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Fringe Fried  

Review by Sean McQuaid 

Your crumbling correspondent somehow made it through the Island Fringe Festival’s newly supersized slate of ten shows in one humid, tiring-yet-fun August weekend. Limits imposed by my old nemeses time and space mean a few shows (Cardboard Countess, Half a Star, Realizations and Wild Card) are featured in expanded reviews while the rest of the plays get quicker coverage here in my omnibus musings. Onward…

Despite featuring more productions, this year’s Fringe is less varied in format — of the ten shows, only two aren’t exactly plays: Cocktails: Olivia Face and PTSD-Post Trump Stress Disorder. Both are one-person shows whose stars share observations, musings and anecdotes drawn from their own lives while exploring larger topics such as PTSD star Pam McCann’s thoughts on Trump’s America (though PTSD isn’t as Trump-centric as its title suggests). 

Local drag performer Face sustains a tone of dry, ironically detached wit paired with sly, slow-burn comic timing that makes Cocktails a frequently amusing show despite its often-bleak subject matter — tales of drug use, depression, death and other dark detours. Sunnier Californian import McCann’s oft-rambling show feels a bit more tentative and unfocused, but her genuine, charming, spontaneously funny personality makes it a fun ride regardless. 

Less fun is Caged, written/designed/performed by Toronto’s Emily Schooley as Lora, a woman wrongly imprisoned via false accusations from an abusive ex-boyfriend. Based in part on Schooley’s life, it’s gutsy stuff, but Lora’s often-angry monologue feels repetitive by times in terms of tone, physical business, and/or content; and her hopeful closing sentiments, while welcome, don’t quite feel like a natural progression. There are smart, funny, memorable and moving moments in the script, performance and staging, but it’s not a fully coherent whole yet. 

One of my favourite running bits from bizarre TV gem Gravity Falls is characters uttering “Wait, what?” when things get weird (like, say, Stan Pines finding “beautiful men” eating from his trash cans like raccoons). This year’s Fringe slate features two shows operating on a “Wait, what?” level of weirdness, both playfully inventive, entertaining and well-crafted: European import 25 @1919Paris and Toronto-based Diana (I knew you when we were fourteen)

Anastasia Wells and show creator Elliot Delage star in the semi-inscrutable 25, playing 12 different 20-something characters navigating everything from office romance and funeral arrangements to nightclub revelry and criminal insanity. Some (perhaps all?) of these short scenes seem connected in various ways, though it’s not always clear how. Some bits work better than others, but the tonally versatile and physically nimble Delage-Wells duo is watchable throughout. Wells in particular is eerily fascinating in an off-kilter way. 

Falling Iguana Theatre’s Diana is an even more jumbled assortment of scenes (all inspired by Michael Ondaatje’s “Elimination Dance” poetry) but it works quite well, partly due to its unifying through line: a young man (played by Ian Goff) obsessed with the abrupt departure of an old high school classmate, Diana Whitehouse (an incandescent Alexa Higgins). Written by stars Goff and Higgins and stage manager Sarah Higgins (also the show’s note-perfect narrator), it’s a whimsical-yet-wistful, high-energy show full of music, slapstick, mystery and strangeness as we learn Diana’s fate with surreal side trips along the way. 

Speaking of surreal, local playwrights Laura Chapin & Dave Stewart’s The Satan Show features the titular archfiend (played by Nicholas Whalen) posing as a psychiatrist. His patient — unstable reprobate Susan (Chapin) — blames her misdeeds on satanic influence, but an oddly subdued, sensitive Satan encourages Susan to take responsibility for her own choices. It’s a thoughtful, often funny script, though a couple of Chapin’s loopier laugh lines feel more like self-consciously constructed chuckle bait than natural dialogue. Her over-the-top Susan is often laugh-out-loud funny, but Whalen’s restrained, nuanced rendition of Satan is where the show feels most devilishly clever.

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