Ottawa Fringe Reviews: Fiery the Stories Fell

Reviews: Inferno Sonata, The Tricky Part, The Wedding Night

(The title of this blog post is a nod to a quote in Blade Runner, which I dreamt about last night — “Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc.”)

An interesting last day to my Fringe experience. I had intended on checking out a couple of other plays, but due to some other commitments, I didn’t make it. Luckily I made it to 3 shows, involving dinner with a new Fringe friend and hanging out with an old friend. One thing I remarked on to my old friend was how awesome it was to look back over the week and realize that this Fringe helped be chip away a bit at my outer shell. I realized that for the most part, I attended the Fringe by myself, and ended up talking to other Fringe attendees. This is not normal for me, as I have a tendency to not go out unless I have someone to hang out with. Starting this blog was also something the Fringe brought out in me. I didn’t want to go to all of these plays without the chance to reflect on how they affected me and what I thought about. One of the things that TJ Dawe mentioned in his play “Totem Figures” was about how some people read books and forget so much after they’ve finished. Even with favourite books that have had a major impact, people seem to only remember key people and important events. Some of these plays had a great impact, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to write these things down. And thanks to you for reading! It is a strange experience to know that other people are reading what I’ve written.

Inferno Sonata by Scott Sharplin (August Assembly, Edmonton): I thought this was a clever show. I must admit that I didn’t get some of the references as there is just a lot I haven’t read, and it has been ages since I read Faust, but I still enjoyed the writing in this show. It was pretty frenzied, much like the main character. Speaking of which, this was one of the few non-autobiographical shows that didn’t incorporate multiple characters, which added to the diversity of my Fringe experience. Great use of props and stage, as well as sound and lights. This was a show I was waiting to see all week, as it brings me back to some original theatre experiences I had in university. I enjoyed escaping into this world of alchemy for the afternoon.

The Tricky Part by Martin Moran (Hearts & Eyes Theatre Collective, Cape Town, South Africa): While dark at times, I found this to be an uplifting story, and one that was told quite well. As human beings, I think one of the hardest things we have to do is to forgive and move forward. I thought this play was quite brave in being open, honest, and so detailed with the telling of one man’s story in coming to terms with what happened to him. Peter Hayes delivers an intense performance, giving himself over to his character, Martin Moran, resulting in a heart-wrenching and beautiful play.

The Wedding Night by Nadine Thornhill (Silent “Quemb” Productions, Ottawa): This was a play full of wit. There was some really great writing in there, often quite funny. For the most part, the characters were strong and developed. I was just left hanging a bit on the story lines of two of the characters though, and was waiting to see what would happen to them. But it is easy to see why this show was voted best in venue. It was nice to wrap-up my Fringe experience with laughter and good friends.


Ottawa Fringe Reviews: Rock Rhythm Pictures, in Oil

Reviews: Busta Rhymes with MC Hot Pink, Boat Load, The Girl in the Picture Tries to Hang Up the Phone, Die Roten Punkte – Super Musikant, Telegrams from the New Canadian Cinema, Crude Love

A long post today, but it reflects two days of shows. Partly due to tiredness Friday night, but also because the last show I saw that night was so powerful. I just continue to be amazed.

Busta Rhymes with MC Hot Pink by Penny Ashton (Penny Ashton, Auckland, New Zealand): First off, I’ll get this out of the way, I’m not one for watching stand-up style comedy. I’m not sure why. So, like Transcendental Masturbation, it was a little disappointing for me personally just because I was just looking for something a little different. With that said, once again, I’m so impressed by the ability of the actors of both of these shows to push the limits and get people out of their comfort zone. Is this a goal for many comedians? Maybe that’s why stand-up comedy doesn’t click for me like it does for other people. But with that said, this show was very fun and funny. And creative. I thought the poetry was quite clever for the most part, and I really enjoyed Ashton’s songs (I’d love to hear her sing jazz!). She has a powerful stage presence and took us all along with her for the ride. And a nod to people who get up and volunteer for those audience participation moments. I kind of always want to, but never do.

Boat Load by Jayson McDonald (Stars and Hearts, Ottawa): A fantastic show. Vibrant characters, well-paced, and excellent staging made for a great story about aspirations and choices we make. This is one of the first shows I’ve seen that really made me feel like I was there with the actor walking around the town, in a friend’s apartment, on the doorstep to his basement apartment . . . it really felt like Jayson McDonald was taking the audience by the hand and bringing us up on stage with him.

The Girl in the Picture Tries to Hang Up the Phone by Hume Baugh (Optic Heart Theatre/Threshold, Toronto): This show blew me away on many levels, I’m not even sure where to begin. Hume Baugh is an excellent storyteller. Listening to him describing his mother at different points in her life — I felt like I knew her. And how amazing is it that Baugh would pay tribute to his mother in this way, painting her as she was.

I was so captivated by this play that I didn’t start thinking about it until the walk home. I couldn’t help but think of my own family relationships. I thought a lot about my grandmother, actually. My grandmother was nothing like the mother portrayed in this story, but her passing affected me to a similar degree, I think. She herself had been quite vibrant until shortly after my grandfather died. As her health started to go a bit, she took to saying, “It’s a great life, until you weaken.” It was another five years after that that she really started to get worse, and eventually landed in the hospital, going in for weeks at a time. Well, I was with her when she died. She had been in the hospital for about a week. I sat with her every day, holding her hand. She seemed to be in quite a bit of pain, so I would mentally send the same thought to her, “give me all your pain,” and then I would think of different images in my mind that I thought she would like, in case she really could sense what I was thinking — her lilac bush, her house that she loved, my grandfather and I snowmobiling and fishing. On her last night, I had already gone home, after visiting hours. I was sitting on the bed looking in the mirror, looking through myself. I started to see the faces of everyone in family — my mother and father, aunts and uncles, my grandfather, and finally, my grandmother. It was like my face was morphing into all of their faces. When I saw my grandmother, something in me told me that I had to go back to the hospital. This was at around 11pm. The nurses let me sit with her all night. I fell asleep in the chair in the corner at about 4am, and she died at about 5:30. I’m so happy to have that story, and I am happy to have remembered it last night, thanks to this play.

This story is wonderful to see, and I highly recommend it to anyone who still has not seen it. You’ll find something in there for you that will stay with you for quite some time.

Die Roten Punkte – Super Musikant (Super Musician) by Otto and Astrid Rot (Tobias & Bartholomew, Berlin): Wow! This show is as awesome as everyone else has said it is! Everything from writing, directing, lights and sound, wardrobe and make-up, to acting and performing, this is a fantastic production. I felt like I was in good hands the minute they stepped on stage. With two standing ovations in one performance to boot, you should not miss this show!

Telegrams from the New Canadian Cinema by North Country Cinema (North Country Cinema, Ottawa): I can’t say this really spoke to me, unfortunately. For sure, the production of the films was top-notch, and I enjoyed the characters in each of the short films, but I got lost with the story and purpose of each film. I felt like I was out of my element, that maybe the films were just too artsy for me. I just felt like the symbolism and plot lines were over my head. I was also lost with the live-acted scenes between each film. But if you like these kinds of abstract themes and images, I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.

Crude Love by Russell Bennett and Gillian Bennett (Big Smoke Productions, Vancouver): I enjoyed this production. The chemistry between the two actors was quite obvious and made for a great theatre-watching experience. I liked how it had a message to tell about the Alberta Tar Sands but instead of preaching it, this play wove the message through the lives of two very different characters. This is something I hope we see more of in society, to be honest, as I think it makes this crucial message more down-to-earth and real for people, so they can touch it, feel it, and maybe even do something about it.

Ottawa Fringe Reviews: The Sum of Ourselves

Reviews: Totem Figures, Teaching the Fringe

As I was walking to the SAW Gallery this evening, I was thinking to myself that I was feeling a little bit of Fringe burnout. Yes, I’ve seen some great shows, and no, I can’t feel nearly as burnt out as the Fringe staff and volunteers or certainly the performers, directors, and stage managers. But still, feeling a bit tired all the same. However, (and yes, a nod to those who’ve seen Cutler’s show), the shows I saw this evening may very well have rung the truest for me for the entire Fringe (Circumference excepted). And I love the fact that there is a CHUO ad on the SAW page in the program guide.

One final note before my thoughts on tonight’s shows, I have given a couple of “bad reviews” this last week. I know many people feel this is part of the reviewer’s job, that they owe it to their audience to tell them to not go see this show and to avoid that show at all costs, etc. But honestly, and as someone who has been on the receiving end of bad reviews, I’m deciding to not buy into that. I’ve removed the “bad review” portions I posted on this blog and have replaced them with different thoughts. Because ultimately, who am I to be doling out critiques of someone else? Does it make me feel good about myself? It certainly can’t help those I’m writing about. It’s not that I think my reviews were even particularly that bad, but just that I wonder what good are they doing anyone anyway? And whose to say that my opinion really matters in the grand scheme of things. Art is art, and it is most definitely subjective. So if you enjoy reading what I am writing, then great. But whether you agree or not, please take it all with a grain of salt.

Totem Figures by TJ Dawe (Big Sandwich Productions, Vancouver): I loved the show. If I have the chance to see it again, I will. A lot went through my mind during this performance, and much more will continue afterwards. It wasn’t that TJ Dawe was saying anything I didn’t already know, it’s just that he put it in a way that made me listen. To both him and myself. You should go listen to what he has to say, and in the meantime, here is what I was thinking.

We are the sum of our experiences and the creators of our own meaning. Great words to live by that I’ve been saying for quite a few years now. But what do they mean? I sometimes feel that I am simply going through the motions — I get up, feed my cats, go to work, clean the litter, play guitar, watch TV, go to sleep, get up, feed the cats, . . . and the routine continues. I often talk about how I believe the journey is the destination, like it is my life mantra. But then I somehow forget to believe in it.

I don’t believe in many things. When I remember to, I do believe in the journey. I believe in energy, that it is us, it is life. I believe in trees, the earth, rocks and what they tell. But why? This play reminds me that maybe I just need to stop and take a look back, to see my own patters of my life. What are my influences? What were past influences that aren’t there now? What has always been there? Indeed, what are the faces on my Mt. Rushmore?

I highly recommend “Totem Figures.” TJ Dawe is a wonderful storyteller. From Luke Skywalker to George Carlin to high school pep rallies, Dawe may help you draw your own connections, too.

Teaching the Fringe by Keir Cutler (Doctor Keir Co., Westmount, QC): Definitely one of my favourites to date. What a great story, although maybe not so great for Cutler to experience at the time. He has such a great way of telling it, too. Aside from Totem Figures, this is the only show I’ve seen all Fringe where the actor is really acting as themselves with no other characters joining them along the way. Oh, I’m sure there are true autobiographical elements to almost all of the shows, some more than others, but to me both Totem Figures and Teaching the Fringe push my notion of what a play really is. It’s kind of like a spoken word performance meets a play, do you know what I mean? I mean, Cutler was acting, but as himself. As for the show, I don’t want to say a whole lot as I really enjoyed watching it all unfold. But I will say I am really curious to see how this show is met in Winnipeg. Keep us posted, Keir Cutler!

Ottawa Fringe Reviews: Prepping for Your Media Debut

Reviews: Mr. Fox, The Zoo Story

Two entirely different plays, two different protagonists, both getting media exposure, although perhaps not quite as planned.

Mr. Fox by Greg Landucci (Chipped Paint Productions, Vancouver): Interesting look at what it means to be a mascot. As someone in the media, I thoroughly enjoyed laughing it up at this hopeful commercial DJ. I may be in community-oriented media now, but I did start out in commercial radio. I found myself reflecting back to those days on my walk home. I loved the stereotypes here. Several of the characters were much like people I worked with. My station didn’t have a mascot, but it did pride itself on the local remote broadcasts and presence in the community. So some of the things that Landucci’s characters were saying, I’ve heard it all before. And I thought the script was pretty good. Not an ending I expected, and I have to admit I’m still waiting to know what did actually happen. I was a little surprised at how little movement there was in the show, though. There was a lot of ‘setting up the story’ in the beginning, so I was a little worried. But that resolved itself in the end. And Landucci’s main character was spot on.

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee (Erudite Theatre, Ottawa): A great production. I don’t want to say too much here as there is at least one twist in the show, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. This is one of those shows that you know something is going to happen, but you really don’t know what it is. And even if you think understand where something might be going, sometimes it’s not that at all. You can focus in on one thing, place great importance on a certain object or certain event, but sometimes it is something else complete different that happens. I really liked this show. Great characters, excellent staging and direction, and a story that drew me in right from the beginning.

Ottawa Fringe Reviews: We love them all, we love the mall

I only saw one performance last night, and I’m so glad I did.

Jem Rolls: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Mall by Jem Rolls (Big Word Performance Poetry, Edinburgh, Scotland): Brilliant. Funny. Thought-provoking. I really enjoyed this performance. For the talent, I thought Jem Rolls was fantastic and a definite wordsmith. For the content, this was kind of like Old Growth for me (reviewed on June 21). Jem Rolls talks about our obsession with shopping and consumption and what impact it has on us now and for the future. Like Old Growth, the message is clear, we need to think about what we are doing and the world we live in. But where Old Growth pushed for change, I felt like Jem Rolls really spoke the helplessness I sometimes feel about day-to-day living, and I really appreciated that. It’s so overwhelming to think about the human existence on this planet and what we as a civilization and I as an individual must do fix what we’ve all done. And that’s not easy. Because even if we hate malls for excessive choice, wall-to-wall advertising, and the notion of buying excessively for a better life, we still succumb to it all, much like that dreaded top-40 song you start out hating but come to love. It’s there, here and now, now and here. But really, where is that, because now and here is really nowhere.