Still going strong on my first day of the 2014 Ottawa Fringe festival…stopped by the Courtyard after my first couple of shows to recharge, and I can now safely say that the Chicken Caeser wrap is a tasty sammich indeed. Bumped into some pals, watched some 2-minute previews under the big top tent, then bolted back to the Courthouse in Arts Court for show #3, featuring a mob I was very familiar with indeed.

Fringe veterans Dead Unicorn Ink, well known to Ottawa audiences fro their crowd pleasing funfests like PLAYING DEAD and SPACE MYSTERY…FROM OUTER SPACE! Are back once again for I believe their fourth Fringe, with something a little different for them. KAVALIER’S KURIOSITIES, written by Aaron Lajeunesse and Jeremy Piamonte, is the first straight-up drama from the troupe, although they still add some of their signature visual flair to the works. Set in a travelling 19th century freakshow run by the wonderfully disfigured Victor Kavalier (Lajeunesse, in a smashing red overcoat…Patrice Ann Forbes has outdone herself on the costumes for this one), a small pseudo-family of misfits try and make their place in the world. Victor runs a tight ship, making life hard on his new assistant, the mysteriously silent Simon (Kyle Cunningham) who suffers from bad epileptic fits. Simon suffers his punishments from Victor, all the time nursing feelings for Kavalier’s star attraction and wife, the beautiful Lilith (Lauren Cauchy), who is the only one who shows Simon any comfort. Well, and his two best friends, a pair of ducks that follow him everywhere (courtesy of onstage puppeteer Kathryn Reeves). Into this imperfect world comes Lilith’s estranged brother Alexander (Sam McCarthy), which precipitates several confrontations that do not, to say the least, end well.

Sam McCarthy and Lauren Cauchy in KAVALIER'S KURIOSITIES (pix by KAthryn Reeves)
Sam McCarthy and Lauren Cauchy in KAVALIER’S KURIOSITIES (pix by Kathryn Reeves)

This is a nice change of pace from the Unicorn gang, stepping up their storytelling game even as they amp down the trademark puppets and gore (though there is, happily, some of both in this production, because Yay puppets and gore!). The story and performances are both good..not always great, but always entertaining, with special shoutouts to Cunningham and Cauchy for some great moments (especially a very entertaining ‘origin’ montage). And Lajeunesse makes for a strong lead, putting in one of his strongest performances to date. The story doesn’t shy away from some particularly unpleasant areas, and does them justice, plus there’s a pretty sweet swordfight in there as well. A couple of moments of shadow-puppetry are used to awfully nice effect as well (I wanted a bit more from them, actually). All in all, this is a pretty cool piece and a good showing from a Theatre Company that is maturing before our eyes, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

Oh…and the Ducks TOTALLY steal the show, you guys. Just saying. Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid

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