Fringe Binge #9: (in)decision

Tuesday, 26 July 2016
All Hamilton Fringe Festival reviews originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

Playwright: Kyle Kimmerly, Tamlynn Bryson
Director: Kyle Kimmerly
Cast: Tamlynn Bryson
Stage Manager: Stephanie Taylor
Poster Design: Ariana Sauder
Warnings: Mature Content, Strong Language, Strobe Lights
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: General
Running Time: 60 minutes

(in)decision begins with a ticking clock and an incredibly energetic performer, Tamlynn Bryson, playing the role of Tess. Tess is a statistician in her twenties, and she's facing a big decision. Her boyfriend, Steve, a sensitive paleontologist has proposed, but there's a catch. He wants her to accompany him to Australia where he's moving for work.

In the past few years of attending the Hamilton Fringe Festival, I've attended at least a half dozen one-woman shows with a similar premise: Young woman in her twenties, or maybe early thirties, grappling with her identity, feeling unlucky in love and unsure of her place in the world. These shows usually involve a big decision: Should I get married? Should I travel the world? Should I have children? That said, there's something unique about (in)decision.

In (in)decision, the audience plays an important role, acting as the voices in Tess's brain. She calls this an "impromptu meeting inside my head." Through audience participation, including shows of hands and asking to weigh in, we're tasked with helping Tess make her life-altering decision.

Consumed by anxiety, Tess uses a pro-and-con chart and flips an oversized coin as she imagines her life with or without Steve. A tech-heavy show, it employs heavy use of sound effects and music, propelling the play's tense and anxious mood.

(in)decision is well-executed, funny, and thanks to Bryson's dynamic performance, it's filled to the brim with energy. This may have been the last play I checked out at the 2016 Fringe, but it quickly became one of my favourites.

Fringe Binge #8: Send Music

Sunday, 24 July 2016
Cast: Megan English, Dale Morningstar
Show Type: Contemporary Dance, Physical Theatre
Audience: General
Running Time: 20 minutes

Send Music is made up of two parts, each approximately nine minutes in length. They’re performed by Megan English, who has been “fostering movement experiences for people of all ages for over fifteen years through her performance, education, and dance movement therapy practices.”

The first piece, also called Send Music, begins when English takes the stage with nothing but two computers — a laptop and a desktop. Soon, the sound of an electric guitar fills the room as Dale Morningstar, owner/operator/producer/engineer of Toronto’s Gas Station Recording Studio, appears through a video messaging program. The pair interact with one another, English through dance, Morningstar through music, as the piece asks the question “How is the process of creating affected if the performers aren’t in the same room together?”

The next piece, Intro Shuffle, is “an attempt to hold onto the potency and anticipation inherent in the beginning, the intro, the start.” It’s accomplished through a musical medley made up of the introductory riffs of popular songs, including those by Nirvana, Iggy Pop, Fleetwood Mac, and at least a dozen others. As each new song begins, English’s movements change, revealing her versatility.

The Hamilton Fringe Festival is an excellent way for audiences to become exposed to mediums they might not often interact with, in this case dance. Send Music is the perfect introduction to those (like myself) who have had a limited relationship with contemporary dance.

Fringe Binge #7: The Tragedy of Othella Moore

Playwright: Esther Huh
Director: Jennifer Walton
Cast: Allison Edwards-Crewe, Laura Ellis, Nick Kozij, David Brennan, Annalee Flint, Krista McNaughton
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence
Show Type: Comedy, Drama
Audience: General
Running Time: 75 minutes

Everything about The Tragedy of Othella Moore is ambitious, from its 75-minute run time, six-person cast (unique for a Fringe play), and a script billed as Mean Girls meets Shakespeare. There’s no doubt that this gender-flipped adaptation of Othello featuring high-school cheerleaders is unlike any version of Shakespeare you’ve seen before.

The Tragedy of Othella Moore is the story of Amy, a bored cheerleader with a knack for creating drama. The target of her manipulation is Othella, the new cheer captain whose “hottie” boyfriend, Des, is the most popular guy in school. The cast also includes “the super basic neighbour girl Riley,” Amy’s “bestie” Cassie, and her sluggish, doltish boyfriend, Emmett, played by local comedian David Brennan, who steals the show.

Set to a soundtrack of pop songs from Omi to Taylor Swift, The Tragedy of Othella Moore is current, using social media and GIFs on a large screen to provide extra comic relief. The polished script by playwright Esther Huh is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, using over-the-top stereotypes to perfection, from the beer guzzling, backwards hat wearing “bros” and boy-crazy cheerleaders downing peach schnapps.

“Know thy frenemy” is just one piece of advice Amy gives in The Tragedy of Othella Moore, but as anyone who has read or seen an adaptation of Othello can imagine, this is not a play that doles out good advice. It is, however, a hilarious romp featuring memorable characters and quick one-liners that had the crowd laughing from beginning to end.

The Tragedy of Othella Moore has become a fast favourite at the Hamilton Fringe Festival, and I won’t be surprised if we see it given the Hamilton Fringe Critics' Choice Award.

Fringe Binge #6: Saor (Free)

Saturday, 23 July 2016
Playwright: Carlyn Rhamey
Director: Mel White
Cast: Carlyn Rhamey
Warnings: Mature Content, Strong Language
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: Mature
Running Time: 60 minutes

Carlyn Rhamey can’t get her life together. She drinks alone. She suffers from ADHD. She’s probably going to die alone. (Her words, not mine.) She’s also prone to mortifying moments, many of which involve exposing her underwear.

“My life has always been a lighthearted trainwreck,” Rhamey says of these awkward moments that are central to her one-woman autobiographical show, Saor (Free). However, this humorous and exciting show isn’t only about underwear fails and the all-too-common sad-in-love trope. Above all, it’s about travel.

Sharing the stage with a bulletin board filled with souvenirs and postcards, Rhamey tells stories she accumulated as a solo traveller in the United Kingdom, sharing experiences with locals and fellow travellers she met along the way. Part Eat, Pray, Love part Bridesmaids, you can’t help but fall in love with Rhamey for baring it all.

Rhamey exudes excitement from the moment she steps on the stage. Her performance isn’t perfect, but it’s this awkwardness that make Rhamey so easy to relate to and so likeable. Audiences can’t help but laugh at her off-the-cuff Irish and Scottish accents and cringe-worthy stories.

“I did this. I did this incredible thing on my own,” says Rhamey in one of the plays more tender moments. Saor (Free) is the perfect play for anyone who is grappling with their identity, and asking themselves, “What’s next?”

Fringe Binge #5: All KIDding Aside

Thursday, 21 July 2016
Playwright: Christel Bartelse
Director: Michelle Polak
Cast: Christel Bartelse
Stage Manager: Nastazja Palonka
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: General
Running Time: 60 minutes

This post originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

"Do we ever feel ready to have kids?"

This is one of the many questions posed by Christel Bartelse in her one-woman show All KIDding Aside. The play's humorous and thoughtful observations, delivered through a series of monologues, make her opinion quite clear - There is no perfect moment to choose to procreate, and even if there were, biology often has other plans.

Diagnosed with endometriosis, Bartelse was never sure she could have kids, but to make things even more complicated, she was never sure she wanted to.

Set in a gynaecologist's office as Bartelse awaits the results of a pregnancy test, All KIDding Aside explores issues of fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood in a conversational tone.

In some of its more lighthearted moments, Bartelse pokes fun of everything from baby showers to annoying friends with kids (You know, the "Your life doesn't begin until you're a parent" ones).

Endlessly creative, All KIDding Aside begins with Bartelse birthing a gigantic papier mâché baby, a huge umbilical cord tied around her. However, the most memorable moments of this play are tender and sweet.

Whether you've had children, have yet to have children, are unable to have children, or have sworn off children completely, All KIDding Aside is easy is to relate to, sharing with the audience that both the decision to have children or not to have them are both equally valid and valuable.

Fringe Binge #4: The Cockwhisperer

This review originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

Playwright: Colette Kendall
Director: Colette Kendall
Cast: Colette Kendall
Warnings: Mature Content
Show Type: Comedy
Audience: Mature
Running Time: 65 minutes

"This is a cock," says The Cockwhisperer's Colette Kendall as soon as she hits the stage clutching a rubber phallus. With that, she instantly sets the tone for a humorous and energetic play billed as the "story of one woman's quest to find the love and penis of her dreams."

The Cockwhisperer is back at the Hamilton Fringe Festival for a second year after quickly becoming a crowd favourite in 2015. Recalling Kendall's tenuous and confusing relationship with the penis, The Cockwhisperer is raunchy and rude, laced with odd bits of Canadiana. Seriously, you won't expect so many Diefenbaker and CBC references in this one!

A word of warning: The Cockwhisperer won't be for everyone, and in all honesty, it wasn't for me. I'm no prude and I can handle a good dick joke, but 65 minutes of dick jokes leave me a little squeamish. That said, the hearty laughs coming from The Cockwhisperer's audience quickly proved I was the minority.

Part stand-up comedy routine, part confessional, The Cockwhisperer shines a light on the many things we might think before, during, and after a romp in the sheets, but don't have the guts to share.

Whether she's sharing the awkward moments of her first sexual encounters or poking fun at aging, Kendall's tell-it-like-it-is attitude is something worth applauding.

Fringe Binge #3: The Bathtub Girls

Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Created, Directed & Performed by: Natalia Bushnik and Robin Luckwaldt Ross
Compositional Guidance: Gina Lori Riley
Show Type: Drama, Physical Theatre
Audience: Mature
Running Time: 60 minutes

This article originally appeared on Raise the Hammer.

In 2003, two sisters — aged 15 and 16 at the time — committed the first known case of sibling matricide in Canada. They made it look accidental, feeding their mother lethal levels of vodka and Tylenol 3s before drowning her in the bathtub.

"It was a mercy killing."

This is the premise of The Bathtub Girls, the most innovative and emotional play I've seen this year, or any other year, at the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Created, directed, and performed by Natalia Bushnik and Robin Luckwaldt Ross, both recent University of Windsor BFA Acting graduates, The Bathtub Girls is the play to see at this year's Fringe.

When audiences arrive at the Theatre Aquarius Studio, Bushnick and Luckwaldt Ross are already seated on the stage, with arms laced, legs crossed, and eyes locked, muttering to one another. The pair rise in unison, sharing the stage with only one prop, a plain white sheet.

"Everyone in our families watched her slowly killing herself," one sister says of their mother, an alcoholic who is numbing the difficulties of being a single parent and recent immigrant. "She wasn't even my mother anymore," one says. Audiences can't help but sympathize with the sisters, who tell us they went hungry and ignored.

"There was no hope for her," they say time and again. This was a "really efficient way to heal her."

The dialogue in The Bathtub Girls is minimal, sparse, and eerily repetitive. Instead, the play relies heavily on facial expressions and purposeful and expressive movement of the body bordering on interpretive dance. Music by Jaroslaw Bester and the Bester Quartet sets the dark and heavy mood.

In just one hour, audiences get inside the minds of the media-dubbed "Bathtub Girls," whose true identities are forever protected by a court order. Smart and inventive, The Bathtub Girls grips audiences from the moment it starts, never disappointing for even a second.
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