God Dammit, it’s about time.  It feels like it’s been almost a whole YEAR since last year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival, doesn’t it?  Is it just me? Am I impatient?

Maybe that’s why I was up so early today, day off notwithstanding, hurtling down to the courtyard about 7 hours early.  Although in my defense, I HAD been invited to the media launch for Arts Court’s new resident companies, New Theatre Ottawa, Evolution Theatre and Creations in Vivo.  it was a grand launch, replete with stilt-walking tree spirit and Koensgen monologues, and a gaggle of Fringe performers to boot.  Got me some snapshots, and more importantly, got in the mood for some fringing later that day.  It felt like a LONG wait.

But eventually, after a long trip back downtown in shitty traffic (made smoother by the company of PLAYING DEAD’s Jordan Moffat on the #14), and a trip into the Fringe offices for some goodies, it was finally that time again.  My fav’rit time of the year.  I headed over to the ‘cozy’ Arts Court Library, picked up my first ticket of the fest, and just like that, the Fringe was officially ON.

That first show was courtesy of Looking Glass Productions, a show called PADRE X written by and starring Marc Moir.  The show tells the story of one John Weir Foote, a Canadian army chaplain in WWII who, through a series of headstrong decisions and (mostly) unwavering faith, earns himself a Victoria Cross after the raid on Dieppe.  And I’ll admit, readers, I was a little dubious going in…I’d read the company’s website, explaining their specifically Christian mandate, and it weighted heavily on my sinful, agnostic mind.  Until I remembered that one of the funnest shows I’d seen recently was YICHUD, a balls-to-the-wall Jewish play that wore it’s religion right on the sleeve, and maybe I should just stop worrying and enjoy the show (FYI: always good advice).

Moir shows his acting chops in this one, coming across with Jimmy Stewart-esque charm as Foote, striving to do his chosen duty no matter the hardship.  The performance is extremely honest and straightforward, with moments of real warmth and pain in amongst more comic notes.  Some of the sound cues felt a little…abrupt, shall we say, but who am I to talk tech to anyone?  I was handing out ‘business cards’ today written in pen on cocktail napkins for…Christ’s sake?  Is that appropriate, given this review..?

Pfft.  He’ll forgive me.  Short version, PADRE X was a great story well told, and a fine way to start off this FringeFest.  From there I took a short trip down the stair and around the corner to the Hostel next door, where my next performance was taking place. Although not the performance I, or even the performer, was expecting.  The show was called VAGABOND from Dunk a Sok Productions, and was created by the multitalented Duncan Cameron.  Multitalented and, at the moment, about as lucky as a broken window driving drunk under a ladder.  See, Duncan’s original show, as written in the Fringe guide, involved himself and a female actor.  And it was to take place in the parking lot of the Jail Hostel.
Only Duncan’s actress split on him last week.  And the venue he had booked turfed him out.  YESTERDAY.

The fact that this guy still put on ANY show should earn him an award right there.  And while the story wasn’t exactly Citizen Kane, I can happily say that it contained many solid laugh out loud moments, and Duncan’s skills at physical comedy have only gotten better since I saw him last in TRIBULATIONS OF A FAILED VIGILANTE two years ago (not last year…thanks for catching that, BC).  The musical accompaniment is a very nice touch, courtesy of Tony and Ryan, the props are genuine comic gold, and did I mention the venue is pet-friendly??  VAGABOND has been relocated to the front lawn of the Hostel itself, so it won’t be hard to find, and I can tell you it’s indeed worth a look.  I promise you, no other Fringe performer around will work harder for your entertainment dollar than Dunk.  Check him out (NOTE: Vagabond is now located right next to it’s original location, on the front lawn of the Hostel itself.  Don’t worry, you’ll see the friendly volunteers when you go looking for it).

Had a few moments after that show to lurk at the courtyard, have my first Fringe-beers of the year, and enjoy some tasty Tandoori Chicken Naan from the new caterers Emerald Pastry. Dee-licious.  Then, off to the subterranean SAW Gallery for show number three, A Vagrant Theatre’s DYING HARD.  Starring Mikaela Dyke and directed by Dahlia Katz, DH is the verbatim stories of Newfoundland miners in their almost-literal death throes (or mourning)following the tragic effects of decades of unsafe mining practices.  The interviews compiled by researcher Elliot Leyton are transformed into life before our eyes by Mikaela, one after another, with the kind of astonishing craft and skill that makes me want to say things like


…which, if you know me at all by now,  I probably will at some point.  But in the meantime, let me tell ya…I was absolutely hypnotized by whatever magic Mikaela was weaving during this show, and could not BELIEVE the shifts that would take place.  I literally spent a few minutes after her first ‘transformation’ into a character trying to find that cute girl who’d just introduced herself on stage…because I simply could not see her anymore.  She embodied those very real people heart and soul, and I’m so happy I got to witness this gift.  She done their stories proud, and I was personally very proud to have been able to talk to her afterwards.  A flawless performance…even the way she fell off the stage at the end was adorable!

Without even time to come off of that high (who would want to??) I shuffled up to Arts Court Theatre for my final show of day one, 2011.  And what better way to end it that with my wee Ottawa Theatre School gangsters and their production of David Hersh’s new piece, GLITCH.  Directed by OSSD’s Bruce Bissonette, GLITCH was a timebending dark comic masterpiece, and damn but the OTS gang is just getting tighter and tighter.  What starts off as the weary tale of a depressed dude wandering into a bar for the first time quickly turns itself on its own head, a FEW times, until dialogue starts getting passed around like a metaphysical hot potato and characters swap roles like keys at a 70’s sex party.  It’s a pretty sexy show, kids, and it’ll leave ya spinning.

Hersh’s script gives plenty of opportunity for laffs and thought, and if there are two better things to leave a Fringe night with, then please do tell me about them, won’t you?  I need all the help I can get. And by help, I DO mean the ride home I got from Nadine tonite, much appreciated as always.  Kinda nice to be finishing this year’s first post about the same time as I ARRIVED home last year.  Maybe I can hold that sleep-deprivation shit for an extra day now.  Here’s hoping. In the meantime, peace out, Ottawa Fringe, and you better believe I’ll see you tomorrow. Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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