Click Here to read the rest of our reviews from Toronto Fringe 2023. 


Frankenstein(esque) (A)

Many reimaginings of an iconic work coast on the original’s charm while their own contribution droops off the text, just happy to be there. Silent Protagonist Theatre’s Frankenstein(esque) is a worthy homage to Mary Shelley’s classic but also so much more. Here the titular monster (Frankenstein is the doctor, you see…) is a giant puppet operated by a dysfunctional crew of puppeteers under its designer (Graeme Black Robinson, the puppet’s offstage creator too), who struggles with the nature of his creation as well as the larger meaning of his work. The puppet itself is an imposing, impressive design – and a wonderful source of physical comedy as the hapless golem’s limbs fly across the stage and are put to creative uses – but the show’s brilliance lies in this ensemble setup. Building and operating the puppet forces the team to agree on their goal and align their efforts towards it, sparking personality clashes and inner conflict. The puppet isn’t just one monstrous character but a system whose components have a life of their own but must come together as more than the sum of their parts. The analogy with the stage itself is clear and there this troupe is seamless, both individually and collectively. It’s a poignant, smart, and funny hour recommended for any fringe-goer.


La Voix Humaine (A-)

Some Fringe shows can rely on a universal appeal. French opera that deals with betrayal and suicide cannot. Francis Poulenc’s 1958 adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s experimental play is accessible for what it is – short, simple, and affecting – and rewards those who give it a chance. This one-woman show has us listen in on Elle’s final call with her former lover, whose abandonment drives her to despair and eventually suicide. We see and hear Elle alone as she struggles with her distant ex through her choppy connection and inner turmoil, unraveling further with each silent answer. Dominie Boutin is made for the role, meeting every demand of Poulenc’s score and giving Elle’s final descent the range of raw emotion it requires. Other voices struggle to be heard here. This production bills itself as a ‘disabled reading’ of Poulenc but the work’s minimalism – one performer in a single location – discourages reinterpretation and fidelity to the original score limits work with a theme. Pre-show slides and publicity materials give the recent context of MAiD and statistics about disabled women but that engagement necessarily stops when the show starts. Taken with the disclaimer about performers’ duty to ‘decolonize opera’ – with no sign of what this means in practice or how this production does it – the impression is of a voice that knows the words but doesn’t know what to say. These themes deserve an original script building on this premise in a format that can do them more justice. That shouldn’t distract from a compelling performance by Boutin that I fear will go overlooked by Fringe audiences who aren’t already drawn to opera as a medium.



Bunny is an aspiring social media influencer who craves stardom and knows she deserves it. Her quest for attention is a roaring success until her status as a wealthy nepo baby is revealed and fans and sponsors race to turn on her. Bunny handles failure just as poorly as fame and her new ‘fans’ in the Tarragon audience wince as she confronts each new humiliation. Other works like this might make some topical point about celebrity culture and fandom by having Bunny’s actions spark her downfall rather than just having rich parents – something it’s sadly easy to take for granted with performers online or on stage. The audience never has cause to sympathize or side with Bunny and thus never has to question their own reactions to her. That choice works well here. BUNNY! knows what it wants to be – not some character study of Bunny but BUNNY! in all-caps with a thick exclamation mark – and gives Krista Newey’s Bunny total freedom to debase herself for us. It’s a chance for Newey to put on the show that befits Bunny’s narcissism and for us to laugh and cringe in equal measure at behaviour that is tough to stomach when it comes from delusional influencers in real life.


A Jew in a Gentile World  (B)

Steve Brinder is Jewish. That basic fact has shaped his entire life from the traditions he endured as a child and upholds as an adult to his comedy today, inspired by the Jewish comedians that dazzled him on TV in his youth. This romp through life as an older Canadian Jew touches on the schoolyard stereotypes and the darker antisemitism he encountered but is mostly a raucous celebration of his people, sending up the absurdities of their shared experience and delivering their in-jokes with a professional comedian’s polish. Audience members who aren’t in on the joke are swept up by the booming charisma of his storytelling and the enjoyment of Brinder’s fellow Jews among them. The jokes are fast and frequent enough that when they miss they are quickly replaced. For the Gentiles of the world, Brinder’s memories of his four decades as a substitute teacher in Toronto public schools are more accessible – the detailed description of how frenetically gross kids can be was a universal crowd-pleaser. There’s enough here to fill out its own uncut show and I was left wanting more – cramming the condensed version into the end left sudden shifts in tone (like the traumas faced by some of his immigrant pupils forced to grow up far too soon) without much room to breathe. Still, Brinder’s clear affection for his charges shines through and lets the show wind down on a good note.


2 East 4 West: A Comedy (C)

Comedy duo Kenneth Cheung and Chase Jeffels are back east for a Fringe show that doesn’t stand out from the other loosely structured absurd-a-thons on offer this year. The pair have a clear rapport and the act has some strong moments but this set of sketches is hit-or-miss and takes valuable time from the more natural improv segment, where Cheung and Jeffels’ background in highly interactive improv comes through.