Too soon. It is too damn soon for Fringe burn to be setting in! But I was at the tent too late last night, at work too early this morning, and boy oh boy am I feeling like an old man. But the shows must go on, and Fringe is but once a year, so after a brief sit-down in the courtyard to catch my breath, it was off to my next show, and first one of day three of the 2014 Ottawa Fringe Festival. Luckily for me, it was one that was bound to wake me up.

The inaugural production from PrettyUgly Theatre productions, RACHEL & ZOE is the creation of Hannah Gibson Fraser and Jodi Morden, who co-star in the show as the titular best friends forever. Zoe invades Rachel’s home in distress…Don Juan is dead, you see, and there needs to be wine at once. A few glasses and dramatic confessions later, and our heroines are sharing, oversharing, and taking as many dance breaks as necessary to get them through.

Jodi Morden and Hannah Gibson Fraser in RACHEL & ZOE.
Jodi Morden and Hannah Gibson Fraser in RACHEL & ZOE.

Co-starring Chris Wyllie as the omnipresent men in our ladies’ lives and directed by Benoit Roy, I’m guessing that this is one of the more honest and direct shows at this year’s Fringe. The sharp script by Fraser starts out as if we’re in for a lightweight, girls night out chatfest, but soon proves to have much more going for it. Dealing with issues like sexual satisfaction, romantic aspirations, and how our ideas about love and family affect our lives, there’s fodder for a thousand conversations in this short hour. Smart staging by Roy is amplified by stellar performances from Hannah, Jodi and Chris, who spare no emotion in bringing their characters to the audience.

Wyllie is terrific as the multiple men in the ladies’ lives, from stalwart but distant Mark to jealous rageoholic Jason, and more (he helps provide some wicked comic relief, too). But at its heart this really is a play about women and their views on relationships and the world, AND each other, so it’s lucky that the two female leads are so completely engaging and real in their portrayals.. Hannah Gibson Fraser’s sexually charged Zoe both matches and clashes well with Jodi Morden’s passive, guarded Rachel, and since most of the play consists of back and forth between these two, that’s pretty crucial. The long conversation of the play culminates in an intriguing place with a major emotional climax that, okay, got me a little misty. Shut up. The point is RACHEL & ZOE is funny, sexy, disturbing and thought-provoking, often all at the same time (and did I mention the dance breaks?). Great story, direction and performances make this show one you wanna see. Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid

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