Monday! First day of the last week of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and while I hate to think of ‘last’ in association with Fringe, we’re still not even at the halfway mark. And I had me a full schedule of shows to see this Monday night, having spent the earlier part of my day off catching up on all the reviews I still owed after the weekend. I was all caught up, well rested, and ready to tackle a four-show night. Starting me off was one of my most highly anticipated shows of this years festival.

The creation of former Fringe producer and current Superstar Natalie Joy Quesnel, FIRST WORDS is her labour of love show inspired by the remarkable true story of a generations-old family tragedy. When all five of her children (Me, He, You, She, and baby It) are killed in a fire, Maman vows to replace each and every one of them, even giving the new kids the same names. Which leads to Me the second, watching as every year her family gathers for an increasingly grim ‘celebration’ of the tragedy, and wondering what she can do to live up to the legend of the namesake sister she never even met.

Natalie Joy Quesnel in FIRST WORDS.  Pix by Trevor Laforce.
Natalie Joy Quesnel in FIRST WORDS. Pix by Trevor Laforce.

A top-notch script given exquisite direction by the great Emily Pearlman and some sweet sounds by Steven Lafond, this is a truly special Fringe show indeed. Natalie Joy’s return to the stage is clearly long overdue, as she commands her host of characters with precision and grace. She alternates between childlike goofiness and adolescent anger effortlessly, and charms all the while. I think I was most mesmerized by an almost synchronized duet between Maman trying to get dinner ready, and young Me dancing around her feet desperately trying to impress, catchy Quebecois radio tunes accompanying the dance. It’s a joy of a show (get it?), magical and heartbreaking and utterly unique. I would very gladly see this again, and I hope I get the chance. Do NOT miss yours. Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid

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