Click Here to read the rest of our reviews from Toronto Fringe 2023.
Corporate Finch (A)
A moody, twisty drama from playwright Taylor Marie Graham that plays beautifully with space, light, and sound, Corporate Finch was the highlight of our first day at Fringe. It’s as moving as it is scary, anchored by two excellent performances from Rainbow Kester and Matthew Ivanoff. Graham’s direction is subtle but evocative and David DeGrow (lights) & Matthew Ivanoff (sound)’s design is a perfect example of creative world building within the limitations of a festival setting.
This blisteringly sad drama features a promising script from playwright Gillian R. Edwards that faces down heart wrenching issues like domestic violence and the death penalty with clear eyes and balancing humour while deftly avoiding preaching the obvious. Edwards’ direction is a little bit clunky and the performances, while stirring at times (Daniel Christian Jones is particularly moving in his final scenes), lack the necessary naturalism to feel fully lived in. The script has a few awkward moments of offense (a weird amount of body shaming, one very out of place misogynist insult) that could be either a vague attempt at time period continuity or simple unfortunate choices that stand out within a generally strong script. Despite a few issues, June is a strong, though difficult, production and a great way to kick off the festival.
Maggie Chun’s First Love & Last Wedding (B)
Fringe’s New Play Contest is an easy way to find a good script in the very large sea that is the festival and Helen Ho’s comedy about first love and small towns is just that. The text is full of detail and melancholy that really capture the world of the play. The jokes could use some refinement (the gag about the church name is pure pain) but mainly the problem here is the delivery of the script, not the script itself. Director Julia Edda Pape seems to merely translate the text onto the stage without lifting it up in any way and the performances lack pace and chemistry. This merely so-so production doesn’t do much at all for a pretty decent play.
The Will of a Woman (B-)
Toronto’s historic houses have played host to many site-specific productions. It’s a great hack for a start-up company looking to up their production values without building anything and Spadina House helpfully lends its grandeur to this period drama about the first woman to defend herself before the Privy Council. But the direction of a site-specific piece needs to live up to the grand setting and Shan Fernando’s staging leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than stumbling upon action in progress or being led by the characters themselves, the audience is merely herded from room to room as a means of changing the set. The presence of Thomas Gough is another indie theatre magic trick that never fails and his gravitas goes far in this piece where the rest of the cast is overmatched. It’s nice to see Madryn McCabe sink her teeth into a part this meaty and her moments of silent heartache and frustration are the best work I’ve seen from her but the cast in general struggles with picking up cues and naturalizing their emphasis when dealing with multiple characters in Steven Elliott Jackson’s clunky historical script. Sure to improve over the course of its already sold-out run, The Will of a Woman as seen in preview was worthy but wobbly.
Bad Mitzvah (C)
This coming of age comedy is bloated and forced, running 75 minutes when 45 would do and featuring nine cast members when four would suffice. The central performance is compellingly thirteen-year-old-style awkward and Stephanie Zeit, Brad Gira & Ahlam Hassan’s script boldly embraces the concept that thirteen-year-olds are essentially monsters. But there are simply way too many little nods of plot and not nearly enough honest expressions of emotion. A fellow bar mitzvah boy is the lone character gifted a moment of sincerity that lands well but his story is ultimately yet another distraction from the character whose journey were supposed to be on.