FRINGE: 5 shows by Masters
They are the Masters of the Fringe. They stand, like the Colossus of old, towering over our annual theatrical binge, carrying a record of past hits. These are the names to check first because they are the ones who quickly sell out.
Such is Stewart Lemoine. He wrote his first play, All These Heels for the Fringe in 1982, its first year, and has presented either a new one, or gone back into his now voluminous canon, every year since.
His production this year is a remount of What Gives? (BYOV 12, Varscona Theatre) – a giddy Teatro romp from 30 years ago that might have been taken from an MGM musical of the 1940s.
Two burned-out Broadway tunesmiths, Pip Furlong and Everett L. North (Jason Hardwick and Andrew MacDonald-Smith – think Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor) are holed up in a room trying to write some songs. Nothing’s working until a couple of can-do Canuck chorines, Venice Drake and Allure Potemkin (Jocelyn Ahlf and Rachel Bowron – think Jane Powell and Betty Garrett) show up in their underwear and inspiration flows.
Soon they are all singing and dancing (original songs by Gary Lloyd and R.J. Smart) and there is a hint of romance in the air. The songs are obviously Broadway inspired and quite good, and there’s some great hoofing.
The whole thing is as light as a dewy Central Park morn’ and as consequential as a New York Minute. But it bears all the hallmarks of a successful Lemoine Fringe show – snappy patter, interesting characters, furious energy and a lotta laffs. There’s even a live trio and a smaller companion piece, Stump the Panel, as a curtain raiser.
If you can’t get to it, What Gives? will be held-over after the Fringe.
4 out of 5
Another talent that has contributed much to the Fringe over the years is David Belke. People go to his plays because they know they are in for a good time. He can write serious or light and often both at the same time in the same show. His offering this year is The Hesitation Pitch (BYOV 14).
Belke tells us in the program that he has based his play, a story about a women’s baseball team during the dirty ’30’s in Alberta, on his own family. The writer gives us a bucolic Depression family. Dad (Andy Northrup) is a lovable and loving elder, peering through glasses on the end of his nose. The hired hand (Reed McColm) is a morose old curmudgeon and the local boys are four-square but are struck dumb the second the local gals notice them. The Murdoch sisters (Angelina Berlinic and Allysa Pierre) are the pitcher and catcher for the local team. The older sister, Ellen, is having problems with her life. She also suffers from the Charlie Brown Syndrome – she’s unable to pitch a winning game.
Who shows up in little Morrin, Alberta – drunk and confused – but Satchel Paige (Mohamed Ali) the “game’s greatest pitcher,” who teaches Ellen some pitching (and life) lessons.
Belke’s well-written play pokes along amiably for two hours stirring up some solid laughs along the way. The characters are familiar, but well performed – particularly by Ali (who is a real find), McColm and Northrup.
3½ out of 5
Now let’s turn to two actors who always turn in good (often brilliant) work and that Fringers have come to associate with superior entertainment. The two are Julien Arnold and Garett Ross. If any Edmonton actor can be described as “beloved” it’s Arnold – mostly because of his achingly heartfelt performance as Bob Cratchit in the Citadel’s long-running smash A Christmas Carol. But the actor is capable of an astonishing range of characters – you may remember his Picasso at the Fringe a couple of years back.
Ross is also a performer of considerable reach playing characters from Charlie Brown to one of Catalyst Theatre’s Poe-inspired grotesques in Nevermore. He did a Sterling Award turn in last year’s Plain Jane production of A New Brain.
The two join in Atlas Theatre’s The Dirty Talk (BYOV 42, Campus Saint-Jean). This product of the New York Fringe is an involving little piece that is most notable for offering two fine performers something of an acting duel. The plot is the old standby – two very different characters find themselves trapped on a mountaintop by a rainstorm. One is a telephone sex worker and the other is recently divorced and the product of a macho family. But they are both searching for friendship and manage to talk through their differences to bring us to a gentle and touching ending.
At the beginning Arnold is spectacularly filled with rage and self-hate but believably moves toward uncovering some uncomfortable truths about himself. Ross brings his usual humour and humanity to his character.
4 out of 5
Finally, for your consideration, the stage version of Kind Hearts and Coronets (BYOV 39, La Cite Francophone), a successful 1951 film from Britain’s golden age of cinematic comedy. It starred Alec Guinness in a series of outrageous performances in which he played all eight members of the doomed D’Ascoyne family.
This production is staged (and co-written) by a long-time Fringe champion whose work goes all the way back to Life After Hockey in 1985, one of the seminal productions that established the festival as we know it today. Kenneth Brown has been part of the Fringe ever since, functioning as producer, writer, director and actor.
It is the night before Israel, the 10th Duke of Chelmont (Alex Forsyth) is to be hanged for murder. Israel is an upwardly mobile young pretender determined to murder his way to the D’Ascoyne title. Fringe regular John Huston plays all eight members of the D’Ascoyne family (and a whole Downton Abby of other upper class Brits – and a few lower class as well) who are dispatched in a series of rather droll homicides.
The humour here is dry and wry and not-fall-down-funny – but Huston is compulsively watchable and the adaptation (co-written by Huston) from the film is lively and whimsical.
Forsyth, classically handsome and baronial, is perfectly cast as the murderous cad and a remarkable actress named Julia Seymour plays both a steamy temptress and a delicate lady of the manor (and a whole carriage full of other British cartoons of both sexes).
4 out of 5
You also might take note of another fine production – Good With People (BYOV 42, Campus Saint-Jean). The playwright is David Harrower and it is a distant relative of the above-mentioned The Dirty Talk. While that play is an entertainment, Good With People moves to something profound as two warring characters painfully learn to escape their past. There are two stand-out performances from Linda Grass and Graham Mothersill and Amy DeFelice’s direction, with its pungent pauses, canny lighting cues and precise gauge of tone and tempo makes for a five-star theatrical experience that stays with you long after the lights have gone down.
Good With People: 5 out of 5