Trying to get off my reviewing rear-end and get a few more writeups done before it’s too late…apologies again for how far off of previous years’ pace I am this time around. But honest and true, it really does feel kinda weird reviewing Fringe when I’m in a show. You get that, right? Right! Moving on!
Gonna make this post a two-fer, and a bit of a Saskatoon double-bill at that. It was on the day before Fringe officially opened that I first met two of the lovely souls from Theatre Howl and Bzzt! Trap Door Theatre out of SK, while we were postering in Academic Hall (their venue for both shows). They seemed perfectly goddamned delightful, and I’m happy to say I made it to both shows (even if they WERE both over the standard 1-hour Fringe runtime).
First up was THE FRENZY OF QUEEN MAEVE by Anthony MacMahon, a three-hander set in Ireland during ‘the troubles’, a quaint term for the wave of violence that nearly consumed the emerald isle in the 70’s. Centering on streetwise Aisling (Jackie Block, just great), a young woman looking for a way out before things get even worse. But she’s being tugged in two different directions, by two very different men…uppercrust Brit William (Chris Hapke), who just might be able to bring her to greener pastures safely, and passionate IRA member Fionn (Nathan Howe), who clearly lights Aisling’s fire just a little bit brighter.
Josh Ramsden directs this tricky show smoothly, with solid performances and a script that doesn’t give clear answers to any side. Even Aisling herself is a decidedly less than morally upright heroine for us to root for, playing her two beaus off of one another behind their backs. I’ll leave it up to ears more knowledgeable than mine to decide how authentic their respective accents ended up being, but they sounded just fine to me. There were hilarious moments in this show, offset by the drama unfolding and occasional burst of genuine calamity. A nice change of pace for the Fringe (ie: a more traditional piece of theatre), and a really good and nuanced show that packs a punch.
After that I caught Theatre Howl’s MATCHSTICK, written by and co-starring Nathan Howe (yes, the same one from MAEVE up above). Billed as a not-very-fairytale folk musical, the show begins with co-star Lauren Holfeuer, singing a lament about her life in an undesirable country. A tale told with terrific music from front to back, our heroine Matchstick tells of her rough early life as an orphan, and moving in with a grumpy uncle. A variety of suitors follow, until she meets the one who sweeps her off her feet…a mysterious and charming American who will change her life in ways she most definitely does not imagine.
I won’t spoil what I hope it still a surprise for some of you out there, but the show turns out to be something entirely other than what I’d thought, and it’s just bloody amazing. The music is integrated perfectly into the show, with both Howe and Holfeuer nailing every moment both heartwrenching and hilarious. You WILL be singing some of these songs on your way out of the theatre. Innovative and exciting direction by Kristen Holfeuer takes a great show and makes it something truly special that I highly recommend. There’re still a few opportunities left to catch these great shows, and give Saskatoon a little love back for all their travels, so get on out. And MATCHSTICK even has cd’s for sale, so maybe bring a little extra cash. You’ll be glad you id. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)