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The Island Fringe Festival

Review by Sean McQuaid 

Your haphazard hack was not actually assigned to cover the Island Fringe Festival this year—he just wandered into three fringe shows strictly as a civilian one weekend, and the Buzz editor later suggested it might be worth writing up. Hence the coverage of only three random shows, with apologies to those omitted. 

All three shows were solid, to varying degrees, and all seemed popular as well—the two indoor shows on my slate were both filled to capacity, those being Busted 2: The Sagging Continues at Merchantman's Next Door Lounge, and Small Talk at The Kettle Black. Lots of happy, enthusiastic theatre fans in attendance at each location. 

As its title suggests, Busted 2 is the sequel to last year's Busted: a Mammoir, writer/actor Laura K. Bird's one-woman show about the ups and downs of a large-bosomed life. Stuffy old square that I am, I'm never fully comfy with body humour or bawdy humour, and the Busted shows offer mounds of the former with occasional flashes of the latter, so I'm a tough audience. Still, my zaftig better half having attended both shows in the spirit of solidarity, taking me along as her sour arm candy, I was pretty well entertained each time in spite of myself. Bird is a smart, funny lady who knows how to work a crowd, and her often clever, sometimes poignant, frequently self-deprecating humour milks her subject matter for bountiful laughs. 

Considerably blacker body-based humour informs Blindness: a Dark Comedy, staged outside the Hon. George Coles Building. Written by and starring Marieve MacGregor, the play is a darkly comic exploration of living with blindness, MacGregor herself having been blinded by complications of diabetes. While MacGregor does most of the talking, it's nowhere near a one-woman show. Assorted actors play aspects of MacGregor's psyche and various characters from her life, and several musicians provide a soundtrack. 

The resulting show offers a lot of variety performance-wise and is often thoughtful, bravely honest and funny. The humour is sometimes uncomfortable given the subject matter, though, and some of the monologues can get preachy or maudlin. The play also seems lacking in focus by times, and one wonders if a slightly stripped-down version with a smaller cast might have more impact. The current cast mostly play their parts well, though, notably the funny and versatile Andrea Filion. 

Saving the best for last, Small Talk was staged in The Kettle Black cafe downtown. It's an unlikely theatre venue, a long, narrow space dominated by a central bar, but one of the many impressive things about this show is how skillfully it's adapted to that space. The bar becomes a set of morgue slabs inhabited by two anonymous Janes, oddly chatty corpses played by writer Kassinda Bulger and director Courtney Starkman, who perform on, under and around that bar and its overhead hanging lamps with plentiful energy and enviable agility. 

The Janes swap stories and theories about their situation, gradually discovering their fates are somewhat more intertwined than they might have thought. It's very nicely staged, and very well acted by both performers as they effectively convey the simultaneous comedy, tragedy and surreal horror of their situation. Bulger's script is funny, sad, clever and refreshingly economical—short and bittersweet. This aging Twilight Zone fan is a sucker for short fantasy drama scripts, and Bulger has penned a good one. Here's hoping it's the first of many such creations from her fledgling Art Without Borders troupe. 

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