AMANDA KLAMAN is thrilled to be a part of Team Visitorium’s review squad (mainly because it gives her a chance to display her unparalleled skills as an insufferable know-it-all). She has acted in 5 previous Ottawa Fringe Festivals, including roles as the Pirate Captain in The Parrot Monologues and as Princess Amanda Superman in 2011’s Pick Your Path. The Fringe Festival is her favourite Ottawa festival next to the combination Hope Volleyball/Dragonboat festival she created in her mind. She can be found drinking watered down sangria and pressing F5 on her twitter feed @Klamanator
– PICKIN ‘N SHTICK by Tony Molesworth
Pickin n’ Shtick is exactly what it sounds like – rapid-fire puns and one-liners against the backdrop of the dulcet tones of a banjo. Tony Molesworth has been at this a while – over 25 years, in fact – and has opened for recognizable names such as Howie Mandel and Weird Al Yankovic. He’s a bit of a jack of all trades and Pickin’ n Schtick highlights this by breaking up his joke-telling and banjo plucking with the occasional juggling or ventriloquism bit. After reading a few reviews of the show, I realized that Molesworth never performs the same show twice, which is quite a feat. It’s plainly evident that his vast experiences have left him with a wealth of material – the problem is, none of it is very good. I went in with my expectations pretty low, willing to be surprised. I wasn’t.
Molesworth arrives playing harmonica and banjo; a vision in all-denim. He reminded me of the comedians I’d see in the 90s back when Caroline’s Comedy Hour used to air on A&E. You want to like Molesworth – he has energy and good attitude to spare. His self-deprecating humour was one of the highlights of the show (“Did you all come here in one car?” he asked at the beginning, seeing the small audience) but you eventually get the impression that even he’s not that sold on his material. The jokes are plentiful but corny (examples: “do arsonists have housewarming parties?” “they genetically modified a cross-breed of a zombie and a puppet – Stephen Harper”) and his songs are short and mostly forgettable. His juggling is actually pretty impressive and his magic bit elicited some chuckles but by that point, I think I was just happy for a change in pace.
It must have been a difficult show for him – there were only 10 people in the audience (before two people left halfway through) – and a near-hour of standup is a challenge for even the best performers. Kudos to him for continuing on, smiling, after the walk-out and to my fellow audience members who gamely chuckled throughout the show (though maybe a little more sparsely as we headed into the second half hour). Molesworth’s love of one-liners and hammy material brings to mind what would happen if the uncle that “got your nose” at Christmas and keeps sending you joke email forwards got himself a Twitter account. And if you wouldn’t follow him on Twitter, you probably shouldn’t follow him to Arts Court Library.
– KUWAITI MOONSHINE by Tim C.Murphy (Better to Burn Out)
Kuwaiti Moonshine’s Andy states that no good story has only one starting point. I don’t know where the starting points of my life story begin, but I sure hope they don’t end up where Andy’s does- alone, in a Kuwaiti prison, awaiting his fate as an accused rum smuggler. Going backwards from this end point, Tim Murphy’s one-man show looks at the struggles of trying to find one’s place in the world. At 35, Andy is a well-educated, clever, hard-partying teacher in Kuwait, utterly incapable of committing to just about anything in his life – be it his girlfriends, whom he nicknames after the places they’re from, or his career, which is less illustrious than that of his younger brother, the surgeon. When he finds himself with a terrible, difficult decision to make he is forced to confront the path that brought him there, and what his life has led to thus far.
Murphy is a born storyteller. He weaves the intricate parts of this tale together, going from Andy’s personal fears and questions to a storyline set against the Gulf War, to an examination of the psychology of happiness, with a lightning-fast, just-short-of-manic energy. The storyline is complicated in parts, so attention needs to be paid, but Murphy makes staying engaged an easy task. The 60 minutes go by at a quick pace – though I think the play could stand to be a bit shorter. I felt the piece featuring the psychologist, while interesting, detracted from the storyline without adding much in return. The Francophone colleague’s monologues were a bit tired as well- Andy is a compelling character all on his own, he doesn’t need the others. As Kuwaiti Moonshine draws to a close you may feel a bit confused – Murphy doesn’t answer all the questions you want him to – and the final lessons learned could be seen as maybe a little too earnest but these are smallish quibbles. I left the Mercury Lounge with a smile on my face and a hankering for a glass of date rum.
– FEAR FACTOR: CANINE EDITION by John Grady
Full confession: I am crazy for dogs. Though I’ve never owned one myself (*shakes fist at overly sensible mother*) I’ll pretty much lose my mind over a cute canine. I love dogs for their loyalty, their sweet faces, their kindness and their constant ability to make me laugh. I feel like John Grady and I would get along.
Fear Factor: Canine Edition is, at its heart, a story about a man and his dog. But, of course, it is about so much more than that. This is a story about Abby – a talented, intelligent, 13 year old service dog whose owner, the immensely talented Grady, is in the midst of making one of the most difficult decisions possible – whether to put down an old and ailing pet. The stage is divided by light to represent the past and present, juxtaposing Grady’s current struggle (“How can I put her out of her misery when she’s not currently miserable?” he asks) with earlier and (mostly) happier times.
The relationship between a dog and its owner is sometimes a complex one and Grady draws the parallel between his and Abby’s bond and that of a couple who’s been together many years, comfortable with each other and unfailing in their willingness to help each other. He speaks about his personal relationships and how, at the end of the day, they all have to compete with Abby.
Grady is clearly a very polished performer. He kept the audience totally engaged and, while I held it together against all odds, I saw a few people who must’ve been cutting onions in the theatre last night. The show’s not all sniffles and frowns, however – Grady knows pacing and peppers his play with enough laughs to keep you smiling throughout.
It’s not necessary to be a dog or even an animal lover to be moved by this show – some truths are universal – but if you are, I think you’d be forgiven for giving your little buddy an extra scratch behind the ears after this one.
– EX CATHEDRA by Lawrence Aronovitch (Troupe de la Lune)
Ex Cathedra, the second half of the play The Lavender Railroad, is a story about identity, secrecy and the inherent problems in running from one’s past. Moira, an army commander and Frances, a Sister, meet over drinks in Japan. As their intense conversation unfolds we soon learn that they were lovers many years ago. They live in a world where homosexuality is punishable by death and both have kept this part of their lives secret so as not to raise suspicion. Though many years have passed and many wounds between the women remain open, Moira still trusts Frances and tells her about the Lavender Railroad, an underground movement meant to ferry homosexuals away from danger.
On the night I saw Ex Cathedra it was actually a staged reading, owing to the illness of one of the two actresses. While the substitute actress did an admirable job, it makes reviewing this play a little difficult. Many of the performance’s issues can be obviously attributed to the changed nature of the staging. There’s a buildup to this show, an emotional back-and-forth that never really seems to get off the ground, so when crucial points are revealed and banter gives way to emotional highs, you get the feeling that you’re missing something. There are no lighting changes, no changes in stage positioning (the two women sit across from each other at a table for the full 45 minutes), and no sound cues save for a slightly too-long musical cue in the beginning. I doubt all these elements would remain the same were the show staged as it was intended but it wasn’t particularly compelling as-is.
That being said, there is some good stuff here. The topics explored in the text are interesting and there’s still a level of tension maintained between the two actresses that kept me intrigued throughout. As the play progressed, both actresses seemed to become more comfortable both on stage and with each other which suited the play’s progression. I found Marie Victoria Robertson’s Moira a little too condescending and antagonistic in tone at times making me wonder why Frances would continue to sit there being smirked at. The actress playing Moira had an excellent quality of voice which made her clipped, measured phrasing a good complement to her Sister character.
I’d go see this again if and when Brett Desrosiers rejoins the play. Until then, I’d suggest a notice be placed outside the venue indicating that it will be a staged reading rather than a full play. I found out through Facebook of the casting/staging change but otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about the changes until I was already sitting in the theatre. While I didn’t really have an issue with the change, others might.
– I’M NOT CRYING IN THE BATHROOM, I’M CRYING IN THE SUPPLY CLOSET by Laura Bonang, Alexandra Hurley, Deborah Ring (LadyBusiness)
When you see the words “Second City” in someone’s bio, there’s a certain expectation that comes with it. Second City is synonymous to me with quick, sharp, and funny performances. The trio of dames in Lady Business, all of whom claim Second City Conservatory as their stomping ground, certainly live up to these expectations. “I’m not crying…” is a series of songs and sketches on topics as diverse as Napoleon, Glenn (sorry, Gwen) Beck, and middle school dances. Most of the sketches work well – crowd favourites included a synchronized swimming mime piece, a sketch about horoscopes and an absolutely hilarious scene with three women waiting sadly by the docks for their men to come home from the war (trust me, it plays funnier than it reads). The songs are fun and snappy and don’t slow the pace of the show.
Like any sketch comedy show, not everything works – some of the shorter, 1-2 minute sketches don’t garner as many laughs as they should and a piece on brunch got a little awkward when the audience didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for the character – but with each sketch coming in at under 5 minutes the pacing is good, the laughs frequent and the night altogether enjoyable.
Alexandra Hurley was, for me, the standout performer of the group. Her comedic timing and expressions (even when not the focus of a scene) were fantastic and her singing voice was impressive as well. I know I wasn’t the only lady in the audience who wasn’t sure whether they wanted to befriend her or become her.
I saw the show with a group of girls but fellas, don’t think this is strictly for the wimmen-folk. There are laughs to be had here for those of you with Y chromosomes, too. These three performers prove that comedy is most definitely Lady Business.
– LITTLE LADY by Sandrine Lafond
I’ll begin this review with a caveat : Typically, I’m not a huge fan of movement pieces. Why then, Amanda, would you even bother to see this show? Well, anonymous, much like the liver and onions and green peppers of my youth, I like to branch out and try things I don’t normally like to see if my opinion’s changed. (liver and onions: yes! Green peppers: still, sadly, no L) If you’re like me and considering branching out beyond your comfort zone, Little Lady is a pretty good place to start. The star of this one-woman show, Sandrine Lafond, comes with an impressive resumé, having performed with Celine Dion and Cirque Du Soleil. Lafond’s talent is plainly evident as you watch her move across the stage. Whether she’s a mess of gnarled limbs grinding toward her food dish or a well-endowed charmer smiling and licking (yes, licking) her way toward an audience member, she’s in charge of every little movement of this finely-tuned machine.
I’d be lying if I said I completely understood the storyline to Little Lady. I gathered that there is a progression – she moves from a bent, hobbled creature to a spry, childlike presence (one of my theatre-going companions asked “Is this Benjamin Button: The Play?”) and showcases this journey with great ability. She goes through her daily ablutions, interacts with her tv, eats food from progressively larger electrified containers, and writes down her wishes each night to undergo a transformation. There’s certainly commentary on the quest for beauty here but the underlying message, if there was one, wasn’t clear to me. Ultimately, I could absolutely appreciate the effort and thought that went into Little Lady but I’m woman enough to admit I didn’t really “get it”. It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the venue, Arts Court Library, is pretty terrible for a show of this kind. Five minutes into the piece, half the audience, myself included, were on their feet to better see Lafond’s movements, which became almost completely hidden whenever she was on the floor. We remained standing for the duration of the play which I can only imagine was a bit of a nightmare for the tech crew who had to crane their necks to see around the group that had formed there. There was also a bit of confusion with the tech at the end of the show which resulted in some missing audio but I’m sure that will be sorted out as the run continues.
The joy of shows like Little Lady is discussing them afterwards. I suspect that three people seeing this show would come out of it with three different interpretations of what went on – and none of them might necessarily be what Lafond herself intended. Ultimately, Little Lady was not my cup of tea but I’m absolutely sure it will find a home with movement-lovers here in Ottawa and across Canada as Lafond continues her run.