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Fatal Charade (A)

The best show I’ve reviewed so far this Fringe, this dark comedy about a criminal sentenced to death by theatre in Ancient Rome balances a compelling dramatic premise with bright humour and well-defined character arcs. Reflected in Leslie Rennie’s clever now + then costuming, the play uses modern language and perspective to lightly skewer the absurdities of the past and consciously investigate its cruelties. The growth of the characters over 90 minutes of action is unique in a festival environment as seven distinct personalities navigate and are affected by the story they are driving. The cast is across-the-board excellent (Emma Nelles has particularly exquisite comic timing) and Jack Rennie’s direction is quick-paced and focused. But the star is really Jack Rennie & Andrew Cameron’s script, an intellectual and emotional achievement full of restraint and surprise that I’d love to see picked up and performed by companies big and small.


Blake & Clay’s Gay Agenda (A-)

Though less focused than its predecessor, the Blake & Clay sequel shares the bright energy and sharp insights of Gay for Pay while pushing into new territory as the “freak and meek” duo challenge sex shaming from multiple directions, lampoon the over-policing of representation via all-too-true focus group language, and dispense their priceless advice on gay life. Daniel Krolik and Jonathan Wilson’s sparkling banter is endlessly winning and their moments of utter sincerity land so effectively I wished there were more of them. Surely a slam-dunk recommendation for any Fringe-goer.


A Little Bit Pregnant (B+)

Another show ending abruptly well under time (a concerning pattern this festival), this story about pregnancy struggles of many kinds makes the strong choice to embrace comedy even amidst difficult subject matter. There’s great humanity in that decision and the vast array of perspectives and conflicting feelings on display is even more human. I appreciate the attempt at ambiguity in the end but the play feels unfinished, sidestepping some of its hardest conversations.


One Night Only (B+)

The pitch dark framing concept of this one man show is haunting, as are many moments of Nicholas Eddie’s captivating performance. But the substance of the piece doesn’t live up to its overall concept with silly sketches featuring broad characters stealing time and not quite connecting to the inner life of the complicated central character. Eddie plays with form and the reliability of narrative voice in brilliant ways, making unforgettable use even of the familiar beats of a Fringe performance’s pre-show wind-up. It’s a performance of high highs and disappointing valleys.


Retrograde: The Concert Experience (C+)

I had very high hopes for this site-specific show about ragtag musicians trying to keep their band together after a tragedy. The pseudo-family dynamics of a band are fruitful storytelling ground and off the bat Jackson Doner’s script starts to explore how micro-generational divides define perspective and James Llewellyn Evans catapults into the play with thrilling chaotic energy that’s both larger than life and incredibly true. Evans gives one of the most memorable performances at the festival and his character’s barely suppressed sadness and protective bombast begs for further exploration. But Retrograde seems to be far more interested in its less interesting characters and the play never finds much of a plot.


An Ode to Home (C+)

A lot of sweet ideas are touched on in this gentle two-hander created and performed by Natalia Cortes & Marijke Reinink. Though the play’s tone presents a breath of fresh air in a festival full of fraught stories, the script could use more structure to better define what the artists are really trying to say about the concept of home. The shadow puppets are a lovely idea but their execution needs more refinement.


Dana + Tim = Comedy (C)

I appreciate the difficulty level of this improvised storytelling tag team performance wherein the married duo of Dana Smith and Tim Gray recount key moments of their love story, presumably heavily fictionalized to maintain the improvisational nature of the show. With the caveat that I understand I’m looking for very different things in an improv performance than most people, I actually think that what holds Smith and Gray back the most is the show title they claim is a case of missing the deadline to change it. “Dana + Tim = Comedy”, that’s the show, so now Smith and Gray are on the hook to Always Be Funny. So they make goofy faces and vamp with silly dance moves while trying to come up with something to say; they giggle at their own jokes and default to toilet humour as a lazy safe space. I would have been happy just to listen to them tell their story, passing off the narrative and correcting each others’ accounts without worrying whether every minute had a big laugh line. The messy reality of relationships is relatable and interesting and a complicated dynamic between two performers never fails to entertain but, instead of relying on what comes naturally, this show self-consciously blows every anecdote up into a poop-covered wild ride that goes nowhere.


Hymns and Hearse (C)

A disjointed script and unpolished performances hold this play back despite a dark as pitch central premise absolutely brimming with potential for moral complication, interpersonal conflict, and absurd humour. The play is full of odd detours wherein the characters play little games before someone says “anyway, back to the topic at hand” in order to restart the action. With higher personal stakes and better plot focus, there could really be something here but this iteration of the play merely scratches the surface.