Raspberry season

Jul. 19th, 2017 09:45 pm
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Locally grown raspberries are back. Don't tell strawberries, but raspberries are my favourite. I live on the 26th floor, high above the ground, and I like it a lot, where I never have to shovel snow or cut the grass, but I think the one thing that could get me back into a house would be the ability to grow my own raspberries. They're great. Nuts to grass, though.

I've had 'em plain, over ice cream, and my favourite so far, macerated with sugar, a little vanilla, and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters. I haven't even baked them in to tarts yet.

Of course, this means the wheel of summer is turning. Plums will be soon. We'll be at peaches (which signal the wane of the season) before you know it.

Best of Fringe

Jul. 17th, 2017 09:19 pm
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When I sat down to draw up a schedule of what to see when at this year's Fringe (not something I've done in the past), I realized I could see as many as 40 shows; I wound up seeing 37. Which is great! My goal was too high, more than I think I could have stomached (while still going to work, that is). My feeling overall for this year's fest was that the average was higher but the variance was smaller, viz. I saw more 3s but fewer 4s.

Here's a list of things I gave 3.5 or 4 to (no 4+'s this year), in alphabetical order:
32 Short Sketches About Bees
About Time
Bendy Sign Tavern
The Diddlin' Bibbles
High Park Noir
In Search of Cruise Control
Interstellar Elder
The Life Henri
Macbeth Muet
Multiple Organism
Murder in the Cottonwoods
Shakespeare's Ghostbusters
Shirley Gnome
Special Constables

That's 15 of 37, which is a decent score. Last year (a particularly good crop in retrospect) I had 14/26 and 13/31 the year before that.

All of this said, the only thing that really blew me away now that the dust is settling was Macbeth Muet, with Interstellar Elder and Shakespeare's Ghostbusters rounding out my top 3. I'm not confident I enjoyed myself as much as I have in past years; I can't be sure if that's because I saw stuff that just wasn't as good or I was overexposed. But to my mind, I would have taken any one of a dozen of the good shows from the past couple of years over any of this year's choices (except for those three).

Did I miss out on anything? Delirium was supposed to be quite good, as were Maddie's Karaoke Birthday Party and The Seat Next to the King. I shy away from dramas, though. I'm satisfied with everything I made it to.

New Fringe club worked out just fine. I was concerned that no one would go (an outdoor hockey rink doesn't have the same ambience as Honest Ed's back lot), but whenever I went, I wound up running in to people. Having everyone corralled inside the boards probably made security a lot easier, too. It'll be interesting to see how they tweak it next year.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 16th, 2017 11:20 pm
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The Diddlin' Bibbles edition.

Beneath the aw-shucks hayseed façade lie a pair of pretty talented musicians and songwriters. I found their meta-commentary on the Fringe to be on point without being mawkish, and the success-goes-to-head narrative to be well executed.

The bit about the prayer headsets was just weird, though. I guess it paid off in a small way toward the end.

4/4. I went on Conor Bradbury's strong recommendation, and I can see why he liked it (his big dumb sense of humour was well-represented).

Not Oasis' Alone in this Together edition.

A reasonably well-assembled sketch show. Still a bit paint-by-numbers in parts (oh, this joke has clearly run its course, so here comes the wacky tilt and/or callback to end the sketch), but there were some good multilingual puns.

3/4. Big ol' duck.

Fest wrapup tomorrow. Final score: 37 shows in 12 days.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 16th, 2017 02:31 am
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Not Enough edition.

Megan Phillips tells the story of how she realized she had and got a handle on her anxiety by attending a 10-day no-talking vipassana meditation retreat. Some have complained that her use of audio loops to illustrate how it can feel was distracting, but I felt it was an effective inclusion.

That said, I wonder if and hope that the attention of a mental health professional and/or medication are also a component of the equation. Anxiety is serious business, yo.

3/4. Focus on the sensations...

High Park Noir edition.

Clearly written by someone who knows their tropes: the world-weary detective, the eager new girl, the old flame, the messy climax, the bittersweet ending.

Any show that includes live jazz is an automatic 3 from me, but this one earned it that way and more in other ways, too.

3.5/4. I couldn't get over the fermented garbage juice.

Special Constables edition.

A remount of a Circlesnake production from 2012, but it still works well. It's a big, dumb, fun show. The seeds of the cinematic stage combat that Sex T-Rex is now known for are apparent to the discerning viewer (the two companies share roots, the least of whom is not Conor Bradbury). 80 minutes long, but didn't drag at all, which was great.

4/4. Problems can be solved by punching (apparently).

Pillow Talk edition.

A trio of young comedians do a sketch show. Some of the sketches were a bit by-the-book, which made then unexciting viewing, but there were a couple towards the end (truth-telling sisters, mothers envisioning futures for their children) that were pretty good.

3/4. What I really want is...

She Grew Funny edition.

Joanne O'Sullivan tells the story of how she relates to her daughter now that she is 6, and how she deals with the death of her mother, which happened when she herself was 6. O'Sullivan is a standup (she writes for TV now), so her stagecraft is excellent and material still had jokes, but this is heavy stuff.

I'm not sure it's really the show for me, but the house was full and they all seemed to like it.

3/4. She had a Manhasset stand she never referred to on a cool trilobal dolly just the right size.

White Wedding edition.

Set in a backstage area of a wedding, I'm not sure that this is a story that really needed to be told. Kayla Whelan did a good job, and I love that they actually had older actors for the appropriate parts (Dave the chill late-40s guitarist was great).

It seemed to be messy in the end for that sake of being messy. If anything, it felt too personal, like we're eavesdropping on a conversation unnecessarily. But perhaps that was the intention...

2/4. But why was it told?

Caitlin and Eric are Broken Up edition.

A retrospective of a fictional relationship. This was well performed, but I found it difficult to sympathize, because it seemed that the conflicts all presented boiled down to "dude didn't prioritize the relationship." Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch are both gifted comedians, but once I noticed that detail, I started laughing a lot less.

I dunno. I didn't set out to watch this show with a critical feminist lens, but that's what happened anyway.

3/4. I maybe didn't have the best time, but there's something worth seeing here, certainly.

I think seven shows in a day is too many shows.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 14th, 2017 09:32 pm
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Only two today. I am feeling the effects of staying up too late too many days in a row.

Shirley Gnome edition.

Shirley Gnome is a singer-songwriter from Vancouver whose work is a deep, rich blue. Hits included "You can fit anything up your vagina (if you try)", "This is the part where you can leave the show", "God speaks to me through my burning bush" (featuring an incredibly lush merkin).

3.5/4. I was reasonably entertained but I don't think I'll be singing any of these later.

Murder in the Cottonwoods edition.

Without giving too much away, I think I can say that this was a well-done Lynch-ian pastiche. Unlike many efforts in that direction, this one actually has a good conclusion.

3.5/4. A couple of loose ends, but nothing too serious. It even managed to leave a relevant plot point completely unspoken and only discovered through careful watching.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 13th, 2017 10:51 pm
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Chad Mallett edition.

I free admit I went to see Ted Hallett and Matt Folliott just to ring up the scoreboard. I've seen them both better, individually and combined. I'm not sure what was working against them here: the too-big stage, or the too-small house, or the too-early time (5:15PM), or the too-obscure get, or the self-imposed rigours of the format. It's supposed to be two best friends going on vacation, but they pulled Thessaloniki, and neither seemed too confident to deal with Greece.

2/4. Other reviews have raved, so perhaps I just pulled a dud.

The Teeny Tiny Music Show edition.

The band is enthusiastic, but a bit messy. There's some plot (ish), but it's not quiiiite enough to tie together this jukebox musical. The vocals were frequently overpowered.

But! If people had D&D character sheets, Hayley Pace would have an 18 under CHA, and it is by strength of her charisma alone that this show is not a hot mess but instead oddly enjoyable. She needs a better director who can stand up to her (I don't know that Ryan Percival is capable of that), but good gravy if she isn't sex in tap shoes, an accordion, and fox ears when things start firing on all cylinders.

2.5/4, I guess? I usually use 2s to mean "this was competently executed but meh", whereas here it means a strong performance makes up for many shortcomings.

A Flea in Her Ear edition.

This is a French farce originally written in 1907 translated by the lead actor who knows it from his time in the Balkans, where it apparently has played in Belgrade for over 40 years.

I have structural concerns. The actors all spoke in ludicrous French accents (to varying success) that made them very difficult to understand (this pays off in one joke in the second act when a throwaway character turns up who only speaks "English"). For some reason they only used half-height doors, I assume so the cast would have to squeeze through them to make things funnier. Naturally, as a sex farce also containing mistaken identity, things get madcap, and it doesn't really pay off in the end.

I can't recommend it, I'm afraid. It's energetic and the cast has decent chemistry, but the characters are all ridiculous, and the plot is contorted and too long, and the accent thing is bizarre. It might have been saved by tighter direction and more rehearsal, but I'm doubtful.

1.5/4. One again, the whole thing could have been avoided if married couples just talked to each other.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 12th, 2017 10:18 pm
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Adventure Theatre Danceband's The Fateful Agenda edition.

This was a much better show than the rather thin crowd suggested it would be. A grab bag of both dancers and dance numbers: the cast individually covered ballet, burlesque, hip hop, line dancing, and tap, each dancing with their personal style flavouring their group choreography. The dance selections, too, were in part determined by audience choice, with an either/or presented to the crowd three times.

Generally I like the idea of giving that control to the house, but in this case, I think it would have been more effective to not, both to spread out the featured dancers (all were clearly quite talented but did not equally share in stage time) and reduce the amount of choreo involved.

All said the cast was both gorgeous to look at and great in motion, and while I don't think this is destined for any best-of-fest lists (plot is but a mere suggestion that sometimes feels ignored, to say nothing of character, or the questionable presence of the on-stage band, or the use of prerecorded narration), it was certainly not nearly the worst thing I've been to because it remained fun to watch.

2.5/4. Full points to the cowboy to full commitment.

Adam Bailey's The Life Henri edition.

A non-fiction lecture on the life of painter Henri Rousseau. Bailey omits a few details to make a better story, but the choices are reasonable. Art history and painting in particular aren't really my bag, but Bailey is a good storyteller and this is well-told.

3.5/4. I would have liked a little more on the art and a little less on the man.

32 Short Sketches About Bees edition.

Well, there were indeed 32 sketches in this 60 minute show. Some were quite good, but others were less so. Chris Leveille, Shannon Lahaie, and Leigh Cameron were all particular highlights.

Perhaps I'm a bit jaded by my high level of exposure to comedy in Toronto, but I felt this was at best "pretty good", but not "outstandingly good". About Time is far more polished in presentation and probably slightly better on average, but I think when this show hits, it's funnier.

3.5/4. Bees, Plan B, Bea Arthur, herpes, and in one case, er, lizards.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 11th, 2017 10:29 pm
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Lysistrata edition.

This is a burlesque adaptation of Aristophanes. There are few really good numbers, including a dynamite rap to end the first act, but the concept exceeds the execution on the whole, I'm afraid; the cast are neither exceptional actors or dancers, leaving me with a head full of notes on how they could have done better.

I also object to being forced to stand for 90 minutes. Site specific in a narrow bar does make the action in-your-face, though.

3/4. It was good, but not 5 N's good.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 10th, 2017 10:57 pm
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Vasily Djokavich: Russia's #1 state-approved comedian edition.

This is a decent schtick (bureaucrat is assigned job of "comedian", anti-jokes ensue), but it needed more Yakov Smirnoff (accent not strong enough) and slightly less length overall.

2.5/4. It ended with a bit of unnecessary meanness (it actually would have been a lot more effective if his wife hadn't turned out to be a dude in a dress, but just some lady), but he did manage to get me to laugh pretty hard on a bit about Rasputin's penis.

Dear Uncle Wish edition.

This show was lovely to watch. The script could maybe have used one more edit to tighten it up here and there, but the heart really shone through. Great performances by all involved, from the accents and beyond.

3/4. I particularly enjoyed the circle of mail.

Interstellar Elder edition.

In a play almost completely without words, Ingrid Hansen gives a tour-de-force physical performance exploring what it could mean to be randomly(?) selected to be the sole caretaker of a ship carrying the cryogenically preserved remnants of the human race. The loneliness, responsibility, and frustrations of such a task are all beautifully communicated. Hansen's gifted in dance, puppetry, and clown, and all are put to great use in making comedy out of a pretty bleak situation.

3.5/4. It really does have "one of the best endings in all of the Fringe" (Montréal Gazette)

I have seen 19 Fringe shows heading in to the halfway mark. If I follow through on my planned timetable, I'll be at 32 going in to the final weekend, and I could very well hit 40, but I feel like I'd probably just be running up the scoreboard at that point.

Extremely short fringe reviews

Jul. 9th, 2017 11:26 pm
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Six Quick Dick Tricks edition.

Now this is a magic show. Tim Motley has great stage presence and patter, well integrating his shtick into some pretty impressive mentalism. The plot, such as it is, does feel as hastily written as he admits it was, but his audience work and finesse makes up for it.

3/4, if only because the finale lacked the wallop to make this truly memorable.

Sam Mullin's Weaksauce edition.

Sam Mullins is a good storyteller, and this is a show where he tells a good story about first love at a hockey camp held at the University of Guelph in a dorm that (allegedly) was built from the same blueprints as a Panamanian prison. This particular detail really captured the Brutalism of late-20th-century Ontario University architecture for me. His character work is also quite good, pulling off a great Robert Webb-esque accent for his British rival.

3.5/4. I have absolutely no criticism to offer, just that this is good while it happens and then it's gone, which (minor spoilers) mirrors the story, I suppose.

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