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.

TO Fringe Review: Under the Mango Tree

Posted on by Brian in Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | 2 Comments

Toronto – Under the Mango Tree won Pick of the Fringe last year in Vancouver with a sellout run. This is a little surprising to me after seeing the show last night at the Toronto Fringe. Not to say it’s a poor show or anything, it just didn’t resonate with me the way I’d expect a “Best of Fringe” sort of show would.

It is entirely possible, I suppose, that as a second-generation Canadian, the story just didn’t strike a chord with me. Under the Mango Tree is, after all, an immigrant family’s tale: a single father in a poor village leaves the country seeking a better life, leaving behind his daughter, Timal, with her grandparents, promising to one day return and bring her back with him to Canada to live in prosperity. Set in Fiji, it’s semi-autobiographical, as the playwright and performer, Veenesh Dubois, emigrated from Fiji to Canada as a child, but not before being separated from her family for four years.

The growing disconnection between the character Timal and her father as they correspond by mail is interesting. Her father writes of selling popcorn to tourists on the streets, not wanting to be one of the stereotypical immigrants who drives too cautiously, and living in a flat. Timal, who lives in a small village and knows of little beyond it’s boundaries, doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, and asks whether the villages in Canada have sugar cane fields too. The show is solo-acted by Dubois; along with Timal, who ages from 10 to 16 during the course of the show, Dubois voices a few other characters as well, most often her grandmother, who she brings to life by wrapping a scarf around her head and holding her back as if it’s aching.

It’s a pretty good story, and it has a bittersweet ending after the rather saccharine-sweet beginning, when young Timal’s world was near-perfect. I didn’t feel a particular connection in any of this, though, and to me the narrative just sort of ground along to it’s inevitable conclusion. It’s ably acted by Dubois, who clearly put a great deal of herself into the show, and the characters are fairly well-written. It may just be a little too far outside my personal frame of reference as a white kid from small town Alberta to feel the kind of emotional resonance I would’ve needed to feel to give it a higher rating.

*Note that Under the Mango Tree is not the 90 minutes that your program indicates. It clocks in at a little under 60.

TO Fringe Review: Dance Animal

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

Dance Animal is a troupe of eight from Montreal, where, from glancing at their press clippings, they appear to be the darlings of the dance theatre scene. It’s not too hard to see why: their show is pretty inventive, the choreography is all right, and there’s numerous references to and in-jokes about different areas of Montreal.

So if I was a dance-loving Montrealer, you’re probably looking at a four or five star review. Alas, I’ve never set foot in Montreal, and I’m less of a dance aficionado than I am a dance cynic. Pie-in-the-sky references to “expressing oneself through dance” and “dance uniting the world” and the like, which are peppered throughout Dance Animal’s Toronto Fringe show, tend to turn me off.

Still, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy much of Dance Animal’s show. At the risk of appearing slightly less masculine in front of my blog cohorts, it’s a cute show, light-hearted and with a few laughs. The choreography in it seems pretty good to my untrained eye, though the first few numbers look more like a coordinated, high-energy aerobics class. Between dances each member of the group comes out to introduce themselves (there’s Dance Salmon, Dance Chicken, Dance Ladybug, etc.) and tell a little tale of how Dance Tiger – aka group founder, choreographer and director Robin Henderson (in the middle, holding the ball in the photo above) – recruited them for the group.

A lot of the references to Montreal in these monologues are quite possibly lost on a Toronto crowd. And the show has a couple of downright bizarre dance numbers in it, none stranger than the one in which a troupe member comes out in a furry rabbit suit with a whip wearing a corset and panties and proceeds to do a rather sleazy striptease. Yeah. It’s the stuff a furries’ dreams and/or nightmares are made of.

But some of the monologues have some real laughs, and some of the dance numbers are really good, the best probably being the cops & robbers & Spiderman dance done to a jazzy version of the 60’s Spidey cartoon show theme. I feel obligated to say something about the music, writing for an indie blog as I do: the obligatory Gwen Stefani and Beyonce tracks are balanced out somewhat with Boney M’s “Rasputin,” the aforementioned Spiderman swing tune, and, oddly enough, a Coldplay song.

If you like choreographed dance numbers more than I do (and judging by the energy of the crowd, there’s quite a number of people that do) you’ll probably really like this show. If you don’t, and you’re still taken to see this show by, say, a girlfriend or other enthusiastic fan, you’ll probably be just fine.