We were working hard this Toronto Fringe, taking in a total of 16 plays ranging from dance to drag to one-man displays or neurosis. There were companies of one, companies of ten, staged readings, fully-mounted musicals, lots of laughs, a couple of tears and grades ranging from A to D. Read on for the skinny on our least favourite productions of the jam-packed week.
Radioactive Drag Queens from the year 3000
The point was that it contained absolutely none of the of fanciful things it proclaimed that it would. The program warned about smoke effects, strobe lighting, language, smoking, gunshots, nudity, sexual content and mature situations. It also teased gaudy dresses, excessive hairspray and blinding sequins. It claimed that the show “promises to be the most fabulous and campy sci-fi comedy at the 2011 Fringe!”. It’s that “promises” word, that’s what gets you. The writer/directors were trying to make a point about appearances vs. reality, about false advertising and disillusion of expectations. What they ended up making instead was nothing more or less than boring. At best, it wasn’t offensive (and I will give kudos to leading man George Bertwell on a single mildly-poignant speech), at worst it was tacky (not in a fun way), mild-mannered (not in a sweet way) and dumb (not in a freeing way). Maddeningly, what Radioactive Drag Queens needed was all those things it was so sneakily proud not to have. They needed to find meaning in their characters and their stories and let them be fabulous enough for us to actually care.
Grounded in Fantasy
This proved the sort of show that made you sad for all their lost potential. It featured some really nice moments but was plagued with amateurish issues throughout the exploration of the stilted and heady script. The ensemble was fine, though often had a bit of a forced feel to them, and the sex-obsessed character of Man 2 easily got on my nerves. The strange and somewhat pretentious premise of a depressed woman connecting with the fantasy actors in her head needed more thought to be as meaningful as they clearly intended it to be. The addition of music worked well, especially the working in of the drummer into the story. But what really kept this production from a lower grade was the two standout actors in the company. As Man 1, Ash Catherwood set up an amusingly stuffy, intellectual persona who melted into an enigmatic charmer in the romantic fantasies he acted out alongside Grainne O’Flynn’s sweet and dreamy Woman 1. The only two actors in the company who really grabbed hold of their parts with the confidence of seasoned performers, Catherwood and O’Flynn showed off through-the-roof chemistry, giving the play a truly memorable moment or two.