Island Fringe Festival:
Un Glitch Absurde
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your Precambrian prattler had Browning on the brain during this show. The director of 1931's seminal original Dracula flick, Tod Browning spent years working in carnivals, circuses and vaudeville before breaking into the movies, where his films repeatedly mined outsider themes in general and Browning's sideshow past in particular.
Charlottetown Burlesque's fringe festival show Un Glitch Absurde reminded me of Browning with its opening number, where the company enters in circus-like roles such as a strongman (who later morphs into a ringmaster of sorts), a devil, a bearded lady, a masked acrobat and more.
This literal sideshow ends with the first song (apart from an animated Gordon Cobb lingering as ringmaster-like emcee Maqui) but the Browning notion stuck with me, partly because burlesque in general seems like it would have been right up Browning's dark, quirky alley, a funhouse mirror reflection of his old vaudeville stomping grounds.
With their colourful costumes and stage names, burlesque performers are Browning-esque oddball outsiders, a kind of loopy parallel realm of gaudy dual-identity performance art evoking sideshow acts, roller derby, professional wrestling or super-heroics. To portray the other, you become the other.
The "other" in this case, and a big part of what makes burlesque a fringe genre, is its sexual and strip-tease elements. Once a low-brow satirical variety show of sorts, burlesque later incorporated stripper acts that gradually took over and redefined the genre, both in its early 20th Century heyday and its more recent revivals.
As such, burlesque is an awkward fit for your stubbornly square reviewer — kind of an "only Nixon could go to China" dynamic, arguably — but I wanted to cover the full Island Fringe slate this year, burlesque included, and I wasn't alone. Charlottetown Burlesque is among the festival's most popular features, and there were many familiar faces in the sold-out crowd — men and women, young and old. It was a diverse and happy audience.
It may be a sign of my deepening moral turpitude (not to mention my irrational delight in saying or typing the word "turpitude"), but I enjoyed the show. The language and content got a tad too spicy for my taste in spots, but there's no real nudity and plenty of well-executed musical comedy, not to mention more artistic and emotional range than one might expect.
There's sensual material, of course, such as company standout Moxie (Cameron Cassidy) and friend doing fine work on the once-scandalous 1967 tune "Déshabillez-moi" (one of several French songs in this refreshingly bilingual show), or the beguiling veil dance by company founder Amphora Rhodes (Alicia Denison) that closes the evening; but there's also comedy, romance, even pathos in some of the material.
Francesca LaBella (Marissa Ladéroute) is quite funny in "Jalouse," for instance, and Ruby Doll (Andrea Fillion) brings lots of lively, appealing personality to numbers like the quietly crazed "Coin-Operated Boy." She has occasional trouble finding the microphone's sweet spot (somewhere a mock-aghast Lorelai Gilmore is saying "Dirty!"), but at her most audible she's among the company's best assets.
Always audible and often amazing is the charming Charmaine Foxx (Ashley Clark), whose vocals are so consistently strong they're worth the price of admission no matter what duds she's donning or doffing. Clark's powerhouse performance of "Blue Alert," for instance, would be a smoking show-stopper even for sightless audience members. Like much of the rest of the show, it's a treat well worth the risk of turpitude.