My Theatre

05 July 2015

Toronto Fringe ’15: Part VI

By // Theatre (Toronto)

photo by Jordan Laffrenier

The 10/10/10 Project (photo by Jordan Laffrenier)

Click Here for the Full List of our 2015 Toronto Fringe Reviews

Everyday Oppressions (B)
A movement piece that explores exactly what you would expect it to explore based on the title, Everyday Oppressions is blessed with excellent dancers and some strong sequences highlighting not just oppression as an independent act but also as a self-perpetuating cycle. A scene where dancer David Klein is molested and groped by surrounding aggressors ends with Klein adopting those same moves, attacking himself once everyone else has left. Another has Tyler Pearse forced to push himself underneath a tiny chair while doing the splits, an action he repeats once the chair and its aggressors have gone. Sexism and gender conformity are perhaps the most pertinent theme of the piece, with creator Melissa Major dressing all identifiably male performers in dresses, and all identifiably female performers in suits and ties. It’s hard to tell whether this is supposed to be a gesture to gender fluidity, or if it is a means of placing men in positions that women are usually forced into. While the male performers are for the most part the ones playing objects of aggression, there are sequences where female performers must also physicalize being oppressed, such as when Quinn Morris is put into a plastic bag and tied to a chain, and then forced to dance around the stage. So then if the costume choices are meant to express gender fluidity rather than a simple turning of the tables, why not make it a little more nuanced? It comes off as slightly narrow in execution to have all men dressed as women and all women dressed as men. It also has to be said that the male dancers are in general given much more to do than the female dancers. Perhaps there was an element to the concept that I missed or didn’t properly understand – – in any case the show throws away all notions of how people should present themselves in society with a joyous and validating runway finale, preceded with a fabulous appearance by eleven-year-old Hannah Jamal. It is not the most subtle of dance pieces, and it may feature some slightly confusing ideas about gender and fluidity, but Everyday Oppressions has energy and joy to spare, and is not afraid of throwing the audience out of its comfort zone at key moments. Though truly the ballsiest part of the production may be the back of the program, which features a sponsored ad from Caplansky’s claiming that “a knish a day keeps “Everyday Oppressions” away.”

The 10/10/10 Project (B)
It’s not essential to know the backstory behind The 10/10/10 Project’s creation before you sit down, but it probably helps, if only because it allows you to narrow in on the common themes that director Aaron Jan has extracted from the many contributions to this intriguing hour of multidisciplinary theatre. Ten writers have written ten scenes based off of the prompt “There’s something here that shouldn’t be,” with each scene having been then musically interpreted by a different musician, each of whom in turn have had their composition set to a dance piece by a particular choreographer. Finally, each writer has returned to the final choreographed and scored version of their scene and re-written a new version based on the movement and musical interpretations that have been applied to their original work. Director Jan then has had to make sense of the material produced without communicating with the creators, indicating how collaborative the onstage result is, since that means crucial sections of what’s onstage (chiefly dancing) were presumably out of his directorial control. The final outcome is an often affecting movement piece that its charismatic and talented young cast sell with gusto. The scenes themselves jump in and around various situations and eras: an arguing couple, a pregnant woman fearing for her unborn child, an Irish immigrant reflecting on their arrival in North America, a woman describing her synesthesia to a friend. The contributed music covers a range of styles though for the most part it tends towards the minimalist and ethereal – in performance it serves chiefly to create an enigmatic ambience that emphasizes the dislocation felt by the characters in the face of the “disconnected digital age”, as described by Jan in the program notes. While the cast is performing a variety of unconnected scripts, Jan appears to have directed the performers to mostly stick to a single characterization, a choice which allows for a quasi-linear narrative about escaping the distractions of multiple overlapping voices vying for attention. Everyone is given a moment to really shine, and their project as a whole has enough strange and intriguing sequences to make you appreciate the extent of this massive undertaking.

Georama (B-)
Plays spotlighting characters caught up in lengthy, heated debates have a rich theatrical history, and when done well can compel an audience simply by the power of their central conflict and the arguments around which those conflicts are hashed out. Jackie Torrens’ Georama makes the debate aspect of her play explicit right off the bat by having the two onstage characters, best friends Hal (Kevin P. Gabel) and Sal (Mandi Maxwell) announce to the audience that we shall be the “referees” to the trial that the two of them will play out before us. Though we know that what they are arguing has to do with something they’ve both only very recently discovered, what it is only becomes clear at the end of the play. However we know just based on Hal and Sal’s diametrically opposed ideologies (he is essentially a Libertarian who believes in the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy, regardless of the situation into which you were born and raised, while she believes that people’s shot in life is hugely dependent on said situation) that it has something to do with opportunities in life, and the question of nature vs. nurture. Their debate is broken up with a re-telling of the crucial “moments” in the hour leading up to two simultaneous births, a slightly precious but intriguing story with inevitable connections to the discussion at hand. Gabel and Maxwell have a corny but endearing chemistry onstage, and each has some very strong moments on their own as they appeal to the audience to buy into their respective outlooks on life. Unfortunately director Arne MacPherson keeps things increasingly static blocking-wise as the play goes on, and much of the last half of the show has both actors simply sitting at a table, barking their dialogue at one another. The arguments made by both Hal and Sal meanwhile can occasionally feel trivial in comparison to the passion that the actors (particularly Maxwell) bring to them. However, once Torrens reveals the final flourish that brings all of the story-telling and arguing into one very clear picture, the emotional drive to have this debate makes retroactive sense, especially for Sal’s character. It’s an effective conclusion, though it essentially has Torrens putting her cards on table as to which character she most sympathizes with, which seems to nullify the need for the audience as judge. Still, it leaves us thinking about the endless ramifications of a single moment in time, and whether it is possible to claim responsibility for those ramifications, or at least make amends for them.

18 Imaginary Place to Visit Before You Die (C)
Sketch comedy is, perhaps more than any other theatrical genre at the Fringe, unfairly dependent on the right alchemy of audience and cast energy. It’s with that attitude that this off-kilter production could be approached, as it dealt on Friday’s performance with a light audience and out-of-sync rhythms between the cast which unfortunately kept it from taking flight. The game cast of four (Fabio Abreu, Maya Cieszynnska, Chris Gilholm, and Damien McElvanna) were fun onstage and individually charismatic (at Friday’s show, Cieszynnska came off as the most committed to her characterizations). But the fact is that even with a healthy audience, they would likely still be undone by the many undercooked sketches that make up the show, as well as the sense that as a troupe their energy levels are operating at about 80 %. The initial plot follows four friends, dressed as Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell and Smee (characters they stay dressed as throughout the play), as they arrive at an airport (the guy dressed as Peter doesn’t really fly anymore) to find that their flights have been canceled “indefinitely”, and that they are instead to be cast down into Hell. Upon arrival, the quartet decide to distract themselves from eternal damnation by escaping into fantastical scenarios, and it is here that we are plunged into the sketch show proper, with an occasional interlude hauling us back to the fiery inferno. A few of the scenes have potential and catch some strong sparks, like a speed-dating game where a woman (Cieszynnska) instantly establishes intimate and very different relationships with the three men she is circulating between, or a morning talk show where the two chipper hosts (Gilholm and Cieszynnska) are so obsessed with their own self-image that they seem only vaguely aware that their first guest is God (McElvanna). Too many of the sketches, however, either trail out before reaching their end, or throw in one too many underdeveloped ideas (a sketch where a buff beach dude saves a mermaid in peril at first appears to be attempting to subvert typical damsel-in-distress tropes, before wriggling around a bit with different characters and turning out to just be about how obsessed sea creatures are with a hot dude). A brief Tinder parody that lasts a mere thirty seconds and ends with a surprising and twisted punchline is the best of the bunch, indicating that the company is more than capable of pulling off something confident and biting when they bring focus to their premise: it’s straightforward, funny, and slickly performed by Cieszynnska. With a larger crowd, a little more rehearsal, and some sharpened material, the laughs could definitely flow more freely with this company.

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