A Man Walks Into a Bar (photo by Jon Robertson)
A Man Walks Into a Bar (photo by Jon Robertson)

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A Man Walks Into a Bar (A)
In all of Fringe, this is the play that’s stirred up the most in me; one of those plays where your stomach feels funny and you’re not sure when you leave the theatre whether you’ll ever really be able to put everything you’re thinking and feeling into words. A Man Walks Into a Bar is all one big joke (the structure of the play is literally that a woman is telling a man a joke) but the joke is that it’s not a joke but it’s so absurd that how could it be anything but a joke? But it’s not a joke and isn’t that disturbing? The play is infuriating and terrifying, complicated and conflicting (but also at times funny and charming?), anchored by two of the most layered and involving performances I’ve seen in a very long time (from playwright Rachel Blair and Blue Bigwood-Mallin). I can’t tell you much more than that without ruining all that makes Blair’s text so insightful, searing, unfair and true. See it. Everyone should see it. And tell me what you think because I feel like no two people will ever react to it exactly the same way.

She Said Yes (B)
There’s nothing new or interesting about this online dating comedy but it’s got a fun brassy sidekick (Jennifer-Beth Hanchar) and enough true-to-life revelations that it makes for a fun diversion, if nothing more. I would have appreciated literally any conclusion other than “I’ll just stop looking and the right guy will fall into my lap” but the clunky writing is more than saved by director David Rowan’s brilliant use of twin brothers Jamie and Jon Champagne in the many male roles (a few real characters but mostly personified OkCupid messages). Both dressed in simple black t-shirts and jeans, the brothers deliver outlandish laughs and fun chameleonic caricatures as they run the gamut of available men, their interchangeability making an interesting point about the impersonal sea of profiles a woman is faced with online. A rare well-directed surprise out of the most typical of scripts.

Shevil The Musical (B)
Alright, time for an unpopular opinion- I’m tired of plays about women. Hold on, before you scream and shout, what I mean is that I’m tired of plays like Shevil that are so caught up in being “about women” that they fail to tell an interesting story or portray an interesting character beyond the declaration that “women are people too!”. Shevil is a lot of fun with its comic-book aesthetic and it actually contains some of the best songwriting at the Fringe this year (despite at least one soprano in the chorus with terrible pitch) but it’s literally the story of two women who don’t want to be “just girls” (in this world, being a “girl” is defined by being a wife), a concept both dated and simplistic. I’m 100% sure that writers Chris King and Tim Cadeny’s hearts were in the right place when they wrote a musical with lots of female roles, specifically about superheroes & villains (male-dominated territory if ever there was any) but we don’t need female characters who are defined only by being female; we need to start giving our female characters something to do beyond argue with men over their right to exist. Shevil should be about a supervillain who is female not a female who has the audacity to believe she can be super.

Heart Puppetations (C)
I wanted so badly to like this derivative musical about a lonely puppeteer whose creation (you guessed it!) comes to life. Sandy Gibson is an adorable underdog of a leading man with a warbly bass voice and so much earnestness it’s almost painful to watch him plod his way through this atrocious script and even more atrocious songs. The final number (an actually pretty good ditty I imagine is called “Dumb Song”) is the only one that’s at all well-constructed or clever but it’s also the only point in the production when the writers display any self-awareness about the dopiness of their show. Heart Puppetations in the tone of that final number could be a pretty fun show (a rom-com satire with post-Avenue Q meta commentary) but instead it’s just a clunky mess made of parts we’ve seen before.

High Tea (C-)
Straight man James and his whirling dervish partner Jamesy’s latest absurd adventure is not technically bad, it’s just really really Really not my thing. Intense audience participation meets wacky, repetitive nonsense in this show designed for people who are just more fun than me. Silly silly dumb silly loud silly dumb.