META-FRINGE: Rocket Sugar Factory, Bye Bye Bombay, Pornstar USA and The Hysteric

At this point in the International Fringe Theatre Festival, continuing at almost 50 different venues through Sunday, canny fans know what’s good and what’s not-so-good – thanks to a dedicated legion of theatre critics, most of which come out of the woodwork at roughly the same time every summer. What a coincidence that there’s a theatre festival going on.

Today, we look at four plays that received “mixed” reviews for otherwise worthy productions that started out with the intention to be great, but somehow, somewhere, lost their way, or at worst failed to fix fundamental flaws that became obvious once the poor things landed in front of a paying audience. Still, even a so-so play is worth seeing at the Fringe. Look on the bright side: You might still be able to buy tickets to one or more of the following. All the plays that got the 5-star reviews are going to be SOLD OUT.

ROCKET SUGAR FACTORY: Venue 7 (conflation of published reviews by Gordon Kent, Edmonton Journal, Dan McKechnie, Vue Weekly and Justin Bell, Edmonton Sun) World’s first improv board game (is) a race to complete increasingly complicated and ludicrous scenes (featuring) strong performers hindered (by) an over-reliance on audience suggestions (and) too many cooks in the kitchen … Different every time, (these) seasoned improvisers (are) hilarious when they get rolling (and) don’t fail to entertain (in this) unstructured form of theatre (where) no one pays unnecessary attention to the rules … no one loses, everybody wins. AGGREGATE RATING: 3.66 out of 5

BYE BYE BOMBAY (Michelle Thompson, Sun; Iain Ilich, Journal; Michael Hingston, Vue): In (a) candy-coloured (and) multi-media monologue (with) nothing resembling a villain, (a) young Canadian woman (is) ensnared in the fantastical world of Bollywood during a trip to India (in a) story about self-discovery and independence. (While) puppet narration is silly, (performer Cara Yeates’) heart is in the right place (and you can tell she) believes in her character (given how) easily she transforms into (her). (This) pulls together the right combination of moving and light-hearted (although) it tries to be (too many things) at the same time. AGGREGATE RATING: 3.5 out of 5

PORNSTAR USA (Catherine Griwkowsky, Sun; Bryan Birtles Vue; Todd Babiak, Journal) Americanization of (Chris Craddock’s) original work (stars) Amanda Bergen (in) wildly demanding role(s) as a televangelist, a librarian turned-accidental pornstar, a teenager spending time in hell after committing suicide and a sex columnist … often seems overwhelmed. (This is) an interesting look at the intersections between politics, sex and religion in the USA (that’s) provocative, uncomfortable and scintillating. (Some) extraneous characters and unnecessary dialogue caused the show to creep, (but the story) moves in surprising and delightful ways from comedy to tragedy (and while) it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it sure is a party. AGGREGATE RATING: 3.33 out of 5

THE HYSTERIC (Mel Priestley, Vue; Colin Maclean, Sun, Liz Nicholls, Journal): Dark and stormy tale of 19th century female coercion and madness (is) trapped by its own playfulness (and) fundamentally mistreats its grim subject … (Laughs come from) cheap theatre sight-gags galore and genuinely ingenious silent movie physical comedy (but is marred by an) aimless script (that) relies on clownish antics to spice up its hackneyed dialogue … Not quite stylish or precise enough in the execution to transcend its own repetitions and be really funny (this is) pointless (and) pleasant, if forgettable entertainment. AGGREGATE RATING: 1.83 out of 5


Aug. 16

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Aug. 11