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REVIEWS: Toronto Fringe 2024

Poster for the 2024 Toronto Fringe Festival. iPhoto caption: Poster courtesy of Toronto Fringe.

The Toronto Fringe Festival and an Ontario-based performing arts magazine walk into a sports bar. 

Over the blare of a Blue Jays game, the Fringe calls out: “Our 36th iteration runs July 3 to 14 and features 77 productions spread across 16 venues. Wanna review a couple shows?”

“How ‘bout a team of eight critics covering a total of more than 60?” replies the magazine as Bo Bichette hits a double. 

The Fringe grins: “Let’s play ball.”

This year, Intermission will be publishing Fringe capsule reviews from Alethea Bakogeorge, Ryan Borochovitz, Liam Donovan, Stephanie Fung, Robyn Grant-Moran, Ilana Lucas, Janine Marley, and Eleanor Yuneun Park. 

Their pieces will be published below as they come in, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back throughout the festival to discover which shows are hitting it into the stands.

For ease of navigation, new reviews will be added to the top of the post. If you’re looking for a review of a specific show, we recommend using your device’s “find on page” function.

See you out there, Fringers!

Saskatchewan: An Aspirational Polyamorous Adventure (Native Earth’s Aki Studio)

by Liam Donovan

A living room that’s somehow the size of the Aki Studio stage is the setting for Saskatchewan: An Aspirational Polyamorous Adventure, writer-director Justin Hay’s agreeable 55-minute comedy about a young polyamorous trio (played by Naima Sundiata, Ben Chinapen, and Hidetaka Ishii) who recently moved from Toronto to the Prairies.

The Stratford Festival’s 2022 production of Sunny Drake’s Every Little Nookie aside, polyamory is an uncommon topic for Canadian theatre. But Saskatchewan’s form is more conventional than its subject matter. The realistic play unfolds over one night, during which the three lovers welcome to their new farmhouse Will (Dan Willmott) and Nancy (Maria Syrgiannis), a middle-aged couple from down the road. Although the longtime Saskatchewanians enjoy weed brownies and once participated in a threesome, they seem unable to accept polyamory, especially after Nancy discovers sex toys, LP recordings of Gregorian chants, and a fur-suit among the group’s belongings.

Saskatchewan is too sweet to dislike, but this wheat field would benefit from additional fertilization. A lack of shifts in lighting and sound (the Fringe website credits no designers) means the performers are responsible for keeping up the production’s energy, a task with which they sometimes struggle. And while the late introduction of a conflict-resolving sixth character is clever, Hay could tie them into the preceding action with greater elegance. Saskatchewan is breezy and compassionate — but I don’t feel it’s yet lively enough to warrant the term “adventure.”

Dead Right (Alumnae Theatre)

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

Content warning: this review discusses suicide.

In every mother-daughter relationship, there comes a time when the latter starts to take on the role of the former. The daughter’s reluctance to listen to the mother’s dos and don’ts transform into insistence on telling their mother the same. 

For Suzanna (Kristi Woods) in Kate Barris and David Schatzky’s comedy Dead Right, this transition happens when her mom Helena (Janelle Hutchison) decides to form a secret suicide pact with her stepdad Bud (Allan Price). The moment Suzanna discovers this alongside her psychotherapist husband Michael (Chris Gibbs) coincides with the moment she quits her job to write a play — and she is in disbelief. How can her mother think of quitting life when Suzanna just quit her job to grab her own life by her hands? 

Directed by Briane Nasimek, Dead Right not only explores the right to a peaceful death but questions how much agency one has over oneself in a family. Through the constant battles that Helena fights against Suzanna and Bud to proceed with her suicide as planned, the audience faces the question of how much life and autonomy we owe our family. Hutchison’s sensitive portrayal of a fundamentally altruistic but misunderstood elderly mother is especially compelling and complex. Dead Right relies on banter on the generational gap and resulting misunderstandings, but the play is more of a drama than comedy. 

Dead Right doesn’t have a central character that leads the plot and this may be distracting for some. Michael’s constant phone calls from his patient with severe anxiety also interrupted the dialogue frequently and were not timed well enough for them to be comedic. But the 85-minute play is warm and, with less attempts at forcing comedy to work, has potential to be a more powerful piece that invites the audience to face themselves and their place in their families.

Gulp (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Ryan Borochovitz

A young woman (Frosina Pejcinovska) tells the audience that her friend died three months ago, “and I think I killed her.” All right, you have our attention. 

This tantalizing opening hook also catches the attention of an untrustworthy therapist who wants to spend time with the young woman outside of his office. With tension mounting at a calculated pace, we’re all waiting to find out what exactly happened. 

Pejcinovska has written herself a banger of a solo piece, demonstrating her subtlety as a playwright and performer. She makes the term unreliable narrator feel like an oversimplification, with every nervous laugh and out-of-place head tilt building up a characterization as likable as it is unsettling.

William Dao once again proves himself to be one of the city’s most exciting up-and-coming directors, deftly handling this splintering puzzle-box narrative. Brynn Bonne imbues the departed friend’s surviving voice-mail messages with exceptional naturalism (sound design by Matt Lalonde), showcasing impeccable emotional range in a pre-recorded vocal performance. Matthew Ivanoff’s near-sentient lighting design gives agency to a spotlight in a manner evoking some of Beckett’s late-career gems.

What’s most remarkable is how menacingly Gulp arrives at a blindsiding twist-ending. I wanted to stand up and scream, “you can’t just do that!,” while also being so impressed that they did. The moment it ended, I was itching to watch the whole thing over again from the start (perhaps that’s why Beckett’s Play came to mind), to see how foreknowledge of this jarring revelation would recontextualize all that came before it. 

I suspect Pejcinovska may receive some calls from artistic directors in the near future; please leave a message after the tone.

Rat Academy (Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace)

by Stephanie Fung

No one knows more about survival than the last two rats in Alberta. 

The street-smart Fingers (Dayna Lea Hoffman) wants to teach the wide-eyed Shrimp (Katie Yoner) how to survive a world that wants them dead. Inspired by Alberta’s 1950s anti-rat propaganda, Rat Academy is not just a master class in how to be a proper rat, but how to craft an exceptional Fringe production. 

The steps are surprisingly similar. 

1) STEAL the audience’s heart with your high-energy stage presence and uncanny animalistic mannerisms. Fingers and Shrimp are the perfect foils for each other, their contrasting personalities driving their antics forward. Our favourite street rat is razor-sharp where our beloved lab rat is soft (which is everywhere), making their lessons in rat-hood a hilarious failure. Their hot-and-cold relationship reaches an impasse when they can’t reconcile their opposing views on whether or not humans are to be trusted. 

2) HIDE your tricks in plain sight. Hoffman and Yonder are incredible at establishing trust with the audience and pulling them into their world, seamlessly folding every interactive moment into the events of the story. Discovering a mousetrap, Fingers is in dire need of a human helper to neutralize the threat so he can continue with Shrimp’s lesson. Even with all the cards on the table, you never know what to expect. 

3) FIGHT dirty, like real dirty. Like assemble-your-entire-set-out-of-trash dirty. Like kiss-the-poop-of-your-friend-who-may-or-may-not-have-been-killed-by-the-aforementioned-mousetrap-because-you’re-secretly-heartbroken-without-him dirty. Director Joseph McManus’ embrace of the absurd and visceral is also reflected in every aspect of the production design, elevating the show’s ridiculousness to another level.

4) RUN to Rat Academy because you won’t want to miss a second of it.

gutted (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Liam Donovan

Through the steady tracing of circles, gutted hypnotizes. 

Choreographed by Katie Adams-Gossage, the 40-minute contemporary dance solo’s foundation is simple: in the centre of a bare stage, performer Frédérique Perron slowly rotates. The dancer’s physicality expands over the piece’s duration; though initially upright, she soon begins to shift her torso up and down, contorting her limbs into zigzags. About halfway through, she dislodges a lengthy piece of rope from her hair. It spins like a conical pendulum as her rotation proceeds with the mechanicality of a music box.

Clothed in a sheer slip, Perron’s body is slightly wet from the start, a choice that resonates with the show’s fish-alluding title. Theo Belc’s crepuscular lighting occasionally makes this moisture gleam like blood, while an ambient soundtrack populated with industrial drones blurs time. 

There’s something excavatory about gutted’s commitment to remaining in one spot. Perron’s circling feet seem to drill ever downward, raising the question: what will she unearth?

Stiff & Sons (Al Green Theatre)

by Stephanie Fung

Please note that this review contains spoilers.

This macabre comedy will have you dying of laughter, and the Stiff & Sons funeral home is at your service! 

No really, they need it. 

Bare Theatre Collective’s Stiff & Sons is a dark comedy about a family-run funeral home on the verge of bankruptcy after the death of its former patriarch. And there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation why business starts to boom once his eldest son and successor David Stiff (Tim Walker) — and by accident, their cleaner Olga (Jonas Trottier) — goes missing. 

Eager to join the family business, David’s daughter Erin Stiff and her evil possessed puppet of a sister Karen (both played by Izzi Nagel) accidentally kill Olga when their toy embalming kit is suspiciously swapped for David’s real one. Enter Darren (Jack Rennie) and Pamela (Manon Ens-Lapointe), David’s brother and wife, who are plotting to embezzle Olga’s funeral costs and start a new life together in Hollywood. 

But the two get ambitious and hatch a plan to accelerate the expiration dates of their elderly patronage by serving poisoned sandwiches during their consultation sessions. And in order to recruit the daughters’ mortuary skills, David has to be out of the picture. 

To say this show never has a dull moment would be an understatement. Daniel Reale’s vision as a director has no trouble keeping up with writer Aidan Gouveia’s quick and outrageous humour. The creative team leans into its resources, opting for a simple-but-clever stage design and over-the-top performances to bring this ridiculous story to life. 

With a cartoonish life-size cardboard set and dynamic physical comedy, there’s always something captivating onstage, especially when Trottier plays an assortment of townsfolk during a news montage, with on-the-spot costume changes supported by the rest of the cast.

Mortality can be sombre, but this production of Stiff & Sons is an incredibly lively take on the price of death.

Boy Boy and the Magic Drum (Tarragon Mainspace)

by Stephanie Fung

It takes more than courage to march to the beat of your own drum. It takes a Rainbow Brew.

Under A Grove Productions’ Boy Boy and the Magic Drum is a Soca-musical adaptation of the children’s book by Machel Mantona. Created and directed by Jewelle Blackman and Chantal Forde, the story follows Boy Boy (Gabriel Hudson) excitedly preparing for Carnival Land’s annual Peace Parade — the one day of the year he truly feels like he can belong. But when the parade is shut down due to an expected blackout, it’s up to this misunderstood misfit to remind his community of their true power. 

The spirit of Trinidad and Tobago is undeniably present in this production. With a powerful ensemble comprised of veterans and newcomers alike (Astrid Atherly, Robert Ball, Randy (Lei) Chang, Charlie Clements, Tkaia Green, Karen Jewels, Vandana Maharaj, Siobhan Richardson, Daniel Yeh), the cast is a reflection of the island’s rich and diverse history. 

Rhythmic and melodious, Boy Boy’s musical composition is where the production shines. The sounds of Soca are so infectious, there’s no hesitation from the audience when prompted to dance along to the closing number. With vibrant costumes and a versatile set (Jason Dauvin), Deidrea Halley’s choreography and Logan Raju Cracknell’s lighting create evocatively striking visuals while reflecting the story’s fantastical elements.

This stage adaptation could be enhanced by leaning further into its origins as a children’s book. In an attempt to suit a wider audience, essential context from the source material is missing.

At times, its use of meta-theatricality feels forced, used for comedic effect rather than contributing to the story’s overall theme or impact.

Using Carnival as a tool of celebrating differences, Boy Boy and the Magic Drum transcends cultural specificity while being uniquely Trini.

Painting By Numbers (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Ryan Borochovitz

Painting By Numbers is a rib-tickling farce with big questions on its mind, without letting either half of that equation overwhelm the other. The year is 2014, and protagonist Leila (Cassandra Henry) is caught between her amateur art thief brother Stevie (Judah Parris, also the playwright), her wealthy art-collecting suitor Wilfred Manchester III (Michael J. Hill), and her unsung wunderkind BFF Vanessa Dubois (Naomi Kaplan), all of whom have their eyes on a newly discovered lost masterpiece by Van Gogh. 

Throw in a sly housemaid (Morgan Roy, doubling as an expositing journalist) and you have all the colours needed to paint an artful comedy caper. Contrary to what the title might suggest, it’s doing a lot more than just filling in a predetermined or derivative pattern.

The passionate cast gives it their all under Keren Edelist’s confident direction, elevating  Parris’ already well-constructed script. An explosion of ideas undercoats the plot, raising questions about creativity, legacy, collaboration, ownership, and the conflicting methods by which society assigns value to art. Van Gogh is well-chosen as a thematic touchstone, given how much of the argument hinges on artists being underappreciated during their own lifetimes, only to become venerated as geniuses after their deaths. Building it around a lost Warhol probably wouldn’t have had the same oomph.

Perhaps the show’s most thoughtful engagement with its central premise is the fact that all of the painted canvases that appear onstage are works by local artists, currently on sale to the highest bidder. The company is putting its money where its mouth is — and, given the audience’s cheers at Vanessa’s triumphant soapboxing at the climax, here’s their opportunity to do the same. How often do you get a chance to buy an original Van Gogh? Emphasis on the “original.”

Rooted: A Musical Poem (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Ryan Borochovitz

Though another recent play about a child’s deep love for a talking tree set the branch pretty high, Rooted: A Musical Poem is a worthy addition to this arboreal genre. With years of playing Persephone in Hadestown under her belt, author Jewelle Blackman knows a thing or two about making everything around her bloom.

Loosely adapted from Shel Silverstein’s 1964 classic, The Giving Tree (a.k.a. “Mom, why are you crying during bedtime story?”), Blackman’s pensive-yet-upbeat book and lyrics literalizes Silverstein’s fable by playing it alongside a touching familial plot line. Unlike the source’s extractionist allegory for parental sacrifice, Blackman reimagines the bond between kids and their trees/parents as one built on quality time spent together, not simply the tangible resources they’re able to provide.

Rooted has much in common with Blackman’s other Tarragonian contribution to this year’s festival, Boy Boy and the Magic Drum. Both are musicals inspired by children’s picture books, featuring diverse casts and metatheatrical framing devices. A trio of performers (Liliana Giorgio, Angelica Gicale, and Muhaddisah Batool) grounds Rooted’s large ensemble with a Fun Home-esque portrayal of the protagonist’s growth from youth to adulthood. Isidora Kecman shares their spotlight in a leaf-rattling star turn as the tree, filling the room with oxygen and powerhouse vocals.

The Extraspace’s spatial limitations become a smidgen claustrophobic when the whole cast and four-piece orchestra fill the stage, causing Saccha Dennis’ direction and Greg Carruthers’ choreography to sometimes feel more like a potted plant than a lush forest. Clocking in at only a brisk 45 minutes, this tree certainly has room to grow, and I look forward to seeing it bear more fruit.

The Bluffs (Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace)

by Ryan Borochovitz

I must begin with two confessions: 1) I’m no fan of horror films. As a total wimp, I don’t particularly enjoy being afraid. 2) Surprisingly, I’ve seen quite a few self-described horror plays in my lifetime, and not one has ever succeeded in genuinely scaring me. 

There’s surely an essay to be written about theatre’s uphill battle when it comes to generating actual frights, but a capsule review for The Bluffs hardly feels like the appropriate forum. Suffice to say, this play didn’t break the pattern, despite how enjoyable and competently assembled it turned out to be.

Like so many ghost stories, The Bluffs is about grief. Recently widowed Eleanor (Shelayna Christante) has returned to her late wife’s cliffside cottage, following the advice of a self-help podcaster (Justine Christensen). Greeted by her brother-in-law (Malcolm Green) and an eccentric medium (Cydney Watson), tensions run high under erratic lamplight as all parties attempt to free themselves from painful memories.

Pretty much everything feels right. Sarini Kumarsinghe’s delicate script does a fine job of putting the pieces into place and building toward thematically consistent resolutions. Jacqui Sirois directs the hell out of it with discernible care for the characters’ hopes, fears, regrets, and healing journeys. Vishmayaa Jeyamoorthy’s lights and Connor Wan’s sounds conjure the desired atmosphere of past and future dread. The cast is fully committed, with a mildly awkward lack of chemistry befitting the characters’ unease with one another, and reasonable suspicions of each others’ motives. 

It all works as a story, and as a poignant meditation on loss and guilt … but does it work as horror? Theatre so seldom does. I can’t shake the feeling that this piece would be stronger overall if it wasn’t trying to prove how scary it could be.

CANCELLED! (Al Green Theatre)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

Can anyone truly cancel another person? From the perspective of playwright Henrique Santsper, cancellation is akin to a death sentence. 

Chad (Santsper) is put on a literal trial in the court of public opinion in CANCELLED!, a creative exploration of cancel culture. Rightly or wrongly, he’s accused of theft, assault, and grievous bodily harm after a college party goes off the rails, with the audience as the jury. The cast (also including Shayna Burns, Jona Villa, Cassandra Sinnaeve, Phoenix) take turns pleading their cases, detailing events of the evening. Each character displays unsavoury behaviours, telling unprovable contradictory stories involving Chad. Sure Chad wasn’t a saint, but was anyone else there any better? 

CANCELLED! is constructed on the shaky premise that it is possible to actually cancel another human (I’m looking at you, Louis CK). Though this foundation is somewhat dubious and heavy-handed, the structure of the story is charming in its overt self-awareness: It’s a kind of Socratic take on the topic with the teacher a scheming gossipmonger. 

I appreciate Santsper’s creativity and his obvious love of theatre. While the script leans too heavily on overused tropes (the class gossip, the too-trusting people pleaser, the awkward nerd, the jock, the busybody do-gooder), the cast did a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. 

Though not a top Fringe offering, CANCELLED! has good qualities that, at times, balance out the questionable bits. My final verdict (in the court of my public opinion): I don’t recommend cancelling anyone in the production any more than I recommend seeing it.

86 Me: The Restaurant Play (Supermarket)

by Ilana Lucas

To “86” something, in restaurant parlance, means to cancel it or take it off the menu. Like an 86’ed dish, most of the characters in Jackson Doner’s 86 Me: The Restaurant Play, set and performed in a Kensington Market bar, are looking to leave their place of employment. 

Doner’s Dead Raccoon company also took over Supermarket in last year’s Retrograde, and there are some marked similarities to that show here, though the writing is a bit more refined and naturalistic than in the previous effort. The characters are offbeat people whose lives never quite fit into a predictable trajectory; floundering, they grasp at alcohol, drugs, and each other to find meaning in their day-to-day lives.

Sitting in the venue among the chaos is a fun experience, and I’m not entirely sure the slice-of-life, shambolic play would work satisfyingly without it. As presented, I thoroughly enjoyed the tentative, cute interplay between young restaurant inspector (Luke Kimball) and the bar’s teenage hostess (Mia Hay) who slowly warms to the “narc,” and the antics of the hard-boiled and pickled set of employees. As well, Marianne McIsaac feels completely natural as bar regular Jasmine, who visits solely because she doesn’t feel like crossing the street, and sets up as a fixture in the corner with a bellowing roar, demanding vodka martinis and fries.

Letting customers buy drink tickets to order drinks during the show is a great idea, and sometimes it works really well, if customers call out in the right moments and the improv is good. Occasionally, it does break the flow of a conversation or emotional beat, and sometimes it feels completely inappropriate when characters are describing their issues with substances. However, I suppose that’s a realistic portrayal of hospitality life — things don’t always follow a prescribed schedule, and life intrudes.

The Kid Was a Spy (Native Earth’s Aki Studio)

by Ryan Borochovitz

As much as Jem Rolls is preceded by his reputation as a Fringe legend (this being his 20th tour), there remains a lingering sense that admirers of his work are members of an exclusive club. Like the historical figures he profiles in his magnetic solo performances, here’s a brilliant mind who deserves to be better known. With Rolls sliding into this year’s festival from the wait-list at the 11th hour, if you didn’t realize that he had an offering in the program, now’s your chance to join the club.

His chosen subjects are often forgotten personages embroiled in the history of atomic weaponry — which feels especially welcome in 2024, as a counterbalance to the already deified Oppenheimer’s recent cinematic accolades. The Kid Was a Spy narrates the tale of Ted Hall, a young physicist responsible for leaking American nuclear secrets to the Soviets in 1944. In Rolls’ telling, Hall is framed not as a destroyer of worlds, but a balancer of scales, ending America’s monopoly over humankind’s deadliest creation.

Like so many of Rolls’ monologues, it’s painstakingly researched, meticulously constructed, and performed with exuberance that echoes the best of Spalding Gray, Steve Coogan, and Robin Williams. He cascades across the stage with flailing gestures and unpredictable vocal inflections. Witness him gradually run out of breath across an hour of non-stop oration, compelled like the Ancient Mariner by an inextinguishable need to relay these stories.

Beyond its obvious educational spine, Rolls’ ultimate purpose in excavating Hall’s espionage bears an ethical agenda. Upon learning the circumstances of Hall’s life and choices, the audience is invited to vote (by show of hands) if they think his actions were justified. Motivated by curiosity rather than condemnation, Rolls exudes fascination at humans’ capacity to reach different conclusions from the same chronicle. History is put on trial with a gentle lack of judgment.

Toba Tek Singh (Al Green Theatre)

by Ryan Borochovitz

Toba Tek Singh is a new adaptation of Saadat Hasan Manto’s 1955 short story of the same name, devised by its troupe of 11 actors, directed by Ethan Persyko and Deval Soni. Its title refers to a town along the newly formed India-Pakistan border, with its national allegiance and identity made uncertain by the jagged instability of Radcliffe’s infamous line.

The team admirably rose to the challenge of adapting this difficult source material. Manto’s original short story is fairly short on story. It playfully lures the reader in with a sparse arrangement of episodes in the lives of individual patients in a psychiatric institution, each trying to wrap their heads around their new-found geopolitical volatility. The adaptation realizes this quality with long sequences of quiet stagnation, inviting the audience into a complex bundle of feelings, where plot becomes secondary to vibes.

Dialogue is mostly spoken in Hindi and Punjabi, with some English near the end. English surtitles are projected, though less for translation of the actor’s lines, and more to explain what’s happening – often excerpted directly from Manto. For anglophonic spectators (like myself), this augments the deliberately disorienting atmosphere. While few members of the ensemble are given space to stand out, Sarabjeet Arora deserves praise for his unmatched stage presence and powerful closing monologue.

Though a program note indicates the company’s interest in reassessing perceptions of madness, it’s debatable how much of that intention made its way into the final product. Introductory content warnings prime the audience for outdated terms like “lunatic” and “lunacy,” but these words’ recurrence within the projections present them as deriving from an authorial voice, rather than being spoken by characters with whom we’re meant to disagree. What’s missing is a distinctly 21st-century perspective informing this re-evaluation of the source and the history it signifies.

All of Our Parents Are Immigrants (Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace)

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

With a title like All of Our Parents are Immigrants, the three-person improv show set my expectations for the rigmarole of oversaturated immigrant stories (cue code switching, lunch box insecurities, and tiger parents). But the show is a delightful surprise, as it breaks out of the confines of its title and offers a refreshing comedic approach to immigrant narratives in Canada. 

Affirmative Reaction’s improv team of Amrutha Krishnan, Alfred Chow, and Shaun Hunter open the show with a guest interview, which is followed by improvised sketches of real-life stories that the audience submit anonymously. 

The pace of each story is energetically quick and the three children of immigrants explore tales of Boxing Day thrills in the olden days to grandfathers that can’t stop talking about fighting in the Second World War. The show doesn’t simply tick comedic check boxes, but dabbles with nuanced nostalgic longing and appreciation for the united stories of the audience and the cast. Immigrants don’t always have to reminisce about their childhood through the lens of trauma, and the show gently reminds us of that. 

Where the trio fell short at the performance I attended was in their guest interview with Japanese comedian and Pretty Beast performer Kazu Kusano. Chow’s questions for Kusano were startlingly one-dimensional, saved only by Kusano’s witty responses to being asked about what her “biggest culture shock” was when she first arrived in Canada. The show could have started off much stronger with questions that do not other the racialized guest as a separate entity from the cast. 

All of Our Parents are Immigrants is nevertheless an exciting foray into Canadian improv that engages with immigrant narratives as the new normal. 

You Lost Me: A Sketch Comedy Show (Alumnae Theatre) 

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

Who would want to miss out on a show featuring seven Millennials in pastel-coloured shirts, who’ve lived enough life to be unfazed by its turbulence, singing at you to relax because we’re all going to die anyway? And even if you did miss it, they’d probably shrug and reassure you that the show is about “stupid shit” anyway. 

Director Sean Pitre’s 55-minute sketch comedy show is fast-paced, with tight, hilarious dialogue offering surprisingly enlightening life wisdom. Among a handful of sketches that explore recognizably cringeworthy situations — some which are too specific to not be personal and, thus, funnier — there were some misses in the performance I attended but the successes outweighed and outnumbered the weaker material. 

Sketches on the awkwardness of listening to 1960s rock stars singing about underage girls or a computer beep transitioning into rave music were timed well and funny — but not funny enough to let their lack of originality go unnoticed. Many of the sketches seemed like iterations of relatable memes I have sporadically seen across Instagram or TikTok and, due to their brevity, it felt like I was scrolling down an app IRL. But the roaring laughter from the audience was perhaps a testament to the content’s familiarity translating to relatability — and that can be the point of comedy.

You Lost Me’s sketches about marriage, friendship, Zoom meetings, and diarrhea left me pondering the same question that rises after seeing a series of social media posts: have I ever had an original experience in life?

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Al Green Theatre)

by Janine Marley

Whether it’s nine o’clock on a Saturday and you’re craving a glass of red (or white), or you’re just in the mood to crocodile rock, you’ll find your song at Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. Using iconic tracks from Billy Joel and Elton John as its basis, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, created and choreographed by Adam Martino, is an emotionally charged story about fame, greed, and what home truly means. 

In this new jukebox musical, the Piano Man (Anibal Ortega) was on his way to becoming a star: he had an agent, a contract, and was getting ready to be an opening act on a huge tour. But something didn’t feel right, and he knew his manager (Alayna Kellett) was bad news, so he left the tour without notice and began to play piano in a local restaurant. When his past catches up with him, he relies on his new-found friends and his new love to help him stand up to his greedy manager and expose them for this mistreatment of their clients. He might not be famous, but maybe being the neighbourhood piano man is all he really needed. With a mix of live vocals and the original recordings, you’ll be hoppin’ and boppin’ along with the Piano Man every step of the way.

The Al Green stage has been transformed into an Italian bistro complete with red and white tablecloths and a stand-up piano. The show has a West Side Story feel, from the costumes to a penultimate dance battle between Piano Man with his friends and the Manager with her goons. 

Ortega gives a charismatic performance both as a dancer and vocalist. He is joined by Sydney Keir, Alayna Kellett, Jennifer Kehoe, Beatrice Kwan, Matt Eldracher, and Sean Def. The athleticism and precision of these dancers is impressive, and Martino’s choreography expertly highlights the talents of the cast.

They didn’t start the fire, but Scenes from an Italian Restaurant is definitely a hot ticket.

Gringas (Native Earth’s Aki Studio)

by Liam Donovan

A drama that consists primarily of hanging out might sound like a recipe for inaction, but Mercedes Isaza Clunie’s Gringas, staged by Zoe Marin at the Aki Studio, avoids that potential trap. 

Seven ostensibly Latina-Canadian teenagers with little knowledge of Spanish attend a summer camp where speaking the language is mandatory. Monologues and choral speech punctuate snappy, frequently humorous scenes in which the young women gossip, fend off impostor syndrome, and reflect on the terror of taking the top bunk. The play is bilingual yet weighted toward English.

Marin’s production is an hour-long sprint. In shimmering transitions, overbusy sound design by Ashley Naomi Skye (a.k.a. Cloud) propels the formidable ensemble from one distinctive stage image to another. Despite its relative simplicity, Millie Cameron’s flexible set offers several toys: a centre-stage steel bunk bed on wheels splits a pair of colourfully curtained wooden windows perfect for longing stares. Choreographer Blythe Russell maintains the forward energy; if an actor isn’t part of a scene, they’re likely performing slow, sustained movements in the shadows (lighting by Maeve Weishar). 

The breathless pace of Gringas captures summer camp’s fleeting, locomotive nature. These are days for living, not ruminating. Occupy the moment — you can decide what all this means after the final day’s sun plunges below the horizon and the bonfire begins its brilliant blaze.

Editors’ note: Zoe Marin, the director of Gringas, writes occasionally for Intermission.

Cabaret of Murder (Alumnae Theatre)

by Janine Marley

If one of your favourite pastimes is curling up with the latest true crime documentary on Netflix, have I got the show for you! Cabaret of Murder is on the one hand a traditional cabaret: there’s a mix of songs, spoken word, poetry, and theatre, but everything this brilliant trio performs was written by a convicted murderer. Created and directed by Blair Moro, Cabaret of Murder is the perfect blend of fright and delight. 

What struck me immediately about this production is the amount of research which went into its creation; every element of the show is either a direct quote or a piece of art from a murderer, and to collect all of that and then form it into a show is no small feat. I enjoyed the way the show flowed, with us hearing or seeing the work itself, and then immediately following, another performer would tell the audience who wrote the piece they’d just heard. It’s this roller coaster of ups and downs in emotion and tone which make the production consistently exciting. I was constantly curious to know whose mind had manifested these works as each one was being performed.

Bella Ciccone, Katie-Rose Connors, and Paulina Pino Rubio lean into all aspects of the show, camping up the comedy and bringing out the spooky in equal measure. Dressed in simple black and white attire, they allow the focus to be on the art itself. Yet they never lose sight of the fact that these were real people whose lives were lost; there was a significant shift in tone each time a murder’s body count was revealed and with it a clear sign of respect and understanding.

The link between art and murder is one that I’d not considered before, and yet here’s sixty minutes of it, expertly compiled into a stimulating production. You’ll just die if you don’t make it to see Cabaret of Murder.

Great Felt Greatness (Al Green Theatre)

by Janine Marley

Take a journey to the darkest reaches of the cosmos with Creo the creator and Great Felt Greatness. Creo sees neurodiversity as their superpower, except they’re made to feel like their neurodiverse traits inhibit rather than fuel them, and from this comes the core of their story. A heartwarming tale of individuality, creativity, and the ability to start over again, Great Felt Greatness propels the audience into boundless possibilities. 

Though one of the great creators of the universe, Creo’s occasionally had trouble with their handiwork, and are seen as a failure by other creators. We watch as one of Creo’s universes dies, sucked into a massive black hole, and they have to begin anew. Ultimately saved by interventions by Earth and Sun, Creo and their universe discover that there’s no right way to be creative.

Aesthetically, Great Felt Greatness has an aptly ethereal feel: flowing fabrics in the costumes, abstract and colourful makeup design, and calming music let us know that we are among the stars rather than on Earth. The set makes use of unique items like a workout ball and collapsible laundry baskets all draped in coloured fabric to evoke the heavenly bodies around the characters. The ingenuity and attention to detail creates a clear and unified vision. 

The piece is written by Eden Ulnik (Creo) and co-directed by Ulnik and Hannah Smith (Sun), with devised elements from the rest of the cast: Arina Anas, Rolly Barry, Wai Liu, Kai Osborne, and Victoria Stark. Each gives passionate performances and their movement sequences are especially impressive. 

You can feel the greatness radiating from Great Felt Greatness, and I think this production would lend itself perfectly to an immersive theatre setting, rather than a traditional proscenium, for a future remount. 

Unfurnished (Tarragon Mainspace)

by Ryan Borochovitz

Great farces typically have plots that give the illusion of chaos while barrelling toward a conclusion that reveals the careful precision of the author’s guiding hand. By contrast, the chaos found in Unfurnished seems like the genuine article.

Written by Spencer Pearson and Luis Sanchez, the stringy plot follows a gaggle of 20-somethings partying in a cabin that once belonged to their deceased teacher. (At least I think the teacher’s supposed to be dead. There’s one scene that heavily calls that into question, only to never be addressed again, one of many narrative cul-de-sacs.) Across its 75-minute runtime, a variety of intruders with competing agendas repeatedly disrupt the revelry, most of whom have their sights on an old couch containing something valuable between its cushions. 

This premise sounds promising, but requires more connective tissue between its scattershot happenings. It often seems as though the team would prefer to be doing sketch comedy, but the established scaffolding keeps forcing them back into a structure that doesn’t quite fit.

In the absence of finely tuned narrative clockwork, welcoming the audience into the party to spend time with likeable personalities might have been this messy play’s saving grace. Yet, under Seamus Tokol’s eclectic direction, each member of the 11-person ensemble tries a bit too hard to stand out as the funny one, dampening their overall cohesion as a unit. What could have been a pleasant hangout with old and new friends veers closer in tone to day one of an intermediate improv class. 

The best compliment I can give is that the energetic young cast appears to be having a ball, with their palpable enthusiasm occasionally becoming infectious. They wear the play’s nonsense as a badge of honour, achieving moments wherein new heights of absurdity successfully yield sincere laughter.

Sheila! The Musical (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Stephanie Fung

Gender is not just a performance — it’s a Fringe spectacle!

This delightfully dirty musical created and performed by Jay Hill (or Sheila V Toff if you’re nasty) draws inspiration from their grandmother’s life and namesake as a deeper exploration of their drag persona. Directed by Adam Khomsi, Sheila! The Musical follows a doting 1950s housewife going stir crazy within the confines of forced domesticity. 

Emphasis on crazy.

Sheila, who could only be described as the Amelia Bedelia-Judith Butler love child on benzos, prides herself as a wife, mother, and homemaker. And with her trusty television as a distraction, her dedication to homemaking is no match for the loneliness building up inside her!

But when Sheila meets Jean (the new neighbour whose marriage and lifestyle contradict her own), she starts to question whether her values and desires were actually hers to begin with. And as the veneer of middle class perfection cracks, so too does her sanity. 

Equally charming and terrifying, Hill displays a range of skill as an actor and singer. Crooning in one moment and shrieking in the next, their elastic vocals are truly what makes the production’s music memorable. Khomsi’s set and costume design are simple but effective, illustrating the essentials of a postwar household with a comedic flair. 

Sheila’s reality slowly devolves into a surreal delusion, reaching a boiling point upon realizing her baby was a doll the entire time, even when she waterboarded him in anger. Without the pressures of motherhood or potential infanticide charges, this actually works out better for her anyways! 

Sheila! The Musical ends with a cathartic triumph for our beloved bearded woman. For the first time since memory can serve her, Sheila finally has the opportunity to discover just how much of herself she’s lost — and now, who she wants to become.

Moe: A Rap Opera (St. Volodymyr Institute)

by Janine Marley

You likely don’t know the name Moe Berg and he’d likely rather keep it that way (as a matter of national security, of course). Berg’s story is one of intrigue and worldwide tension, and it’s being told by a quartet of teenagers in Moe: A Rap Opera, a part of this year’s Teen Fringe. With a breakneck pace and tongue-twisting lyrics, Moe: A Rap Opera shows good potential for further development.

Morris Berg was a brilliant young man from New York City who finished high school early and completed several university degrees. Moe followed his dreams to become a professional baseball player, and his passion for the game made him one of the most important international ambassadors for the game. During the Second World War, he became a spy for the US’s Office of Special Services, as he was already proficient in several languages and didn’t have a wife or family. Berg died in New Jersey at the age of 70, asking if the Mets had won that day.

Written by Cyrus Sarfaty, who also plays several roles, Moe: A Rap Opera is predominantly told through speed rapping, which is complex at the best of times. Sarfaty ups the ante by giving Moe some bilingual numbers. The performers – Sarfaty, Lucas Umali, Leo Favero, and Paul Karras – try their best to keep pace with this fast-moving work but do not always succeed. I was sometimes unable to understand individual words over the music, and there were times where words were skipped entirely. Physical performances, however, allowed me to still understand what was going on.

Though the staging itself is simple, there was decided effort put into the costumes and props to aid the audience in distinguishing the multiple characters depicted. Hopefully there will be opportunities for a more fully realized version of Moe in future.

Rosamund – A New Musical (Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St Paul’s United)

by Janine Marley

Once upon a time, there was a concert staging of Andrew Seok’s new musical, and it dazzled with its feisty heroine, inspirational story, delightful songs, and some of the most revered performers in all the land. Rosamund – A New Musical is a fairy tale for the here and now, and an enchanting new legend for all ages.

The story is similar to that of “Sleeping Beauty.” Princess Rosamund (AJ Bridel) had a curse placed upon her when she was a newborn by the dark sorceress Parisa (Gabi Epstein): on her 18th birthday, Rosamund would fall into a deep sleep for 100 years. However, the fairy Cyrena (Saphire Demitro), with her sisters Dariyah (Lily Librach) and Aerwyna (Heeyun Park), was able to protect the princess as long as Cyrena lived and her star shone in the sky.

As Rosamund grew, and the time for Parisa’s curse to take effect drew near, Rosamund embarked on a quest to save the kingdom and her own life. Accompanied by her newly betrothed, Prince Kasem (Jeff Irving), they battle the elements, vagabonds, and magical forests to finally reach Parisa and her protective amulet. Though her story feels recognizable in many ways, the journey with Rosamund brings a new sense of love, morality, and responsibility to familiar characters.

Rosamund is as spunky as its princess. The text has witty references to the Jeanne Lamon Hall itself, like the lack of air conditioning and the fact that it’s in a church, so no naughty language allowed. Yet the music is the true heartbeat of the production, with several moving ballads punctuated by anthemic solos which give the characters new-found complexities.

Send a raven, grab a carriage, or hop on a horse to see Rosamund – A New Musical. And they all Fringed happily ever after.

Crosstown (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Janine Marley

Every decision we make has the potential to change our lives forever, but when you’ve lost everything, which choice could have made the difference? Crosstown, based on the novel by Richard Scrimger, examines the life of a Toronto doctor and the possible lives he could have lived. Performed as a solo staged reading by the incomparable HRH Anand Rajaram, Crosstown’s engaging characters and a plot rife with revelations will leave you questioning everything you’ve just heard.

Dr. Mitchell is an up and coming OB-GYN in Toronto. Happily married with a baby on the way, he’s asked to perform a risky procedure on the daughter of a wealthy businessman. We’re simultaneously introduced to an unhoused man, whose usual shelter is being demolished and who’s missed the bus to a new mission across the city. As the man takes refuge in a nearby church with a new-found kitten, we get small glimpses into his past through his interactions with the clergy. 

The more time we spend with these characters, the more epiphanies occur for the audience; I think I muttered “oh my goodness” at least three times over the course of the performance. 

Bringing multiple characters to life, Rajaram sits centre-stage, with a music stand for the text, a meditation bowl, and a small thumb piano to indicate scene changes. Using myriad voices for the various characters, Rajaram engulfs the audience in the world of the story. The simplicity of the presentation leaves space for the audience to piece together clues as they drop.

Crosstown is truly an unforgettable experience. These characters are going to stick with me; I think many of us have preconceived notions about how or why someone becomes unhoused, and yet Crosstown is proof that anyone is just a choice or two away from what they’d currently consider unimaginable.

An Evening at Sea (St. Volodymyr Institute)

by Stephanie Fung

It’s hard to choose between following your dreams or your family’s footsteps. It’s even harder when your mom is the ferocious Queen of Pirates (Erin Jones). 

Written and directed by Bryce Volrath, An Evening at Sea is a feel-good adventure on deck and the dance floor. Next in line as her mother’s successor, Leandra (Karen Scora) has been secretly practicing to audition for The Funky French — an elite pirate dance crew belonging to an enemy nation. The mother/daughter relationship is tested as Leandra tries to pull away from a life of piracy and the Queen Pirate tries to pull her closer.

This production in the festival’s Teen category is more heartwarming than anticipated, never fully tapping into the stylistic potential its premise offers. Volrath’s interpretation of both piracy and funk is disconnected from the core elements of those genres. 

With no set and minimal audio-visual design, costume and surface-level references in script are the only cues to convey a life on the high seas. And while executed proficiently, the choreography and music are lacking in the expressive indulgence that funk is known for.

Dance sequences with the non-speaking Layla Ainsley, who is also the choreographer, are interjected between events rather than interwoven, serving no real purpose to the story. And lacking in palpable conflict, the story’s resolution feels all-too-effortless, making for an underwhelming payoff. 

Despite its muted vision, the writing still contains rare moments of ridiculousness that make for an enjoyable watch. Most notably, Jones’s prowess as the marauding matriarch is an absolute delight. 

An Evening at Sea is a reminder that families may not always recognize the ways in which we love each other. And perhaps the best way to express love is to first listen to how it’s received. 

The Delightful Chaos of Mistila and the Motlies (Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace)

by Ilana Lucas

The sardonic, animated Kat Letwin elevates every show she joins, and Mistila and the Motlies is no exception. Janet Kish’s comedy uses clown and physical theatre to ask how we manage to live and find joy in a world going down in flames. After the cast of character archetypes finishes some charming pre-show cavorting, they find sentient puppet Mistila (Letwin) has contracted a case of fatal ennui.

While euthanization expert Agabba Dora (Charles Hayter) suggests it would be kinder to put the depressed child out of her misery, Mistila’s kindly Geppetto-like creator Pinco Pallino (Teodoro Dragonieri) disagrees. 

On the advice of forgetful magician Madame Fulcannoli (Christine Moynihan) that a quest for five mystical items will provide the cure, the three set off along with Pallino’s son Benedict (Teodoro’s real-life son Leo Dragonieri) and Beatrice (Justine Christiansen), chaste young lovers.  

Mistila takes on much in its quest for meaning in an uncaring universe; call it six causes in search of an author. Justifying its journey and resolution requires a more coherent script. Currently, it flips between entertaining but disconnected zany antics and even more disconnected angry speeches about our awful world, where Letwin removes the character mask and speaks as herself. 

Letwin changes her physicality and speech in an instant from the loose-limbed, child-voiced puppet weighed down by world-weariness to an adult propped up by righteous anger, which is enthralling enough that I almost forgot the two threads weren’t entirely working together.

As the bumbling quest reaches its peak, our lead doll gets so fed up with her useless ensemble that it’s hard to find sympathy for anyone, though Christiansen brings strength and dignity to her portrayal of a gentle archetype who suddenly has leadership thrust upon her. Mostly, it’s Letwin stealing and saving the show alongside her motley crew.

Madame Winifred’s Circus of Wonders (St. Volodymyr Institute)

by Ryan Borochovitz

Who would have guessed that something being marketed as little more than baby’s first circus show has been covertly flying under the radar as baby’s first encounter with class consciousness? 

It becomes clear in the opening moments of this KidsFest show (billed for ages four and up) that the titular ringmistress (Emily Elizabeth) has recently staged a coup d’tent against her circus’s former frontman. Despite the rest of her troupe’s frequent declarations that their previous employer is simply lost – and “must be found!” – revelations about his history of exploitative labour practices make Winifred’s usurpation seem rather justified. Setting aside her vaguely sinister aura and suspicious eyebrow arching, Madame Winifred is not simply here to dazzle the audience with a good show; she’s here to seize the means of entertainment.

Beyond that revolutionary setup, putting on a good show is still the top priority. It’s a veritable United Nations of fake accents, wielded by characters so enchantingly wholesome that I almost forgot to question whether they might be problematic caricatures. 

There’s a Scottish musician (Fiona Cain) who’s lost her favourite tambourine; a Slavic tap dancer (Elyssia Giancola) who must turn her double act into a solo following her brother’s injury; an American tarot reader (Reid Martin) who plays detective upon suspecting the worst of Winifred’s regime change; a trained goblin (Liam Ryan) with a secret past; and a hardworking Italian stage manager (Sarah Kaufmann) who dreams of being in the spotlight. 

This breezy cabaret is packed to the brim with rapid-fire jokes, amusing songs and dance, a healthy dose of Torontonian pandering (the deposed ringmaster shares a name with a local park, which they milk for all it’s worth), and heartwarming lessons. Children of the world can unite in their enjoyment of this truly wonderful circus. They have nothing to lose but their chains.

Girls’ Night Cabin Fever (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

It’s the annual girls’ weekend, it’s in a creepy cabin without an indoor bathroom rather than a cushy hotel room, and the power goes out. Do you finish the giant margarita during or after you battle the things that go bump in the night?

In Girls’ Night Cabin Fever, three best friends from a small town in southern Ontario meet up for a weekend of catching up and drinks. TheTikTok influencer of the group, Ember (Mackenzie Kelly) takes everyone off the beaten path by booking a probably haunted cabin. Less than impressed, the uptight Liz (Cassie Davidson) and feisty Charlie (Lizzie Moffat) make the best of the horrifying location. When a margarita-blending mishap blows the power as a storm rages, the  frightened girls find themselves in fine fighting form as unexpected visitors come calling in this madcap horror comedy. 

Cassie Davidson (playwright, Liz), drawing from her own personal friendships, offers a peek into the world of ride-or-die female friendships. The girls are messy, raucous, and fiercely loyal to each other. The dialogue is punchy and fun, and the plot cleverly subverts classic horror tropes while maintaining a satisfyingly frivolous tone. Girls’ Night Out doesn’t follow the typical last girl trope but offers some astute social commentary like all good horror.

Pretty Beast (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

Kazu Kusano is a superhero battling sexism, one comedic pelvic thrust at a time!

The autobiographical Pretty Beast is an extraordinary story. In her 30s, Kazu moved from her native Japan to America to become a comedian. She grew up with a schizophrenic mother and alcoholic father, and as a small child, she discovered the alchemical powers of comedy. Those powers might protect her from her traumas, but comedy couldn’t save her from strict gender roles in Japan, where comedy is unladylike. 

Kazu is wickedly funny, but her true superpower is her willingness to share and encourage people to talk about taboo topics like mental illness and living outside societal expectations. Comedy is one of many tools on Kazu’s Bat-Belt. She has an uncanny ability to communicate her emotional experience as a child experiencing an adult world. Kazu has a hard earned comfort with what makes her a little weird. 

With her frenetic physical comedy, Kazu unabashedly reveals her authentic self and the power in honest self-expression. In doing so, she invites audiences to celebrate our weirdness with her. 

SEE YOU TOMORROW: a true story (Tarragon Mainspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

When Iris Bahr’s mother had a stroke on a video call, it was horrifying. To make matters worse, they were continents apart, no one seemed to grasp the severity of the situation, and COVID-19 was in full swing.

Moving heaven and earth to be allowed into Israel at the height of their lockdown to care for her mother was nothing short of harrowing for Bahr. With her son and ex in tow, she left her home and career in Los Angeles to navigate the Israeli health care system, only to learn she might not be able to be the caregiver she felt she should be. 

So Bahr did what Bahr does: she made art about it. This solo show is adeptly crafted, but I found it difficult to connect with.

Bahr is a seasoned actor, writer, and director. Her story hit all the emotional beats; everything was expertly timed down to the punchlines and tugged heartstrings. “See You Tomorrow” is elegantly produced. But in this situation, her precision hobbled her a bit, and I found her mastery a barrier to connection. The perfection and polish protected her from a level of vulnerability that I needed to emotionally connect with her until the last 10 seconds of the piece. 

In those concluding few seconds, the veneer fell away, and it felt like we were seeing Iris Bahr, the human who was deeply affected by the events she recalled, not the seasoned professional. To Bahr’s credit, just telling her story is incredibly vulnerable, and I am grateful to her for her bravery; it can’t be easy to share that kind of fear with hundreds of strangers at once. I only wish I could have seen this woman through the first 59 minutes of the show.

Patty Picker (St. Volodymyr Institute)

by Ryan Borochovitz

Would it be gauche to call this one of my top picks of the Fringe?

Patty (Kaitlin Race) is going through a bit of a rough patch, from running for office in Grade 10 student elections to family concerns. The one thing that seems to be going well for her is that she’s recently begun dating her best friend, Phoebe (Anne van Leeuwen, in a chameleonic turn as the full supporting cast). 

Amid all of this, Patty has a dirty little secret: a compulsive habit of picking her nose. When her political opponent tries blackmailing her with an incriminating video, she’s faced with a dilemma, grappling with the consequences of what might happen if people found out where her fingers have been.

Evan Bawtinheimer has written a delightfully charming script, executed with precision by director Cass Van Wyck, with Race and van Leeuwen bringing equal measures of heart and wit. Its three-dimensional characters may be archetypes, but none are stereotypes. Patty has a few quintessentially nerdy hobbies and interests, but I wouldn’t necessarily call her a nerd. The piece actively defies tendencies to assign categories of identity based on an assemblage of surface-level traits. 

So too can be said about its matter-of-fact depiction of queer teenage romance, which exhibits the younger generation’s heightened acceptance without going fully post-closet by imagining a setting where complete social tolerance has already been achieved.

As for the staging of the nose-picking, it’s stylized as is the entire piece. While I appreciate the commitment to hygiene and suspended disbelief, I wonder how having Patty literally picking her nose might have contributed to the show’s critique of stigmatisation. Would the icky reality of seeing that actually happen complicate the play’s message, or ultimately affirm it?

Before We Go (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Ryan Borochovitz

If we’re going to save the planet, we’ll need to start thinking on our feet. Until then, the more modest ambition of this unscripted sketch show is to send humanity to its doom with a good laugh. Creator Cecilia Serafina and director Alec Toller are joined by a revolving door of Toronto’s finest improv comedians to riff on the question of how we might spend what little time we have left.

And it is only a little. We open with a radio DJ (Toller) informing us that the world will end within the next six hours. He then solicits suggestions from the audience to inspire the scenes that follow. Can I get a song? Someone in my audience appropriately proposed “Highway to Hell.” How about location? The Ontario Science Centre is clearly on the brain. Lastly, an item with sentimental value? A lovelorn spectator regaled us with the tale of her Eiffel Tower keychain, a memento from a breakup that occurred in the so-called City of Love. The cast uses these contributions as fodder for an apocalycious comedic roller-coaster ride. 

I had fun with this show, but there’s too much variability to confidently say that you will too. What can be predicted is the casting: you can check the show’s Instagram (@beforewegoshow) to see who’s performing on which dates. 

At least at my showing, the end of the performance didn’t wind up feeling quite like the end of the world. The individual character journeys found graceful resolutions, but the final beat was more of a whimper than a bang. Despite the literal countdown to catastrophe, the stakes never managed to get too high. I don’t expect a cheeky comedy show to offer comprehensive proposals for prolonging our survival, but maybe the audience has some more ideas and suggestions.

Crime After Crime (After Crime) [Tarragon Mainspace]

by Janine Marley

Crime City, USA. With thugs as thick as the never-ending fog and a new crime family rising from the rocks, life in Crime City is no laughing matter. Unless it’s Sex T-Rex telling the story, and then it’s hysterical! 

Crime After Crime (After Crime) chronicles three generations of the Stone crime family through the lens of popular film genres of the ‘50s, ‘70s, and ‘90s: a film noir detective story, a groovy heist, and a buddy-cop comedy. With their trademark wit and charm, this quartet of creator-performers (Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Lowen Morrow, and Seann Murray) have brought another smash hit to the Toronto Fringe.

The brilliance of Crime After Crime is in the way this story is told: by exploring toxic generational cycles and our attempt to break them through the evolution in pop culture. Each part of the play has the same essential components, but the atmosphere of each one is totally unique. From trench coats to long, shaggy hairstyles to wraparound sunglasses, the company use well-known references and stereotypes to represent each era. While the storytelling methods are simple (the set includes a coat rack of costumes and some thematically appropriate signage), every detail of the production has clearly been thought through and planned out, making it the theatrical delight we witness on stage. 

Crime After Crime (After Crime) is peak Fringe viewing. Filling the room with raucous laughter, it’s no wonder that Sex T-Rex can sell out the Tarragon Mainspace. So you’d better get ya tickets now, ya follow?

Artificially Intelligent (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

In honour of Anesti Danelis and his new show Artificially Intelligent, I asked ChatGPT to write my review. 

“Anesti Danelis’s “Artificially Intelligent” is a comedic gem that blends personal storytelling with cutting-edge technology. As a Queer Greek comedian with anxiety, Danelis fearlessly explores his upbringing as the child of immigrants through a unique lens, integrating ChatGPT’s assistance into his narrative. The show is a riotous cautionary tale about the perils and hilarity of allowing AI to take creative control. Danelis’s wit and charm shine through as he navigates the pitfalls of technology in art, delivering punchlines that are both sharp and introspective. His ability to intertwine personal anecdotes with larger societal commentary keeps the audience engaged and laughing throughout. “Artificially Intelligent” not only entertains but also prompts reflection on the intersection of technology and creativity in the modern age. It’s a must-see for anyone looking for a laugh-out-loud yet thought-provoking theatrical experience.”

The second sentence makes my skin crawl a bit, but the rest isn’t wrong. It, however, fails to mention what Danelis and ChatGPT did to deserve such praise. There’s no mention of the outrageous concluding number that is not only a structurally uninteresting song, but contains lyrics hilarious in their tone-deaf homophobia and general vulgarity. Danelis appears as uncomfortable singing that number as the audience is hearing it. It’s moments like these that make Artificially Intelligent worthy of lavish praise, and something only a human in the audience can assess. 

Artificially Intelligent highlights the inadequacies and dangers of using AI without vigilant human oversight. Well played, Danelis (and ChatGPT).

Escape From Toronto 2024 (Native Earth’s Aki Studio)

by Ilana Lucas

Please note that this review contains spoilers.

Snake Plissken is here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and he’s all out of bubblegum. Plissken, portrayed by Tamlynn Bryson with an eyepatch and drawn-on beard, is a 1980s action hero parody, here for mullets, motorcycles, and misogyny. To win his freedom, he’s been asked to locate a black box containing some dangerous cargo in the midst of Toronto, a city that in this premise was turned into a sealed-off prison in 1988. It’s now the present — 1997. (The show seems to tribute John Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape From New York, which sees Plissken navigate a similar situation in the Big Apple, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy the genre parody.)

What sets Escape From Toronto apart as a Fringe movie pastiche are its visuals, creative and entertaining projections from an overhead projector on the floor that the cast uses to help illustrate the story. The crude but effective drawings let us see the watery bottom of Lake Ontario, a multi-angled motorcycle chase, and exploding goons post-Snake attack.

Bryson commits to the very silly bit, including fight scenes and protracted puppet-on-Snake sex, and finds one particularly good sport in the audience to high-five when Snake’s compatriot refuses to agree with his regressive views of women. Co-writer and compatriot Rod Peter Jr. almost steals the show playing all other roles and providing an excellent straight man to balance Snake’s off-the-wall energy and lack of filter.

It’s all in good fun, and laughs are plentiful in the completely ridiculous, deliberately wafer-thin plot — to be honest, even though it’s deliberately thin, there could be a little more care taken in the plot. But the character of Snake is so repellent that the heart is missing from the parody, making his self-centredness and willingness to kill and use others for his purposes feel overwhelming at times. Still, he succeeds in kicking some serious ass, accompanied by an equally kickass 1997 soundtrack.

Desperate Measures (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Ilana Lucas

A surprisingly sweet look into sex work and how it affects a couple expecting their first child, Rachel Moore and Catherine Teichman’s Desperate Measures is a well-paced and smartly constructed comedy with a satisfying resolution and dialogue full of funny (panty) lines. Opera singer Pete (Cameron Kneteman) has been placed on disciplinary leave for repeatedly mouthing the lead’s words, making nurse Amy (Hilary Wirachowsky) the pair’s only breadwinner. When she finds out people will pay big bucks for pre-owned underwear, she decides to give it a go. Pete’s initial skepticism quickly turns into enthusiasm as the orders roll in, then later to worry and self-recrimination when he fears things may have gone too far.

Kneteman and Wirachowshky have a light, easy and believable chemistry, particularly during the playful scene transitions. The mounting piles of baby gear and red lace underthings effectively show the plot thickening, and the soundtrack during transitions is hilariously uncomfortable, full of sniffing and moaning sounds. The couple’s arguments are refreshingly nuanced and reasonable on both sides (only one scene of Pete “manifesting” his desires spills into kookiness), and it’s clear how they’re able to stay together and even have fun through the whole adventure. Lisa Randall as Pete’s mother brings the outside world into their relationship, cheerfully invading their tiny space in an oblivious but not daffy way.

The script feels spot-on in its commentary about the current conflicted media climate in regards to sex work, with Amy’s decisions receiving both vehement support and opprobrium online and on TV. It links these comments effectively to a discussion about the conscious and unconscious desexualization of pregnancy and pregnant people. If you’re looking for a light comedy with a little depth, and you’re not afraid of a few panty shots, consider this clever show.

Get A Clue (St. Volodymyr Institute)

by Ilana Lucas

It’s Mean Girls meets Clue in this adorably murderous teen musical, created by teens for teens. New girl in town Ruby (no cast/crew list available) is hosting a boring party in her rich parents’ mysterious house. When several girls with colour-coded and mostly gemstone-based names flee to the attic to “Get Away From the Party,” the lights go out and the door locks, and queen bee Crystal winds up dead. Everyone’s a suspect, and everyone’s screaming.

Given it’s by teenagers, the show is promising and clever, with several twists and turns in the plot; there’s actually a mystery here, and everyone has a good motive (Crystal’s, like, totally hateable). More importantly, it doesn’t feel like a show that out-of-touch adults wrote about what it’s like to be a teen. As well, while each character has her main trait, they’re not cardboard stereotypes. The writers aren’t afraid to be nasty — all the gemstones have serious flaws.

Recent teen-geared musicals, from the aforementioned Mean Girls to Heathers to Six, clearly have an influence on the score. Everyone gets a solo, but the tunes gel better in the choral numbers. The lyrics could use some polish, but also contain some gems; for example, the song one character sings to her followers while recording one final social media post has satirical bite. Program director Claire Rice creates a smart staging for a large cast, particularly in a series of interweaving scenes that take place in front of the curtain as the characters split into teams and explore secret passageways.

The show is an encouraging example of what teens can do when given a clue.

Are you lovin’ it? (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Stephanie Fung

Slapstick and sinister — Theatre Group Gumbo’s Toronto debut is serving everything I’m hungry for. 

Are you lovin’ it? is a farcical take on the globalization of the American fast food industry and its imperialistic impact on contemporary Japan. Directed by Kayo Tamura, this outrageous production truly puts the whack in Wacdonald’s. 

Arriving at the fictional theme park called Wacdonald’s Land, we’re greeted by the electrifying Nono Miyasaka whose character is a frenetic rag doll parody of the iconic Ronald McDonald. We’re then introduced to one of Wacdonald’s most dedicated employees – the quintessential Salaryman (Ryo Nishihara) literally working himself to death by disembowelment. Equally unwavering, the role model of motherhood (Tamura) is the last to join, newborn in tow. 

From nursing a baby with a Happy Meal to blending Donald Trump in a milkshake, Are you lovin’ it? is undeniably subversive. The images and ideas presented are delightfully X-rated explicit, confronting Canadian audiences with the reality of postwar Japanese society through unsettling laughter.

While the costuming and stage design add a vital cartoonish flair, the performers are what make this show truly absurd. The salaryman’s determination to speak perfect English for his American business partners moves past caricature and toward a larger conversation about the desperate need to please Western powers for survival. 

This small but mighty cast displays exceptional vigour in their grotesque exaggerations of corporate greed and neo-colonialism. And with its clever use of Japanese theatrical traditions, Are you lovin’ it? embellishes entry-level aspects of Japanese culture as a way of embodying how foreigners view Japan.

Like the motley crew of Wacdonald’s Land, I too grew up suckling on the teat of Western hegemony with a side of medium fries. And if you too have a taste for the surreal and unsavoury, this show has cooked up the perfect flavour.

You, Hamlet (East End United)

by Stephanie Fung

You’ve probably never experienced Shakespeare like this. So if you’re expecting a straightforward adaptation, don’t. 

Because that’s DopoLavoro Teatrale’s (DLT) goal with their Toronto Fringe Festival debut — “creative anarchy.”

Registered under the Unconventional Venue category, You, Hamlet is a site-responsive funeral procession by and for everyone whose deaths Hamlet is responsible for. Stepping in as the titular character, 20 participants are guided through life, loss, and the Danforth church East End United.

Co-creator Danya Buonostella embodies the ghosts of Hamlet’s father, his mother Gertrude, and his ex-lover Ophelia, while Nolan Molfetta and co-creator Marta Zannoner stand in as the bodies of the deceased. With a laptop and portable speaker, director and co-creator Daniele Bartolini trails behind, operating the lighting and sound cues himself.

As the primary guide of our journey, Buonostella’s commanding presence makes it easy to emotionally follow where she’s heading before we physically arrive at our next destination. Molfetta dives headfirst into absurdity, interrupting the monotony of purgatory this show at times falls trap to. On the other hand, Zannoner’s cautious demeanour reflects the apprehension some may have about the experience. 

Together, they fill each room with a macabre atmosphere effectively, making it near impossible to imagine You, Hamlet in a different venue. 

To be Hamlet, or not to be Hamlet? Only in embracing this piece’s participatory and immersive can you begin to explore how the original play is being used as a blueprint to speak to something larger – because what that larger is hinges on the audience’s willingness to engage with the ideas and interactions proposed. 

Although I sometimes found myself more engaged by the building’s details or my fellow Hamlets instead of the performers, that’s all part of DLT’s audience-specific process, which Bartolini describes as “enhancing and augmenting the role of the spectator, who in their creations is elevated as co-author and co-creator.”

What I personally observed from the preview performance was a multi-faceted attempt to understand the impulses behind Hamlet — as a character, as a story, or as a conversation starter about grief, existentialism, revenge, and autonomy.

MONKS (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Janine Marley

Come, brother reader, to experience a day at the monastery unlike any other. MONKS is a fully interactive (and I do mean fully) clown show starring creators Annie Luján and Veronica Hortigüela. Under the care of two novice monks, the audience embarks on a journey of hijinks, storms, and even an ass or two. While the 18+ content warning is warranted, adults of all kinds will revel in this one-of-a-kind performance. 

The Latin chants and plethora of candles immediately establish the monastery’s ambience, yet that peace is short-lived once the Abbot goes abroad for the day. While the monks’ initial plan is to happily do nothing together with their new-found friends (the audience), what few chores require their attention lead to a cascade of chaos resulting in the messiest theatre I have ever found myself in. 

Luján and Hortigüela have not only created a wickedly funny script, their ability to improvise is unparalleled; anything that happened from their wigs falling off to unexpected audience reactions to latecomers was handled with good humour and expert timing. Truly, I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so consistently at a production. What felt chaotic was always just a stepping-stone into the next portion, and everything fit perfectly into the world of the characters. To have a slightly raunchy comedy coming from two monks actually makes it all the funnier. 

Get thee to a monastery, the brothers eagerly await your arrival! With such a small venue I have no doubt that MONKS will soon be another sold-out production at the Fringe this year.

My Time Will Come (Tarragon Mainspace)

by Janine Marley

What would you do if you could start over again? When faced with the opportunity, Tarso chooses to change his whole life, one step at a time. Bringing the Brazilian backlands to the heart of Toronto Fringe, My Time Will Come is a story of redemption in the face of temptation. 

Born to a wealthy family in a very poor part of Brazil, Tarso (Murila Salvador) began to drink, gamble, and kill, just like his father. But when his rival’s men (Barbara de la Fuente and Ben Sohi) catch up with him, Tarso’s life and morality hang in the balance. Revived by a kind stranger (Julia Rodrigues), he makes the difficult decision to make himself a better man. While his old world still plagues him, Tarso knows that he’s making strides in the right direction, no matter how tempting it would be to take revenge for things that happened before.

With elements of magical realism and an allegorical feel to the story, My Time Will Come perpetually has a sense of the otherworldly, reinforced by the appearances of the faceless spirits who haunt the backlands.

I particularly enjoyed the music which is played by a narrator (Leo Dressel) who sits at the side of the cactus-covered stage throughout the performance. The ambience of the soft guitar gives the story a filmic quality, as the music compliments and reacts to what is happening on stage. Visually, the unique costuming (patterned skirts and Cangaço style hats with metal stars) and  makeup design reinforces not only the setting of the production but also the ethereal quality the story embodies. The actors almost appear to be marionettes acting out the mythology of Tarso. 

My Time Will Come is the perfect opportunity to experience the legends of Brazil through this moving and passionate piece of theatre.

Sarah St-Fleur: La Québécoise, From Toronto! (Native Earth’s Aki Studio)

by Ilana Lucas

Sometimes shows change a bit from proposal to performance, and I have a feeling that happened with Sarah St-Fleur: La Québécoise, From Toronto!, which promises the storyteller will go on “a journey from Montreal to NYC and ultimately [find] her place in Toronto’s vibrant tapestry,” but doesn’t really focus much on any of those locations, instead highlighting reflections surrounding an incident on a fateful Wednesday afternoon that has St-Fleur pondering her relationships with her mother and brother.

St. Fleur has a magnetic stage presence, particularly when explaining elements of her Haitian heritage and its tradition of storytelling, then teaching the audience to respond in a traditional call and response pattern. She could then have proceeded to read the phone book and still kept my attention for the show’s 40 minutes. Multi-hued lighting and her homey, simple set, a rug and stacked decorative cubes, serve no specific narrative purpose but goes a long way toward making it feel like she’s invited the audience into her abode to share her stories. “For this hour, we’re friends,” she says.

The tales St-Fleur tells have rich details and are full of feeling and occasional pops of humour. As this is her first solo show, she’s still working out its structure, as well as which stories to prioritize. For example, the strong message of the ending would be even stronger if what turns out to be the purpose of the piece had been foreshadowed elsewhere. But she’s a performer to watch, and you can watch her here, first.

Aala Tamasha Aala (Native Earth’s Aki Studio)

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

Tales of a North American dream are often about what happens after immigration. The stack of diplomas and work experience records from home become irrelevant, as dire living situations and jobs entirely unrelated to one’s experience dominate. Amid it all, the dream discourse has long been about that one next job, house, or legal status that will make everything worth it. 

Director Himanshu Sitlani and playwright Neha Poduval’s Aala Tamasha Aala partially follows suit — but it also offers flashbacks of the prelude to the dream. Note that the show doesn’t shy away from criticizing the premise of flying overseas to escape — both a country and yourself in it — and that’s what sets it apart.

Abhay (Tushar Dalvi) is a security guard in Toronto who once aspired to be a traditional Lavni dancer back in Maharashtra alongside a renowned local performer portrayed by Poduval. 

The static of Abhay’s walkie-talkie is the show’s time machine that transports him between dancing without a care in the past and his stagnant, isolating job in the present. The Marathi theatre form of Tamasha-style performance that incorporates dancing and traditional music engaged the audience, and marked the poignancy of such a joy being stripped away from Abhay because of having to live up to his family’s local reputation as a respectable family.

Despite some well-timed comedic dialogue, the show does not treat its subject matter lightly. Working towards the North American dream is toilsome, but its effects are all the more damaging when the dream isn’t yours, a side-effect of which Abhay embodies near the end through a harrowing plot twist. You’ll regret missing this tragicomedy that pushes you to question who — or what country — failed Abhay.

1 Santosh Santosh 2 Go: Tosh Finds His Groove (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

What’s worse than having immigrant parents with astronomically high expectations? Having two older siblings who somehow meet those expectations. 

This is exactly the predicament in which we find our solo drag king, Santosh Santosh. This silent clown show — directed by Ken Hall and performed by Srutika Sabu — checks all the boxes of archetypal stories of immigrant children who feel like they’re never enough and can never get a Canadian to pronounce their name correctly. Sprinkle in teeming jealousy for siblings who are both doctors and parental pressure to marry a doctor, and we’ve got Santosh Santosh. 

Santosh Santosh’s crowd work is amusing, as when he interrogates audience members as if on blind dates, but his overall comedy, not so much. Particularly, the protracted time spent on challenging himself to dabble his food with sauce that got spicier and spicier could have been cut short. The finale, in which Santosh Santosh forgives himself and his shortcomings — hence “Tosh finds his groove” — also seemed abrupt. I’d recommend the show for its engagement with universal struggles of the youngest child in an immigrant family, not necessarily for laughs.

They Call You a Doctor (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

A lawyer, a psychiatrist, a therapist, and an actor walk onto a stage. It looks like a set-up for a joke, but it’s just Dr. Lwam Ghebrehariat, all of those things in one. His thought-provoking theatrical lecture tickles the funny bones, but Dr. Ghebrehariat is no punchline. 

Armed with little more than notes resting on a music stand masquerading as a podium and an obscene amount of charisma, Dr. Ghebrehariat holds his audience rapt with his unconventional storytelling show They Call You a Doctor. His story is unusual: he explains that he’s a lawyer who became a psychiatrist and now primarily practises as a psychotherapist. He was bitten and subsequently infested by the theatre bug as a small child, a devoted son of immigrant parents. Under scrutiny, many definitions of theatre don’t hold up, according to Dr. Ghebrehariat. He believes it’s the relationship between the performer and the audience that defines the form. Through a collection of personal anecdotes, facts, and jokes, Dr. Ghebrehariat explores similar challenges to defining crimes and medical care. Why people commit crime, how psychiatric medication affects patients, what is theatre — it’s all relational, and it’s all riveting.

Dr. Ghebrehariat is part-storyteller, part- scholar, earnest seeker, and fascinating performer. For curious minds who enjoy liminal spaces, They Call You a Doctor is a must-see.

Death of a Starman (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

Sal Soloman, a washed-up cable access TV astrologer to the tristate area, has got himself into a pickle. With Mercury in retrograde and a mobster after him, what’s a Pisces like him supposed to do? 

Zaid Bustami shows off his comedic prowess in the zany solo show, bringing eight absurd characters to life, with Sal Solomon at the centre. As the TV astrologers of the 1990s fell out of favour, Sal’s ex-wife moved her astrological grift over to Gwyneth Paltrow and the Hollywood scene, with Solomon preferring to stay true to his increasingly irrelevant TV show far beyond its best-before date. Borrowing money from the mob to keep everything afloat, he has 48 hours until their debts come due, and the audience is pulled into a preposterous adventure. 

At the heart of Death of a Starman is a scathing critique of the rise of the right and its bevy of fascistic and xenophobic grifters who prey on the fears of people who find the world changing faster than they would like. The production is clever, ridiculous, and great for laughing at some frightening bad actors.

Rebel Bubbie, Inc. (Alumnae Theatre)

by Ilana Lucas

When I interviewed 76-year-old Bruria Cooperman of Rebel Bubbie last week, I knew I’d met a firecracker of a woman with plenty of exciting stories to tell. I wish Toronto Fringe audiences could see more of that fascinating woman in her 45-minute solo show, which relies too much on the novelty of hearing a grandmother say naughty things and too little on unpacking the stories from her multi-faceted life. 

Cooperman smartly uses her director/co-creator, Emmy-nominated Eve Almos, as an interviewer asking her questions from the audience to make sure she stays on track and doesn’t forget any of her lines. But it’s almost a shame that they’ve scripted the conversation, because Cooperman often seems more like she’s reciting than remembering, and frustratingly refers to what sound like several compelling tales that she refuses to go into. 

She comes alive when charmingly talking about her grandchildren (what bubbie doesn’t?) and in telling the story of how she wound up in Adam Sandler’s Netflix film You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, going viral as the bird-flipping and wheelie-popping granny. She learned the wrong lesson from her virality, though; the crudeness is the spice in the chicken soup, but the stories are the rich broth that nourish the audience.

On a Sunday in August (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Janine Marley

Family drama takes centre stage in Olivia Quinn-Smith’s On a Sunday in August, produced by Bait and Switch. Paul (Joseph Brown), Daniel (Cayne Kitagawa), and Abbie (Chloe Chan) are the third generation to occupy their family’s farm. With the passing of their parents, and a recent diagnosis for one of the siblings, Abbie and Daniel begin to question if it’s worth keeping the property, or have it sold for a hefty profit. Tensions run high as the siblings verbally duke it out for control of the farm and to follow their dreams. 

A classic kitchen-table drama, On a Sunday in August is focused on the relationships between the characters, and how those relationships have clearly become strained. Tactfully engaging with difficult topics like addiction, terminal disease, and caregiving, as well as the realities of running a farm, we learn a great deal about this family in the short time we spend with them. Yet without any resolution to the ending of the story, it’s hard to know if their arguments were worth it, or just drove an irrevocable wedge between them. 

I feel like this is the first act to a full play; I wanted a “four years later” portion in which we get some resolution to the issues. The tension between the characters and pacing of the play work very well under Stephanie Williams’ direction, so hopefully this play will have another staging where an ending can be fully realized.

Tape (Al Green Theatre)

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

A dishevelled motel bed with a bag full of cocaine underneath it and a table for two dress the stage for Tape: Stephen Belber’s 1999 dark comedy presented at Fringe by Jim & Grew Theatre, directed by Lucas James. Despite the show’s attempt to create a relatable moral dilemma about a man’s retrospective guilt, I found little to redeem the show’s superficial sensationalization of sexual assault in a post-MeToo world. 

When successful documentary filmmaker Jon (Joel Pettigrew) reunites with his high school buddy Vince (Thomas Sarigiannidis), he pities what his friend has become: a firefighter and workplace drug dealer plus alcoholic in denial. Vince evokes Jon’s slightest sympathy and deepest unsolicited life advice, but he soon turns the table and it’s Jon who’s cornered into revisiting a night with Vince’s high school girlfriend, Amy (Jada Rifkin) — and Vince wants Jon to admit on tape that he raped her. 

Rifkin compels when appearing near the end of the play. Her portrayal of an ever-elusive but earnest character starkly contrasts that of the other two performers, whose constant quarrelsome bantering was repetitive and unfunny. I wonder if the production could have steered away from trivializing these men seeking redemption, had the director attempted to make the tone less comedic. 

The audience was overall silent throughout the performance I attended. I wonder what they left the theatre with, other than having observed a play that presents a prolonged spectacle of surface-level emotional confrontation rather than actually grappling with the subjects of rape and guilt that it broaches. Despite contemporary props, the dialogue makes it evident that the play was written at a different time.

Tonight! a clown who wanted to be loved? (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Stephanie Fung

A servant of two mistresses, Tonight! a clown who wanted to be loved? is a cheeky display of how love makes (literal) fools of us all. The Tarragon Solo Room provides a fittingly intimate space for this one-man show following an unnamed doctor’s eccentric and endless attempts to find his paramour.

We hear the man of the hour before we see him, greeted by an empty stage with only the sounds of prolonged gurgling to keep us company. Creator and performer Andrea Barello is endearingly mischievous, as if Larry David was a hopelessly romantic Italian jester looking for love in all the unexpected places. 

Tonight! is a series of comedic vignettes that generates excitement despite using little to no words. Barello’s physical comedy and natural charisma add a playful quality to the audience participation. There is no hesitation from his “date” when he takes his stethoscope apart in order for them to share a drink, Lady and the Tramp-style.

To Barello’s surprise, his bizarre antics land him with not one, but TWO, lovers! And to his misfortune, they both break up with him over irreconcilable differences and tastes. 

It’s only after he’s double-heartbroken that Barello speaks more than a phrase. The clown explains that this story was not the one he had wanted to tell. This tale — which he likens to a romantic interpretation of Waiting for Godot — emerged from the emptiness he felt after eagerly preparing for a date, only to be stood up. 

In creating this show, he comes to realize that playing with others is actually what brings him the most joy (and “the more people, the more fun”)! But at the end of the day, he’s on stage alone. Even if the audience jumps to their feet during curtain call.

Elephant Song (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Alethea Bakogeorge

How do we make space for our grief? This is the reckoning at the centre of Elephant Song, a forthright and poetic meditation on loss and suffocation in a big city from writer-director Kush. 

Kush has woven together some glittering prose in vignettes that introduce us to b. (Arjun Kalra), a government clerk in Mumbai who is running from and later confronting the death of his father. The capable supporting cast (Japneet Kaur and Chirag Motwani in a bevy of supporting roles, including a fellow government clerk, b.’s mother, and b.’s boss) literally and figuratively breathe down b.’s neck, pushing him at turns closer to and further away from his morals and his grief, but it is a spiritual encounter with an elephant that will change everything for b. 

The physical language of this piece is delicate, deliberate, and a joy to behold as rendered by Kalra, who is a new talent to watch coming from Toronto Metropolitan University’s performance acting program. The live Hindustani score (performed by Utsav Alok and Dhruv Sodha) and projected live captions for the portions of the script that are in Hindi similarly contribute to a sense of buoyancy throughout the piece, even for a play that is so explicitly about loss.

Elephant Song shows so much promise from its young creative team, and it’s with that in mind that I would love for Kush and company to delve deeper into what comes next when grief bulldozes its path through everything that we know. With some tightening of transitions, Kush would have ample room to explore what’s next for b. beyond the suffocation of his current life.

Disarming Venus (Performing Arts Lodge)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart, but the ladies of Disarming Venus have figured out the remedy for aging. Though it isn’t surgical, it might just leave you in stitches. 

Through a series of comedic sketches and vignettes centred around an art exhibit featuring Venus, a cast of fierce women in their 50s and older examine aging, beauty, and how society devalues and erases aging women. No topic is too taboo: love, sex, dating, edibles, the beauty industry, broken bodies and friendships, facing death. 

Act 3 Theatre, a group of brilliant older babes (too numerous and accomplished to do justice to here — see them for yourself!) share wisdom hard-earned over their lives, and combat ageism and sexism with laughter and some profoundly touching scenes of grief and loss. They remind us to celebrate the cracks and wrinkles that come with age which are symptomatic of living life. Even Venus de Milo, armless and stuck in eternal youth, can’t escape the ravages of time! 

POZ (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

With the advent of medications like PrEP, HIV as a terminal disease feels like a relic, but the trauma and stigma of growing up gay in the height of the AIDS epidemic is still alive and kicking. 

2024 winner of the Toronto Fringe New Play contest, Mark Keller’s autobiographical POZ, about contracting HIV before his 30th birthday in 2014, is a deserved festival standout. 

His diagnosis to self-acceptance through participation in the PWA Toronto-to-Montreal bike rally is ultimately a heartwarming hero’s journey, but it’s raw. The cosy size of Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace serves Keller’s profoundly vulnerable confessional, allowing for a sense of intimacy and connection between him and his audience. 

Still, the road is messy, and Keller shines a brave light on all of it. With the help of realtor/billboard ad-turned-heat-exhaustion-induced hallucination and internal-emotional-support Bambi Marshall (Amber Pilon), and “everyone else” (Alan Schonfield), Keller takes us through the highs and lows of sharing his status, learning to love himself and trust others over the 600 km bike ride. Medication might make the virus undetectable, but it doesn’t remove the stigma and the residual scars of experiencing the height of the epidemic. Keller’s generosity in sharing his heartfelt story is crucial in adding to public conversations about HIV/AIDS, conversations that we all need to be a part of.

Barry Potter and the Magic of Wizardry (Al Green Theatre)

by Eleanor Yuneun Park

It’s a North American Potterhead’s dream: a real-life Harry Potter — or his friend Barry — standing in front of you, with an easily decipherable American accent, and impressive magic tricks summoned through a snap of a finger and a tap of a wand! 

Tim Motley’s solo show Barry Potter and the Magic of Wizardry is a delightful combination of magic, mind-reading, comedy, and crowd work that left the children in the audience gasping and cackling, while their parents offered rounds of applause for every trick and many of Motley’s self-deprecating jokes and punny references to J.K. Rowling’s legendary book series. 

With over 20 years of performance experience, Motley poked fun at the opening show audience’s delayed reactions and elicited more laughter, but fairly constant tech issues frequently interrupted the night. Lighting and sound disruptions notwithstanding, the show is a perfect Fringe choice for the recommended audience of children ages eight and above, their parents, and any Potterhead at heart.

AbracadabraHaHa (Tarragon Mainspace)

by Ilana Lucas

What do you expect from a magic show? 

If it’s some entertaining sleight-of-hand tricks featuring balls, ropes, cards, and Rubik’s cubes, endless corny jokes, and some audience participation, then you’ll get all that from this 50-minute show from Fish the Magish. Rob Fishbaum is animated on stage, moving from one trick to the next. He keeps up a stream of sometimes-related, sometimes-random gentle and groan-worthy jokey patter as reliant on verbal misdirection as his tricks are on the physical kind.

Fish has a good rapport with the kids he selects from the audience to participate, particularly when he directs one to be in charge of the drum kit rim shots that follow his jokes; if you steer clear of his R-rated performance on July 6, he keeps the jokes perfectly appropriate for everyone. His repertoire was varied enough to keep my interest, with one particularly impressive card trick requiring three audience members and two decks, although a clearer climax and ending might give us more direction after the oohs and aahs.

It’s not breaking any new ground, but if you’re looking for magic done by a person clearly doing what he loves, it fits the bill.

Note: This performance of AbracadabraHaHa was a preview, reviewed with the artist’s permission.

James Roque: Champorado (Tarragon Solo Room)

by Ilana Lucas

Champorado is a Filipino chocolate rice porridge dish often eaten for breakfast, or with a topping that combines its sweet flavours with salt, the better to appreciate both. 

It’s also the star of Filipino New Zealander comic James Roque’s entertaining and touching stand-up show at Tarragon’s solo room, always present as the porridge holding together his stories about appearing as a judge on New Zealand’s version of The Masked Singer, immigrating to Toronto, and his family dynamics and superstitions. 

When his father has a health scare, Roque is forced to re-evaluate what is important to him, and what it means to be a good person in an age of call-outs and poorly punctuated internet comments. But that doesn’t mean he stops indulging in silly, irreverent humour.

Roque has an easy familiarity with the audience, asking us questions, bantering with a few select individuals, and asking all latecomers if they were Filipino (they were). He also has a strong command of his material, which always comes back to his main themes just when you think he might have meandered too far (it helps that all the digressions are funny, too). His strongest sections are about his family and the “wonderful weirdness” of being Filipino, where you can feel the love shining through the plentiful laughter. 

It turns out that champorado is a dish based in colonization, adapted from Mexico to the Philippines through Spain’s infiltration of both. Roque’s thoughts about just how good a dish has to be to serve as an apology for hundreds of years of oppression are a show highlight. He may never get an apology from Spain, or from his parents, but Roque’s well-crafted stand-up is worth an hour of your time.

Note: This performance of James Roque: Champorado was a preview, reviewed with the artist’s permission.

Being Celine (Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace)

by Ilana Lucas

Being Celine is a very gentle parody of the life of Quebecoise chanteuse Celine Dion — so gentle, in fact, that it’s hard to tell whether it’s a satire or a tribute, or perhaps something in between. While the singer is currently the subject of a highly publicized documentary, I Am: Celine Dion, which details her struggles with stiff-person syndrome, there’s no mention of any of that here; perhaps the gentleness is a reaction to worries about sending up the singer when her illness is so in the public eye. The conceit is that we’re at a Dion concert, where Dion, between singing standards and a few covers, tells us about her likes, loves, and inspirations — much like an actual Dion concert, as the singer is known for her (carefully scripted) confessional asides. 

Writer-performer Laura Landauer captures the singer’s vocal and pronunciation eccentricities effectively and has a pleasant, clear voice. She makes the most of her physical resemblance to the original, gesturing and prancing around the stage in wickedly high heels. When she uses her expressive face to the fullest, you can see what a more exaggerated portrayal would have been like, and it’s quite entertaining.

Played to cover costume changes, the extensive video content of Landauer as Dion shifts the show’s tone more into parody territory. Showing her exercising stylishly, bending over her sewing machine, towering over and out-glamming the PTA set, or pranking her hardscrabble ancestors, the footage is professionally shot but comprises a lot of the show. The costumes may be worth it, as hardworking costume designers Alicia Zwicewicz and Susan Kee provide appropriately fabulous outfits.

Ultimately, Being Celine still needs to decide what it’s being: if it’s a satire, the jabs should be sharper, and if it’s a tribute, we should learn more about the singer’s true inner workings and the nature of celebrity, so that it’s more than a concert with chatting in between. But, speaking of the concert, don’t leave after Dion bids you “good night,” as much of the unsuspecting audience did at opening — wait for the encore.

The Apartment (Tarragon Extraspace)

by Robyn Grant-Moran

A tiny apartment in Parkdale is home to Bonnie (Cathy Shilton) and a bevy of family secrets. In The Apartment by Paul Bilodeau, Bonnie fights to maintain her independence with the support of her overbearing sister Amy (Elizabeth Frieson) and nephew Liam (Joel Haszard), until an encounter with the scheming neighbour Toby (Bilodeau) forces the family to confront those secrets they’d kept locked away. 

Bilodeau’s dialogue is sensitive, finding the humour in mental illness without turning it into a punchline. Rather than over-explaining, he personifies Bonnie’s bipolar disorder as a Nun (Jan Boase) who follows Bonnie like a shadow in silent condemnation. Except for Haszard, the cast are members of Toronto Metropolitan University’s continuing education Act II Studio, a program for those over 50 who are interested in the theatre arts. A story of a working-class family featuring primarily older characters without romantic nostalgia is refreshing. The cast has an easy chemistry that gives the impression of a genuine, loving, dysfunctional family. 

I am, however, left wanting to know more about this family and the events and traumas mentioned but not fully explored. Bilodeau is incredibly considerate of his characters and could dive deeper without running the risk of writing trauma porn. The Apartment, previously known as Survivors, is in its second iteration, and I hope Bilodeau continues to nurture and expand on this compelling story of family connection through the peaks and valleys of mental illness.

The Toronto Fringe Festival runs July 3 to 14. More information is available here.

Alethea Bakogeorge

Alethea Bakogeorge

Alethea Bakogeorge (she/her) is a physically disabled access professional, fundraiser, and artist. She is currently the director of development and performing arts at the National accessArts Centre in Calgary, leading all fundraising and performing arts strategy for Canada’s oldest and largest disability arts organization. Alethea also teaches and consults with organizations across Canada on disability representation in the arts, meeting access needs, and disability-inclusive organizational change. She has worked extensively in Canadian and American theatre, at organizations including the Musical Stage Company, Theatre Gargantua, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Theatre Aspen. She maintains an active acting career as a disabled actor. She lives in Toronto.

Ryan Borochovitz

Ryan Borochovitz

Ryan Borochovitz (he/him) is a Toronto-based dramaturg, director, playwright, and academic. He is currently a PhD Candidate in the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto, and holds an MA in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy from the University of Ottawa. He is the founding artistic director of the (essentially defunct) independent production company, Sad Ibsen Theatre. He currently serves as the co-artistic producer – former literary manager – of Cup of Hemlock Theatre, for whom he produces and occasionally hosts the theatre enthusiasm podcast, The Cup.

Liam Donovan

Liam Donovan

Liam is Intermission’s publishing and editorial assistant. Based in Toronto, his writing has appeared in Maisonneuve, This Magazine, NEXT Magazine, and more. He loves the original Super Mario game very much.

Stephanie Fung

Stephanie Fung

Stephanie Fung (they/she) is an interdisciplinary performance artist and arts worker from Tkaronto/Toronto who is fascinated by the concept of convention and how we contest culture. A performer, writer, director, and theatre critic — they are drawn to themes of monstrosity, consumption, exposure, and grief. They are a member of the 2023 cohort of the IBPOC Critics Lab, supported by Intermission Magazine and the Stratford Festival.

Robyn Grant-Moran

Robyn Grant-Moran

Robyn Grant-Moran (Métis Nation of Ontario) is a classical singer, writer, and a jack of many trades who has recently met the requirements to call herself a Bachelor of the Fine Arts (thank you, York University and Indspire!). Along with her BFA, she has also completed the Performance Criticism Training Program with Generator, has studied with some beloved Canadian classical singers, and been in a opera or two. Robyn currently resides in Toronto with her tiny adorable rat dog.

Ilana Lucas

Ilana Lucas

Ilana Lucas is a professor of English in Centennial College’s School of Advancement. She is the Vice-President of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. She holds a BA in English and Theatre from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramaturgy and Script Development from Columbia University, and serves as Princeton’s Alumni Schools Committee Chair for Western Ontario. She has written for Brit+Co, Mooney on Theatre, and BroadwayWorld Toronto. Her most recent play, Let’s Talk, won the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival’s 24-Hour Playwriting Contest. She has a deep and abiding love of musical theatre, and considers her year working for the estate of Tony-winners Phyllis Newman and Adolph Green one of her most treasured memories.

Janine Marley

Janine Marley

Janine Marley is an independent theatre reviewer born in Kingsville, Ontario and has been a Torontonian since November 2020. She holds Honours BA and MA Degrees from the University of Windsor in English Language and Literature with her studies primarily focused on theatre. She began acting at a young age and continued acting in productions until 2018. She started her blog, A View from the Box, as a personal project to share her passion for theatre.

Eleanor Yuneun Park

Eleanor Yuneun Park

Eleanor Yuneun Park is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, studying English and Religion. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity, the University of Toronto's tri-campus newspaper, and she participated in the New Young Reviewers Program for the 2023 Toronto Fringe Festival. Eleanor is drawn to postcolonial theatre and anything by the creatives of her generation.



  • annie massey Jul 6, 2024

    I hope Fringe reviewers will come over to the east end and take in some shows at the Alumnae Theatre and Aki Studio. Both these theatres are “satellite venues” for 2024 and have stepped in to help 12 more companies bring their works to Fringe audiences.

    The Fringe has focused its efforts on the west end/Bathurst strip theatres, but there’s lots of love and lively theatre at Berkeley & Adelaide and Parliament & Dundas East.

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