Montrealers are still shaking off their post-Fringe hangovers but over in Hogtown the populace is just starting to down their first beers. There are years when the Toronto Fringe looks like a carbon copy of Montreal’s, but this isn’t one of them: few of the folks who dazzled us here in Montreal will be taking themselves to Toronto this year. Fortunately T.O. Fringers, it’s not a complete crapshoot; there are still a few shows I can provide some advance buzz on.
Topping your T.O. Fringe experience should be Peter n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Hotel (Peter n’ Chris). Winners of the Just For Laughs Comedy Award, the show is a witty bromance whose title says it all: Peter and Chris travel to the Hungry Heart Motel where the motel manager is carving up guests ala Norman Bates. Horror films are easy fodder for parody but in this case the parody isn’t the point: Peter and Chris could be debating the merits of the phone book and they’d still find comedic gold. There is a script but the improvisers know it – and each other – so well that they happily deviate to inject ad-libs, dry remarks and sharp vaudevillian patter.
So We Thought We Could Act (The Beast / Monamie) was a bit of a sleeper hit at the 2011 Montreal Fringe and arrives in Toronto with a new polish and shine. A comedic musical romp about two best friends who sell their souls to become stars, the show features sharp work by Montrealers Rena Hundert and Helen Prandekas as the adorable best friends who find that deals with the Devil don’t always go the way they should.
Look for Sam Mullins' whimsical Tinfoil Dinosaur, a show which soon became one of the Must-Sees here in Montreal. A classic Fringe show of the TJ Dawe variety, Mullins uses nothing but himself and a stool to tell the affecting story of his first years after leaving theatre school. Mullins doesn’t flinch from telling self-criticism or from discussing his darker moments, like when he wished for suicide; but he tells it all with such honest charm that I was disappointed to leave his company when it was through. And yes he does make a tinfoil dinosaur – sit near the front and you may leave with it as a souvenir.
In a similar vein is Australian Zack Adams (stage name of Shane Adamczak) who tells his own coming-of-age tale in Zack Adams: The Complete History of Zack Adams (Weeping Spoon Productions). Adams' show is more theatrical than Mullins and he makes smart use of his songwriting skills: while not a musical, Adams does manage to weave his songs into the plot. What both Mullins and Adams capture best is both the easy arrogance of youth and the inspiring way they recover.
And from the Pleasant Surprise Department comes Kyle Allatt’s The No Bull$#!% History of Canada, a breezy slide show / stand-up routine that turns Canadian history into a romp. From amusing facts about the Filles du Roy to a discussion about our worst Prime Minister (and no, it’s not the current one), Allatt and his beaver mascot keep both comedy and history moving along at a fast clip. (Sidebar: I take credit for pointing out one quasi-mistake, prompting Allatt’s reply: “I knew some history nerd was going to call me on it.”)
Toronto’s Fringe is quickly becoming Canada’s dream factory, so it’s appropriate that there are so many shows about the artistic life and the promise of a better tomorrow. The festival has become the place to go looking for the Next Big Canadian Thing, especially since the fairy tale of The Drowsy Chaperone and My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding: both shows began at the T.O. Fringe and went on to splashy professional productions (Chaperone won the Tony in 2006). Hopefully this will infect other Fringes down the road – it would be magnificent if every Canadian Fringe could be hailed as a stepping stone for greater things.
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