I caught Mark Shyzer’s FISHBOWL about two years back at the Ottawa Fringe festival, and it was a dandy. So I was pretty pleased to learn he was returning this year with a new show. Mark seemed like a pretty unique and talented solo performer, and I was stoked for anything he had to bring us. He’s set up in the Arts Court Library this year, so after somewhat mismanaging my time on Saturday I JUST made it in to his show as the door was closing.
Mark’s latest is called GREAT BATTLES IN HISTORY, a sneaky bit of theatre in which a failed show producer tries to describe his unrealized Musical extravaganza, Battle Hymn, to the audience, but without any of the actors or props. In fact, his stage is cluttered with junk, his tech is nodding off, and the whole thing looks like it might be a complete shambles. But in the talented hands of Mark Shyzer, something extremely special happens in the cramped library space, and one of the most underrated gems of this Fringe emerges from the clutter.
This is such a masterfully understated bit of storytelling that I couldn’t take my eyes off it for fear of missing another gem. Mark uses song, story, shadow puppets (there’s more of them damn things, they’re EVERYWHERE this Fringe!), tricky low-tech lighting and of course a few of his wonderful characterizations to weave the wonderful spell that unfolds in this show. His rendition of the conflict between Napoleon and Wellington is for sure one of my highlights of this year’s Fringe. And while mostly a comedy (and one with tons of laughs, guaranteed), there’s a sweet and touching heart beating beneath the surface here that takes you by surprise in an amazing way. I was so very impressed with just about everything in this production, and I’m a little bit in awe of Shyzer for even attempting it, much less pulling it off so well. Put this one on your list, folks, I’m tellin’ ya. Peace, love and soul,