Skip to main content

REVIEWS: Ottawa Fringe 2023

int(100663)
/By , / Jun 30, 2023
SHARE

The curtain has closed on the 2023 Ottawa Fringe Festival. We published mini reviews on our Twitter page, but now it’s time to spread the love!

Below you’ll find every review we wrote for the 2023 festival. Reviews of Rotten Apple through Messes: Solo Circus are written by Aisling Murphy, while The Remembering through Nuit are written by Luke Brown.


ROTTEN APPLE

Off the heels of a development period with Ottawa’s Youth Infringement Festival, Rotten Apple is a provocative new work about the fiery intersections between internet subcultures. On one side: the feminists. On the other: the incels.

We meet a female streamer, Eve, who’s survived a string of abusive relationships and found herself the object of obsession for a stalker. As she tells her dedicated fan base about her past, it becomes clear she might not be safe in her own chat room — or apartment.

It’s a high-stakes, difficult story — Corinne Viau’s text is achingly timely. Viau has a finger right on the pulse of the foulest corners of the internet. For me, ROTTEN APPLE is nearly there — and it’ll only get better with a more assured directorial hand and lighting plot.


THE EMERGENCY MONOLOGUES

The Emergency Monologues are classic Fringe fare: some solo monologuing, some improvising, some songs on guitar. Morgan Jones Phillips is a paramedic, dad, and longtime Fringer. Incidentally, this show won Best of @torontofringe in 2014 — and boy, is it easy to see why.

Using a rotating wheel of story ideas, Phillips tells us tales from the back of his ambulance — some funny, some serious, most a perfect combination of both. Phillips is a natural presence onstage, warm and inviting and just the right amount of preachy, and his stories run the gamut of nearly every bodily fluid.

In a hysterical, self-written song, Phillips tells us he’s “dead inside” after what he’s seen — that he can’t feel things anymore because of what he’s been exposed to at work. But this show has so much heart, I don’t quite believe him. A must-see while it’s in town.


BOOGER RED

The son of a self-described “hellfire and brimstone Southern Baptist preacher,” Jim Loucks hasn’t always had the best relationship with his father, cheekily known as “Booger Red” throughout his community. Loucks likes theatre and Billy Joel — his father can barely tolerate either.

Booger Red, a monologue written and performed by Loucks, perhaps has more potential than we’re able to enjoy here. It’s often tricky to tell when Loucks is playing himself, and when he’s playing his dad, making it hard to follow who’s who and what’s what.

Loucks is an able performer with an interesting story to tell, but right now that’s getting lost in some physically stiff direction by Lisa Chess. When Loucks relaxes, the show instantly loosens up and becomes more engaging — I hope that only continues for Booger Red’s Ottawa Fringe run.


PERKY

Surprising, whimsical, heartfelt, and damn funny, Perky is a coming-of-age delight about coming. Perky, 19, is a closeted lesbian, and she’s trapped in the hate spiral of her own adolescence, surrounded by the ghosts of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and her own ex-best friend as she searches for her first orgasm.

Montreal duo Megan Murphy and Leanna Williams have perfectly captured the malaise of growing up in the mid-2000s, the sexual awakenings provoked by Glee and terrible fan fiction. Murphy and Williams are gifted writers and strong performers, and they ask us to laugh with their nostalgic cringe, never at it.

Perky’s a promising outing from a talented pair of recent NTS grads. This show might not land with an older audience — most of its references are firmly geared towards an audience of 18-25s — but resonate with the Gen Zs it does, and hard. Here’s to the next generation of Fringers.


THE MERKIN SISTERS

“Imagine a Bette Midler diva as drawn up by David Lynch,” write THE MERKIN SISTERS in their program blurb. That’s pretty spot-on — this variety hour is sexual, irreverent, and frequently bizarre, breathing life into puppeted pubic hair and genitals with a sort of wily grace.

Ingrid Hansen and Stéphanie Morin-Robert bring the audience on a feminist odyssey of fluids, from lime Bubly to breast milk to female ejaculate — part of me wondered if the front row might be offered ponchos. There’s audience participation, lots of it, and so. Many. Wigs.

Hansen and Morin-Robert are agile clowns, with dance chops to spare and wicked comedic timing, and if nothing else, THE MERKIN SISTERS seldom goes where you might expect. It’s sexy, grotesque, and easily prone to spoilers — strong recommendation from me, perhaps with a substance or two beforehand.


@interWEBBED

Ted’s a sad, sad clown, who doesn’t have any friends. Thankfully, over the course of @interWEBBED, our hero of striped pants and red nose gets to learn the true meaning of friendship, thanks to a benevolent white box and the power of social media.

Within minutes of Ted confessing his loneliness, the box spits out the materials for friends — and swallows the things that make Ted so different, like the nose and the spiky black hair. Soon enough, Ted’s an influencer, with hundreds of thousands of friends — great!

But of course, it’s not that simple. Lauren Brady’s creation is poignant and richly realized with the help of technology — QR codes and the like — and the clown element aligns well with the story being told and its embedded social commentary. A joyful hour of play.


FOUL PLAY

Falling somewhere between the sardonic bite of Mean Girls and the outlandish cringe of Riverdale, Foul Play is a gloriously self-aware parody of 80s movies (and a surprisingly accurate adaptation of Macbeth).

Mac and Beth are the seemingly perfect high school couple, with their sights set on a life of suburban royalty once they graduate. There’s just one problem: Mac hasn’t been chosen to be the football team’s next captain, meaning his dreams of coaching someday are in jeopardy.

Cue blood. Patrice A. Forbes and her all-star cast have nailed the sarcasm this play demands, the thin line between the audience laughing at and laughing with the ridiculous antics of the writing. A will-they-won’t-they situationship emerges between Mac and his best bro Duffy; many limbs are chopped off; a fake mustache all but earns itself a production credit.


MUSE: AN EXPERIMENT IN STORYTELLING AND LIFE DRAWING

muse: an experiment in storytelling and life drawing invites Fringers to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the festival. Cameryn Moore is a plus-sized life drawing model with stories to tell — about her career, about her body, about life in Berlin — and over the course of an hour, she talks, naked, while her audience draws.

It’s relaxing, therapeutic, even a little spiritual. Early on, there are “constrained” exercises (where you can’t look at your paper while you draw, for instance), and there’s a certain joy in learning how to work with charcoal. Moore changes positions and angles frequently, giving the audience around her a chance to explore her body from a new perspective.

It’s a simple yet generous show, and a lovely palate cleanser amidst a festival full of high-energy performances. The dialogues that emerge between Moore and her audience are authentic and raw, firmly grounding the artists on both sides of the paper in the here-and-now of life drawing. Strongly recommended.


STARS, STONES, AND SHADOWS: A HEROINE’S TALE

Stars, Stones and Shadows: A Heroine’s Tale explores the myths and magic of Irish folklore, with Erica O’Reilly acting as a mouthpiece for the millennia of women who came before her in her Irish heritage. O’Reilly is our storyteller, confident and present, clearly invested in the tales she weaves.

It’s a promising premise for a solo Fringe show, but for me, Stars, Stones and Shadows: A Heroine’s Tale is missing an element of visual interest. O’Reilly is a capable orator, but many of her stories are abstract and difficult to conceptualize with words alone. With no set design or visual aids, the show as it stands feels unfinished.


MESSES: SOLO CIRCUS

meSSeS: Solo CircuS wasn’t high on my list for shows to catch at this year’s Fringe — in retrospect, it should’ve been, and it should top yours, too. Janoah Bailin brings an element of geekiness to the art of clown, revelling in dad jokes and unicycling around the ODD BOX theatre.

Bailin’s ambitions are high — and at times it seems like there’s an uncertainty to the tasks at hand, which include making a scalding cup of tea at great height — but Bailin’s a good-natured clown and more skilled than one might assume at first.

Perhaps one of the greatest delights of this show is the participatory element — you’ll learn how to juggle! — but as well, it’s Bailin’s playfulness and persistently kind demeanor. The energy Bailin cultivates in the room is simply outstanding, and more than invites folks to come back for round two.

There’s also 200% more popcorn in this show than you might expect. Maybe 300%. It’s a lot of popcorn. While meSSeS might present itself as a humble, unassuming clown show, it’s one of the most fun acts I got the chance to see at Ottawa Fringe. Go if you can.


THE REMEMBERING

The Remembering, by Billie Nell (they/them), successfully combines theatre and spoken word. In this 60-minute solo show, Nell tends to a tomato garden while toiling beneath the surface of their psyche. The writing is electric, conjuring imagery that continues to stick with me.

Every design element elevates the text. Vanessa Imeson’s costume for Nell signifies both gardener and surgeon. Patrice A. Forbes’ set includes a real garden, and garden tools are used to signal new paths in the story. The sifting of the soil unburies secrets.

Instead of a surface-level exploration about a late autism diagnosis, we cut directly to the heart of the matter and feel all the feelings alongside Nell. It’s a riveting performance that’s garnering some well-deserved attention.


MAY BE A PLAY

May Be a Play hooked me with its program blurb: a young actor, Sidney Moon, has to create a Fringe show in under 6 weeks, and she doesn’t know what will finally end up on stage. I was curious to find out. 

Most of the piece is a series of projected video blogs. Moon brainstorms ideas while speaking to the camera. But I would’ve liked to see the discoveries play out on stage. The live bits had nice moments between Moon and her friend, Maggie Decady: both have undeniable charm.

I applaud Moon’s vulnerability in committing to a show and disclosing a lot of her personal life. The loving jabs between her and Decady also add some humour. I look forward to seeing how this concept could develop further, maybe with the videos finding their way onto the stage.


SADEC 1965: A LOVE STORY

Sadec 1965: A Love Story is a lesson in great storytelling. I felt lucky to be present while Flora Le recounted her journey on a motorcycle, riding across Vietnam. She travels to Sa Đéc to learn more about her difficult father, and jumps between three different timelines with clarity and ease.

Le’s piece is captivating with just her, a stool, and a glass of water. It’s clear she’s done this before: every small gesture feels both calculated and natural. She’s able to physically relive the emotions she felt at that time, adding a layer of depth to the retelling.

When the story rolled to a stop I wished she’d keep going. There’s a lot of fascinating info about her and her father that she discovers along the way, even more of which can be found on her website, sadec1965.com. This show is a well-oiled machine you should catch if you can.


COLLABORATIVE COMEDY

Collaborative Comedy invites the audience to write down joke suggestions and watch three local comedians tackle them head on. Hosted by Michael Lifshitz, the show I saw featured Ceilidh Henderson, Emmett Morrison, and Hart Shouldice. 

This is a good way to promote local talent and give a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of standup. Each comedian does a short set to introduce their own style, then sits across from Lifshitz and comments on whatever topics are pulled from a bag. 

Like all comedy shows, many factors influence the outcome. On the night I went, some jokes fell flat, but Morrison was particularly sharp: his turns of phrases made me belly laugh. Every performance will be different, so if you’re a fan of standup, this one’s good to try out.


BROWN WASP

Brown Wasp is a story about Sarah St. John, a woman in the process of healing. When she discovers she has breast cancer, Sarah (Megan McArton) heads to a spa in rural Saskatchewan. Much like a brown wasp, she says, that goes back to where they were born when they’re dying.

McArton has the ability to paint a clear picture: suddenly one person on a stage is surrounded by a sea of women at the spa. Her lively performance makes it easy to imagine what St. John is going through, especially as she becomes more insecure about her body. 

McArton, with direction from Alissa Watson, spins an enchanting tale that encourages us to celebrate our bodies. There are some red herrings and confusing tangents, but many will likely find something in the play that resonates.


THE STAKEOUT

Fringe favourite Martin Dockery returns to Ottawa with Andrew Broaddus in tow. Both deliver strong performances in this mind-bending play (of words). The Stakeout is captivating in its storytelling and hits us with heartfelt truths about the instability of communication.

Two FBI agents observe two other men from their van, leading to interesting self-discoveries. The clear theatre metaphor never feels forced under Dockery’s dexterous hand. In a series of delicious twists we learn a lot about ourselves and the challenges of connection.

Broaddus’ captivating presence goes toe to toe with Dockery’s reputable charm. Both actors provide a masterclass in shifting status and compelling character arcs. Vanessa Quesnelle embraces chaos with her direction, but in a way that keeps us buckled in and eager to ride along.


ALWAYS BECAUSE: THE ADVENTURES OF MAGGIE AND MEGHAN

Maggie May Harder (she/they) and Meghan Aglaia Burns (she/they) celebrate their love in Always Because. They provide a window onto a relationship that’s so adorable it almost hurts. The piece is a mixture of direct address and recreated scenes from their dating life.

Harder has a knack at self-deprecating humour, but their jokes never undervalue their self-worth. Burns brings a palpable love of performing and an infectious energy to their performance. Burns also plays a character named Dylan who goes on a journey with his toxic masculinity.

The show’s mixture of standup and drama can be confusing, but I appreciate the duo’s playfulness with form. Their vulnerability made me feel connected to the process, and audience involvement brought us even closer. Harder and Burns’ authenticity makes this a standout.


SHELLEY AND LOVELACE NEVER MET

Shelley and Lovelace is a nonstop flow of quotable one-liners. Lord Byron’s grave unites Ada Lovelave, a mathematician who happens to be Byron’s daughter, with Mary Shelley, famed author of Frankenstein. The conversation shines a light on their many accomplishments.

Smart choices from Becky McKercher (Shelley) and Sarah Thuswaldner (Lovelace) make the historical figures feel contemporary and familiar. Brief moments where the actors played additional characters added some necessary dimension and kept me engaged; I would’ve liked to see more.

The research is impressive, but at times the story took a backseat to the facts. And I wanted to hear less about Byron and more about the women’s fascinating lives. The show is a well-spoken treat, and if you love history and sharp wit you’ll have a jolly good time.


EVERY STORY IS A LOVE STORY

If you’re a Broadway fan like me, you’ll enjoy listening to Joy Mwandemange and Mathieu Charlebois. Every Story is a collection of contemporary musical theatre songs, and the performers are uber-talented. Both of their voices filled the room and made me want to sing along.

There’s a lot of musical but not a lot of theatre. I liked the premise in the blurb, where the audience chooses the story’s trajectory, but we chose arbitrarily using paddles with two colours. We didn’t know what the colours meant and therefore the results seemed inconsequential.

I would’ve liked knowing what the path could’ve been vs. what was chosen. Either way, I was swept up in Mwandemange and Charlebois’ voices and brought back to past heartbreaks when I had those songs on repeat. While the structure could use work it’s still a gift for the ears.


NUIT

Nuit is dazzling. Four women take us out to the clubs via a series of well-crafted vignettes. Each theme they explore is moving, both physically and emotionally. I don’t get out much but my queer lil heart leapt out of my chest and wanted to dance. 

Kate Addison, Sarah Ivanco, Glenys Marshall, and Kristen Thompson offer complex, evolved performances. Under Sophie Goyette-Hamels’ focused direction they explore important conversations about gender identity, unwanted touching, and ephemeral bathroom friendships. 

Nuit is an Ottawa theatre success story that started with Youth Infringement and will surely work its way up to a larger production. When the lights flicked on I didn’t want to leave. Jump at the next chance to see the next gen of Ottawa artists.

Aisling Murphy
WRITTEN BY

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, NEXT Magazine, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June.

LEARN MORE
Luke Brown
WRITTEN BY

Luke Brown

Luke (he/him) is a theatre artist and arts administrator living in Ottawa. After completing a master’s thesis on queer theory and theatre at the University of Ottawa, he decided to stick around. He started a career in arts philanthropy and is now Development Officer, Major Gifts at the National Arts Centre Foundation. Recent theatre credits include writing and directing Honey Dew Me at the undercurrents festival (2020) and Fresh Meat (2017), as well as directing the first iteration of Even Gilchrist’s Re:Construct for Ottawa Fringe (2018). Luke recently served on the Board of Directors for Theatre Artists’ Co-operative: the Independent Collective Series (TACTICS).

LEARN MORE

Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Production photo of a Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney at Soulpepper Theatre. iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney ‘cuts to’ the core of the man behind the mouse

Soulpepper and Outside the March effectively drown Uncle Walt’s highly manicured public image in acetone, leaving the audience with a grotesque portrait that feels at once comically exaggerated and painfully accurate.

By Ryan Borochovitz
iPhoto caption: Video still courtesy of the Grand Theatre.

REVIEW: In One Step At A Time, Andrew Prashad unpacks disability through tap dance

Prashad’s play is undeniably impactful and advocates for the spina bifida community with great passion and joy.

By Taylor Marie Graham
iPhoto caption: Photo by Kate Dalton.

REVIEW: Women of the Fur Trade makes a heartthrob of Louis Riel

There’s a war going on out there somewhere, and Louis Riel isn’t here.

By Aisling Murphy
iPhoto caption: Photo by Roya DelSol.

REVIEW: shaniqua in abstraction at Crow’s Theatre blends razor-sharp humour with biting cultural critique

This play is such a delight to watch, and I would definitely go again. I live for this quality of performance, and I’m looking forward to how this play will continue to inspire Black Canadian theatre to come.

By Aisha Lesley Bentham
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: Rose Napoli writes the world of Mad Madge with a glittery, fun-filled gel pen

Overall, Mad Madge is a hoot, a compelling story rendered accessible and charming by Napoli’s text and Donaldson’s realization of it.

By Aisling Murphy

REVIEW: Eldritch Theatre’s The House at Poe Corner delights and disturbs

Michael O’Brien and Eric Woolfe’s mashup of Edgar Allan Poe and Winnie the Pooh is Poe-sitively droll.

By Ilana Lucas