A Completely Unofficial Montreal Fringe Festival Page
Blork's qualifications for this job...
If dance performances are the hardest to review, then comedies are the easiest. All Classical Music Explained is funny -- downright hilarious in fact. A low-brow look at a high-brow topic, it covers all the bases. From the Australian Digeridoo to Bach and Abba, he dismantles everything along the way, as well as taking stabs at Brits, Americans, Germans, Libyans, deaf people, and anyone else he can think of. Not exactly politically correct, but what the heck, he's English, so that's to be expected. Brilliant stand-up, and yes, I did actually learn something.
Dance performances are the hardest for me to review. As little as I formally know about theatre, I know even less about dance. I know this much, however: dance, like any other theatrical and interpretive performance art should engage the mind and the senses, and it helps if the audience knows what the heck is going on.
By that measure, Illusion of Love worked for me. Four women and one man done up in face paint, loincloths, and gauzy kimonos leapt and hurled and slapped their way through a series of acts that seemed to be about possession, desire, and jealousy.
The show bills itself as a "bizarre blend of butoh and jazz dance". I'm not sure about the jazz part, but the butoh stuff was gritty and intense, leaving me bug-eyed and white-knuckled half the time.
Butoh is typically -- if one can typify it -- filled with frenzy and abandonment. As well, the dancers often take "vibes" and cues from the audience. Unfortunately, Sunday night's audience was quite meagre -- the house was maybe a quarter full at best, and to make matters worse, the guys behind me were yawning and sighing (I suppose because they were annoyed that the dancers kept their clothes on most of the time).
Still, there was a lot of energy, with threats of sex and violence, and loud rhythmic music backed up by an interesting and often aggressive use of lighting. You might not like this show if you like dance to be highly orderly and coordinated, but if you're looking for something a bit wild and different, and you have an eye for loincloths, this might be the one for you.
Rating: Huh? Huh?
Somewhere between the silly worlds of sketch comedy and improv lies the utterly hilarious land of Sabotage: In Fine Form. I'm generally not a fan of improv, but these two guys have nailed it by creating a pile of very odd characters and giving them some structure and a few bizarre roadmaps to go on. None of it makes much sense, but that's half the beauty of it.
The hour zipped by with no loss of momentum, and the audience was cracking up the whole way. Reinforcing the whole shebang is the actors' sublime and ridiculous physical comedy. Facial expressions, body movements, and voice shifting that made me feel at times like I was watching a human version of "Ren & Stimpy." A definite "must see" if you're looking for a nutty show and a bunch of good laughs.
Rating: Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?
My impression is that at some point in the mid-80's, playwright Harry Standjofski went on a bender, popping psychedelic pills and spending long and hypnotic days and nights immersed in Beckett plays and books on Jungian symbolism. Finally, some kind of Zen book fell on his head and he popped out of it. Then he wrote it all down and called it No Cycle, a play based -- at least in structure -- on 15th-century Japanese Noh theatre.
Maybe it's a sign of the times. Perhaps in these days of multi-media saturation, instant global communications, unlimited free music, movies, and porn, we just don't have the kind of mental bandwidth for so-called modern abstract symbolism. Mind you, I don't think we had room for it in the 80s either, when this thing was written. Maybe in the 60s, when everyone was popping pills and trying desperately to escape the cultural numbness of the 50s. But why bring it up today?
All that to say that during three of the five parts of this play I couldn't get the phrase "pompous crap" out of my head. I sat through at least 45 minutes of excruciatingly slow, over-earnest, and nonsensical dialog, ham-fisted symbolism (she - placed - an - apple - on - the -chair!), and scattershot theme fragments. One scene comprised little more than an actor rolling around on the floor while another squatted and stared into space. Mind you, she did stand up and dance once or twice -- and dance very well -- but that segment's connection to the rest of the play is a complete and utter mystery.
There were other problems. For example, one of the good parts involves a woman who has been very ill. She never names her disease, but it is named in the program. This begs the question of whether or not the precise nature of the disease is important. If it is, say it out loud. If it is not, then don't say it anywhere. Also, the program implies this play is very much about Montreal, going so far as to say it is "an expression of the city's uniqueness." Bull shit. Aside from a few smatterings of French, and mentioning a few street names, there is nothing specifically Montreal about this play -- it could have been set in any contemporary Western city.
Fortunately, two parts -- the ones that actually had some linear dialog that was building towards an idea -- were very good and almost made up for the three stinkers. Almost.
In fact, if the play had been made of just those two parts, along with something to tie them together, it could have been rather enjoyable. The actors really brought it to life when they had something to work with. Unfortunately the poo outweighed the prime.
Rating: Huh? Huh?
Four women of questionable morality ask a lot of questions but don't really come up with much by way of answers.
We are lead to believe that we are watching four bitchy actors rehearsing a play about four bitchy characters, but where does the play end and reality begin? And when will the bitching stop? An interesting exercise in 20-ish girl anxiety and layered reality, but I was hoping for some insight, and maybe even some sluttiness.
I didn't get much of either. It's supposed to be about "the issues facing female actors in today's ET dominated show business world" but I'm not convinced. To me it was about the issue facing a bunch of women who behave like spoiled girls. The title is misleading too -- it's a real stretch to call these characters sluts. Tarts, maybe, but not sluts. And human? I am unconvinced that we're worth saving if these raving and petty angst-filled (tarts) represent humanity.
That said, it was still an enjoyable performance, jumping between yelling and whining and Shakespearean soliloquy and even the odd booming and spotlighted self-affirmation, á la that "I am Canadian" beer commercial. The actors were generally quite good, successfully ad-libbing their way through a couple of set gaffs (a heel that got stuck in a floor joint and an unexpected trip over a prop). The stand-out was Christina Filippidis the so-called "fat chick," who not only looked radiant but gave the most solid performance.
Incidentally, the show was almost ruined by a group of giggling 20-ish
women girls sitting behind me who chuckled and tittered loudly at almost every single line in the play. They were behaving like people who had never seen people act before and who found it to be the silliest thing on earth. It was so over-the-top that for a while I thought they had been planted there to be part of the production. Clearly, if there was anything to learn in this play, those girls weren't there to learn it.
Rating: Huh? Huh?
Imagine cramming twelve scenes into a 45-minute play. Plus, the scenes skip around, non-linearly, in time in place so we're never quite sure where we are and where the characters are in terms of their knowledge of each other, and themselves. The result is a sense of randomness, which -- given the name of the play -- appears to be deliberate.
All that scene changing means the audience spends a lot of time in the dark while the sets are rearranged. Come to think of it, even when the lights come back up, we were still in the dark half the time as we tried to figure how it all fits together. The randomness permeates throughout, in both the arrangements of the scenes and the events that occur within them. There are a couple of serious curve balls that threaten to knock the "Huh?" scale over the moon, but in the end, all is clear. Or at least clear enough.
I won't call this a "buddy" play, even though it is about two men, MT and Aaron, and their shaky and unlikely relationship. It brings to mind the two former room-mates in that recent Neil Labute film The Shape of Things -- two mid-20s guys who are very good but unlikely friends. One is an artistic hipster (in the play, not the film) and the other is a loudmouth blowhard jock. Some people are put off by such odd coupling, but since real life is usually much weirder than anything you can make up, I'm not bothered by it.
The one thing that did bother me was the wise-cracking Brett Taylor as MT, who rattled off his tag lines and expressions so fast that we could barely understand what he was saying half the time. Otherwise, this was a pretty cool show with a couple of decent actors. It was also short and tight with nothing superfluous. That alone makes it a rare treat!
This year's Montreal Fringe Festival starts on June 12, although the performances don't actually start until the 13th. I'll be seeing a bunch of plays over the weekend, and will begin posting reviews here late in the day on Saturday, June 14.
Y'all come back now, y'hear?
All material © ed hawco 2003 (unless otherwise noted)
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