region and employees among the hostages, to negotiate the release of an arena full of people with a journalist that the terrorists regularly use as their mouthpiece. As if that weren’t enough, the journalist and oil company lawyer were childhood friends; they were separated by the Chechan war, when the lawyer, James (Andrew Connor, also the playwright and director), went back to live in America and the journalist, Maya (Elison Zasko), stayed behind, not knowing whether or not James was alive or dead. They negotiate for the release of the hostages, they renew acquaintances, and try to reconcile how glad they are to see each other with being adversaries in the negotiation. Demands from both sides get personal, the tension builds, and then it’s over.

Does it work that well? Well…no, to be honest. The plot is certainly interesting in broad strokes, and it’s well-paced and builds nicely to a climax. There’s some little twists in it that you’ll enjoy if you’re a thriller novel junkie or a conspiracy theorist who believes strongly in corporate evil and greed. One of the conditions the oil company asks for is if they can add a dozen people to the hostages so that the terrorists can dispose of them, for instance. I rather like the idea of high-stakes hostage negotiation as theatre; I think there is a solid, dramatic idea in here.

Some of the plot elements don’t really hold up to close scrutiny, however, and rely too much on coincidence, like the big reveal that Maya’s brother is mixed up in all this too, a fact James from the oil company is all too aware of. The fact that the rebels are Chechen feels a bit tacked on; there’s not much in the play about the larger geopolitical context, and the Chechen-Russian tensions feels like it could be anything, like Colombia vs. FARQ or Basque separatists vs. Spain or what have you. This causes some problems when, after the show’s climax, a video projector shows images of what I can only guess is devastation in Chechnya on the far wall. After making the terrorism a bit generic, except for a quick aside about how all the hostage-takers are women because all the men in their region were killed, now there’s a statement about the plight of Chechnya at the very end? And why do the two characters come back to slow dance on the table in the dark while these images are playing after they’d ended the penultimate scene with one of them leaving the stage?

It’s an unsatisfying ending that’s a bit strange. There’s a good script in here somewhere, and the acting is fine, but the execution leaves something to be desired.

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.