toronto fringe

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.

TO Fringe Review: The Soaps

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Toronto – Have you ever been a regular at a long-form improv troupe’s shows? It can be great fun. The setting and characters stay the same from week-to-week, storylines emerge and involve, characters are killed and others come in. Generally, the really good part of the cast drives the plot and comes up with really funny scenes and the rest of the cast members just sort of tread water around them.

The episode of The Soaps – The Live Improvised Soap Opera that I saw felt like a lot of the best cast members were missing. Colin Mochrie made a guest appearance, but of the seven improvisers on stage, only he and Scott Montgomery really impressed.

Maybe it was just not the best episode, because I can see how the setup could make for some very funny improv. The action is set at the “Shawford Festival,” and the associated actors, stage managers, support staff and fans are all trying to put the shows together as best they can, despite the untimely death of a couple of the lead actors. There’s lots of sleeping around, plotting, and associated mayhem you might expect.

But despite Mochrie’s guest appearance, this episode was really lacking a couple of regulars who could push the plot forward. Instead there were a lot of fairly one-note characters. Maybe it’s because some of the cast members listed in the program, like National Theatre of the World’s Ron Pederson and Chris Gibbs, weren’t around, presumably working on the other Fringe productions they’re involved with.

It was pretty hit or miss, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me you saw them on a different night and they were great. The episode I saw, however, was a bit disappointing.

The Soaps – The Live Improvised Soap Opera plays at Venue 3. Check your Fringe program or the online play listings for showtimes.