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GAZETTE: Fringe's must-see shows go on -- From silent wit to topical thriller
16 juin 2010
Master mime David Gaines is a man of few words in 7 (x1) Samurai
show at the Fringe. (Photograph by: Montreal Fringe fest.)
Five days remain to explore the inexplicable at the Montreal Fringe Festival.
But the Festival Trans-Ameriques has gone to rest, leaving only statistics behind.
The FTA, which operates on a budget of $3.3 million, presented 25 shows, involving 420 artists from a dozen countries, over 17 days. Organizers say it drew about 28,000 spectators from May 27 to last Saturday, down from a reported 36,000 last year.
Highlights included a six-hour Dutch Shakespearean romp (Roman Tragedies); a 12-hour marathon by Wajdi Mouawad; a poignant Latvian play, Sonia; and a historic dance work, Nearly 902, by the late Merce Cunningham.
The Fringe is another animal altogether -a feral creature, unjuried, underfunded, populist and popular. (Last year's attendance rang in at 55,000.)
Yesterday, I singled out four Fringe must-sees (The Duck Wife, Archy and Mehitabel, The Further Adventures of Antoine Feval, and Jesus Jello), neglecting to include the equally desirable, previously reviewed Dance Animal and Rant Demon.
Today I'm adding two more musts: 7 (x 1) Samurai, written, directed and performed by David Gaines, and Poison the Well.
7 (x 1) Samurai:
Gaines is a master mime who once taught at Ecole Lecoq in Paris. Now based in Arlington, Va., he's a member of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. As he spins his mostly silent tale (with occasional quips) inspired by samurai warrior movies, he exhibits impeccable craft, with subtle wit.
7 (x 1) Samurai plays tomorrow at 9 p.m., Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m.
Poison the Well:
This fast-paced thriller set in Russia had me hooked from start to finish. Elison Zasko plays a crusading Russian journalist who gets involved in negotiations over a hostage-taking related to the Chechen War. Andrew Connor, who wrote and directed the show, plays a childhood friend, now working as a flack for a big Russian oil company. Good writing, strong acting, topical.
Poison the Well plays tonight at 8:15, Friday at 5:15 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m.
On to the category of "very good," beginning with:
This irresistible, smoothly structured two-woman (Tanya Elchuk and Amy Crnkovic) clown show with music has a dash of horror (think Mump and Smoot) beneath its veneer of childlike innocence. A young girl works out her troubled relationship with her heart. Be prepared to participate.
Heart-Strings plays tonight at 6:15, Friday at 7:15 p.m. and Saturday at 4:15 p.m.
Jem Rolls: One Man Riot:
This U.K. poet/storyteller has been a fixture on the Fringe for years. His latest, about his involvement in the Poll Tax Riot set off by Maggie Thatcher in 1990, is a high-energy rant peopled with multiple characters. Not his best, but never dull.
Jem Rolls: One Man Riot plays tomorrow at 10 p.m., Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9:15 p.m.
FruitCake: Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward:
Rob Gee is yet another middle-aged U.K. man with a bent for autobiographical storytelling. Only he mines the world of the psychiatric hospital where he once worked as a nurse, introducing us to staff as well as inmates. His tale is by turns inspiring, disturbing and hilarious.
FruitCake: Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward plays tomorrow at 6:45 p.m., Friday at 9:45 p.m. and Sunday at 1:45 p.m.
The Dirty Little Spoons: Feels Like the First Time:
These four gals (Lea Rondot, Rosaruby Kagan, Leanna Glance and Katherine O'Brien) are a fixture on the Montreal cabaret scene. They specialize in woman-powered sketch comedy along with a bit of song and dance. There's hospital humour, rocky-relationship material and a rousing, title-song finale. The pianist is Nicolas Hebert.
The Dirty Little Spoons: Feels Like the First Time plays tonight at 7, tomorrow at 9:45 p.m., Friday at 11 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
One more category: the almost-theres. They're not quite up to the "very goods," but are interesting.
I Like Cowboys:
This mock western is presented by a collective of a dozen locally trained young actors who are donating their proceeds to Head & Hands.
Unlike most Fringe shows, this one has a full set and costumes, plus a three-person string band. But 90 minutes is too long. And the more I Like Cowboys carries on, the more it strays from its original ironic inspiration. There are some good actors (Sarah Hansen as Pearl, Shane Devouges as the strong, silent Cowboy), doing their best within a cabaret setting that ain't too friendly to plays. It's just too easy to walk out. Or sidle up to the bar for another beer.
I Like Cowboys plays tonight at 10:30, Friday at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday at 1:45 p.m.
Shavirez, Gypsy of the Sea:
Translated from French into English, this blend of puppetry and cabaret has lost much of its charm and more of its wit. But the performers are likeable, and the puppets ingenious.
Shavirez, Gypsy of the Sea plays Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Big Moves, formerly a group, is now just an amply proportioned duo (Marina Wolf Ahmad and Colette Gagnon). They talk fat-babe militancy, sing and dance. I like sassy, friendly performers who hand out cookies. But the "full frontal" dance by Ahmad, while courageous, struck me as ill-advised. Even if it did serve to illustrate Gagnon's lecture on postmodern theatre.
Wide Load plays tonight at 6:15, tomorrow at 10:15 p.m. and Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Disappointments? I've had a few:
Afternoon Tea with Jane Austen (a lecture, a yawn); Griffintown (an Irish clown duo dabble in local history, dropping names with scant context); and Hot Pink (Alison Louder performs her incoherent teen-angst fantasia, with puppets.)
Must-avoids? None to date.
A Toronto urban dance company has pulled out of the Fringe, after three (clearly not sold-out) shows. So scratch Unbearable Prospect from your program.
The Montreal Fringe Festival continues through Sunday. For full details, visit www.montrealfringe.ca.