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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Theatre For Thought, June 7, Fringe Edition

What to See at the Fringe, Part III
Suicide(s) in Vegas is a Good Bet
joel fishbane

There’s an above-average assortment of text-based work at this year’s Fringe. Some are by emerging playwrights such as Andre SimmoneauJoanne Sarazen and David Sklar; others are coming from established writers such as John Patrick Shanley, Oscar Wilde and John Cameron Mitchell. Then there’s Evan Placey, whose play Suicide(s) in Vegas will have its official premiere here at the Montreal Fringe. A Canadian / U.K. based writer who once won the RBC-Tarragon Emerging Playwright’s competition, Mr. Placey is now in that grey area between young virgin and old hat. In just a few years, he’s started working with London’s Hampstead Theatre and the Royal National Theatre. Meanwhile, a Hebrew translation of his play Mother of Him will soon premiere in Tel Aviv. 

Placey read of a real life incident in which two strangers met online and agreed to end it all in the city of sin.

Most artists use the Fringe as a testing ground, but Suicide(s) in Vegas is going to arrive to us more or less fully formed. The story of two suicidal women who come to Vegas to die began a few years ago after Mr. Placey read of a real life incident in which two strangers met online and agreed to end it all in the city of sin. 

“I couldn't find a way into the story I wanted to tell,” Mr. Placey told me. “Then a while later, I thought, what if it was a black comedy - which unlocked lots of possibilities….it  allowed me to explore the things that had drawn me to the story in the first place - loneliness and the struggle to connect.” 

SIV began development in 2009 after Mr. Placey commenced a collaboration with director / producer Margaret Whittum. The two have been having an intense technological relationship – Mr. Placey lives in London while Ms. Whittum alternates between Denver and Korea. The show has already gone through a rigorous preview period in Seoul. “That’s where my two actors were located at the time,” explained Ms. Whittum. “I emailed Evan a lot of feedback and then also emailed him videos of the rehearsals and the full production.” 

"...there's something exciting and more urgent about work on the Fringe..."

Equally intriguing about SIV is its two-person, all female cast. I’ve used this column before to discuss the great irony of the theatre world – lots of female artists, not enough chances for them to work – so it’s hard not to champion anyone who is making a conscious effort to bring women to the stage. “Evan has a knack for writing women,” Ms. Whittum said. “A lot of his protagonists in his work are ladies.”
Both Mr. Placey and Ms. Whittum were drawn to the Canadian Fringe circuit by its reputation for being smaller and cheaper then the average Fringe. “Canadian Fringes are very supportive of artists,” remarks Ms. Whittum. “More individual attention is given to each company.”  As for Mr. Placey, he adds that “there's something exciting and more urgent about work on the Fringe…I think audiences for the fringe share that energy and excitement. Much more so than when going to a play in a mainstream theatre.”
I’m going to confess a bias when it comes to picking Fringe shows: being a writer, I tend to gravitate towards shows that seem like they might have a good script. For my money, this is the Holy Grail of the Fringe, where quirky ideas and experiments in forms often triumph over solid writing. Coming up with a good premise and a snazzy title is easy – Hollywood does it all the time – but the real work lies in crafting honest characters and an engaging script. It’s a good bet that Suicide(s) in Vegas will prove to have both. 

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