Storefront Fringe Festival 2019

“Horseface” Delivers The Kick That It Promises

In “Horseface”, Alex Dallas unapologetically knows exactly who she is, what she has to say, and how she is going to say it. As she disclosed to me afterwards, once she had started, she “could not NOT write this…”

It certainly wouldn’t be considered a balanced world view – but how could it be? We are well beyond that. The balance has been, for far too long, out of check in favour of the wolves, and as Dallas shares in her stories that will be far too familiar to far too many people, it certainly still is. That is why we are here, and why this show is both so powerful and so necessary.

The performance of the material, however, is incredibly well balanced. The gravity is offset with levity. Pain is offset with dancing and laughter. The darkness is offset with Dallas’ light. When all is said and done, the piece is comfortable enough to initiate a conversation, but uncomfortable enough to sustain an honest and meaningful discussion that continues long after the lights fade – as it needs to.

As timely and topical as Horseface is in its content, it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that its success is a function of its connection to the ‘popularity’ of the #MeToo movement. It is with confident patience and great skill that Dallas reads, understands, and engages an audience that can vary so wildly from one to the next. She is a masterful storyteller and her timing is impeccable, whether she is delivering a punchline or a punch to the gut. Dallas is strong, yet she is sincere and she is vulnerable. She is real.

“Horseface” will undoubtedly affect everyone who sees it quite differently, based on their personal experience and perspective coming in – but there is also no doubt that everyone will be affected as they walk out. That is the hallmark of great theatre.

“Horseface” finishes its run in Venue #2 of the Storefront Fringe Festival this evening at 7:30…

“Statue of Limitations” Took Me To My Limit

* Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

I want to preface this by saying that I am a white woman, and in my life, I carry that privilege with me everywhere, no matter what I do.

As a white woman, I don’t feel that my voice on racial issues is necessarily important, other than to be actively anti-racist and call out racism when I see it, especially in my own white communities. But what I can talk about is theatre, and what I saw when I attended Statue of Limitations at the Kingston Storefront Fringe.

Within the first ten or so minutes of this play, I was tempted to start shouting at the actors. Being a “good” audience member, I restrained myself. This progressed into fifty more minutes of restraint, which developed in me a resentment towards the whole production. This is not about the actors at all- we cannot address anything the actors did or did not accomplish in the play because the material they were working from gave them nothing to go on. The argument they had to play for an hour seemed to have no highs, lows, or breaks. Either that, or the director missed absolutely everything the playwright put in. But I believe the main problem here is the text.

The play intends to present both sides of the argument surrounding statues commemorating confederate generals/soldiers/etc. in the United States. The argument from one side is that the statues are an important reminder of the history of America, the other that keeping the statues is offensive and perpetuates further oppression of black people in the U.S. The play presents both sides through the lens of a white man and a black woman who are a couple living in “the South” contemplating toppling a particular statue on their two-year anniversary.

This intent may seem well meaning, but in practice, is offensive. There is not an argument for preserving confederate statues as they are that is not firmly rooted in white supremacy.
Beyond this obvious offense in the premise, many more offences are made along the way.

I was immediately made angry not by any particular conversation about race, but by subtle and pervasive misogyny displayed by the male character. His girlfriend, whom he professes to love, has called him to “their place” on their anniversary and he is eager to find out why. When she tells him that something happened today that she needs to talk to him about, he interrupts her multiple times to guess what it might be. He guesses things such as having sex in this public park. He is clearly not listening to her, and indeed it is questionable from the get-go if he cares for her at all if he can’t be bothered to let her talk and didn’t pick up on her obvious agitation and distress. It would be less offensive as an audience member if we could see the woman react to what he is doing, if it bothered her in any way or she displayed an active sort of patience to imply that he gets excited and does this a lot and she is okay with it. The fact that this behaviour is simply accepted without question and the woman never stands up for herself or asserts in any way that what she has to say is important and that he needs to stop interrupting her, is very telling for the rest of the story.

A black woman discovers that the statue in front of her most frequently visited place, the library, is of the man who owned her family. She intends to destroy the statue and wants her white boyfriend to help. He refuses. What should happen at that point, is she should accept his decision and destroy the statue anyway. This play should be over in ten minutes. Instead she gives him fifty minutes to plead his case, which, to reiterate, he does not have. There is not an argument that would be valid.

Something that utterly terrified me was the use of a bat on stage. Giving anyone on stage a weapon is serious. I find most people are flippant with them, especially when there are not resources to engage fight captains or other outsiders to discuss weapons etiquette. But a plastic gun, while potentially triggering, does not present a “real” physical threat. A metal bat, however- that can do some damage. Intentional or otherwise. So when a large, white man picks up a metal bat (you can hear that it’s metal, not wood or plastic), in the middle of an argument with his small, black girlfriend, for seemingly no reason, I get a bit concerned. Then, when he forcefully swings the bat towards the audience, I get real scared real fast. If that actors’ hands were the slightest bit sweaty, his grip not just so, his arm not tightening at the right time, he could seriously injure someone. There was not any reason for this character to do this at this point in the play. It seems that he is just playing around while he listens (or maybe doesn’t!) to his girlfriend try to have a serious conversation about how she feels knowing that the statue in front of her owned her family. Other audience members have voiced their concern over this moment. Staff have apparently voiced their concern over this moment! If this picking up of the bat and forcefully swinging it was a choice made by the director, it serves no other purpose than to intimidate and frighten the marginalized, or really anyone who happens to be sitting in the audience. It was terrifying and it was unnecessary. They should be taking this out of the play immediately for the safety of others, and the director and stage manager should never have allowed this to happen in the first place.

It would be one thing if the playwright presented us with common arguments as used by confederate supporters, and used his apparently intelligent, well-researched black female character to knock down each and every one. If he could show them as the pitiful white nonsense that they are. Instead the play asks us to sympathise with this white man. To understand his perspective. To see it from where he is standing, to understand his struggle, it’s his identity too, his history too, blah blah blah. His perspective is unimportant, just as the white, male playwrights’ perspective on this is utterly unimportant.

It would be one thing if the dynamic of the relationship between these two people was clear. If her hesitation to tear down the statue came from a place of not knowing how to act without her boyfriend’s approval. But this is not possible for the character I have been presented.

It would be one thing if we got to watch this unimportant, entitled, whiny, man change his mind and grow to understand his girlfriend’s perspective. He does eventually join her in destroying the statue. But we do not get to see his arguments fall away, indeed, he quite possibly holds the exact same beliefs as he always did, but he jumps in to destroy the statue because his girlfriend’s life is now in danger because she is being threatened by police.

It would be one thing if the character’s arguments followed logic- when she discovers that the statue is of not only her family’s owner, but of her boyfriends ancestor, and that her boyfriend’s ancestor likely raped her ancestor, it baffles me how she does not immediately conclude that they might be related, and perhaps should look into how close they are in their family trees before agreeing to continue their relationship. If his great great grandfather raped her great great grandmother, is it far enough back in their lineage that they’re okay with having sex now? Instead they move on, and I waited for the whole play for them to realize that they might be related at all, even distantly enough that it no longer mattered.

Maybe I am too sensitive to go to the theatre anymore. Maybe, at 26, I have lived enough and seen enough in the world to make me afraid and angry and I should just quit now and stop participating in society, if this is what going to a play is going to do to me. Perhaps my sensitivity comes from being threatened with violence from white men with weapons. Perhaps it comes from being talked over all the damn time. Perhaps my sensitivity comes from the fact that Scott Moe, the premiere of Saskatchewan, my home province, mere days ago, did not see a problem with sharing images featuring the confederate flag on Twitter. Maybe my sensitivity comes from knowing that a friend of mine was called a n***er on the streets of Saskatoon last week. Maybe I am too sensitive, and it was really a great show, because how often do I get to see a black woman on stage at all? I guess I should be satisfied with the crumbs of representation and progressivism laid before me and ignore the dangerous things they do to me and perpetuate on others in the meantime.

There are so many ways this play could be made less offensive. It could not make inaccurate and horrid comparisons between the civil war/U.S. and the holocaust/Germany. It could not have a white asshole who treads on everything his girlfriend says and cries that she doesn’t care for him. It could have a black woman stand up for herself. It could have her name used more than the mans’ (she says his name a lot, but he does not say hers enough for me to remember it). It could have her talking more than he does.

There are so many ways this play could be made less offensive, but there is never a way to make an hour-long argument about this issue worthwhile. There is no argument. Tear down the statues. Change them. Put them in museums next to plaques that read “this man was a slaveowner and a traitor to the United States. He is part of our national shame.”

Let women speak. Let black women speak. Particularly when it’s about their own lives.

“Statue of Limitations” continues its run in Venue #2 of The Storefront Fringe Festival

* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based Theatre Artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival...

Crushin’ On Crushed

CRUSHED (Photo shameslessly stolen from Facebook promotion)

* Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

We’ve all seen at least one: the autobiographical Fringe play! An hour-long recap of some significant moment(s) in the playwright/performer’s history. In Crushed, we watch Caitlin move from relationship to relationship and learn just how painful being big hearted can be.

This was the first play I saw at the Kingston Fringe, before I knew that I would even have a platform on which to share reviews. With the passage of time and the 16 shows I’ve seen between now and then, I fear that I won’t be able to do the play justice in this writing, but I will do my darndest!

Something I always appreciate in this format is an actor who doesn’t simply lecture me about themselves – I like to watch them perform. When Caitlin takes on the role of her middle schooler self, I am absorbed watching her body language. She becomes sort of ageless in the show, as she makes me believe so strongly that she is that young woman again. I wish she had performed more as the other characters in the play though, instead of representing them through voice overs and other sounds. And I wish that she had been able to look her audience members more directly in the eyes, instead of sort of around us. In an intimate space, it’s little details like that that makes the difference in keeping us engaged in the world that is being conjured.

As the play progresses, some of Caitlin’s relationships get worse. I have known what this is like – I feel a real kinship with her as she talks me through what she experienced, and I feel proud when she doesn’t put her dreams on hold for a shitty dude who is afraid of her success.

I wish most cis hetero women did not have these stories. I wish we all had great relationships where men don’t hurt us so much and so permanently. While the play did not revolutionize me or the way I think, it did comfort me to know that I am not alone, and that there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Caitlin is a sweetheart and I loved learning about her through her play.

“Crushed” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based theatre artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival…

“Without Whom” Offers Charm, But Lacks Spirit

Daniel Pauley, Jennifer Verardi, John A Geddes, and Cindy Chappell in “Without Whom”

“Without Whom” begins with a strong premise and comes to a moving end, but the journey between the two is somewhat flat and a little awkward at times.

The script by R.J. Downes has famously egotistical author Ray Monarch, played quite suitably and with consistency by John A. Geddes, bickering with his wife Maggie (portrayed by Cindy Chappell) about which of them is dead, and who must come to terms with what in order for them both to move on. There to assist them, and the audience, in sorting out what exactly has transpired and what needs to happen next are two younger counterparts, Harlan and Susan, played by Daniel Pauley and Jennifer Verardi. Verardi admirably attempts to bring some depth and nuance to her character, while Pauley often appears uncomfortable. Both parts are challenging, written and presented with ambiguity, and it seems as though the actors might benefit from greater clarity of their purpose within the context of the overall piece. Of all the cast, Chappell has the most to offer in Maggie’s moments of poignancy and pain.

There are several twists to the plot – some intriguing and offering clever reveals, while others muddy the waters. Although difficult to pinpoint any overwhelming flaw, there are structural improvements to the arc of the story and its telling that could be made. Identifying and tying together the central dilemma and its resolution as a primary thread would provide a clear climax for the performers to build towards and the audience to follow along, while still leaving ample room for surprises, subplots, and secondary themes to be explored. As staged here by director Mae Whalen, the production offers some charm and sincerity, but lacks the shape and energy to engage or excite – and given the oft-stated volatility of the relationship on display, coupled with the dramatic stakes of their current predicament, I can’t help but feel that there were higher highs and lower lows left on the table.

“Without Whom” offers a genuine exploration of what can make or break the partnership of a marriage between a dreamer and a realist, but this performance itself lacked the passion that it demonstrates is necessary in order to make such a collaboration work.

“Without Whom” continues its run in Venue #2 of The Storefront Fringe Festival

“Once You’ve Found It” Finds Good Stride

Review Contributed by Lauren Allen

Has the darkness ever spoken to you?

In a new play by Donovan Jackson of Reverie Theatre, darkness comes to life to speak to Bruce, who is dealing with the painful loss of his grandmother. Through movement, art, mask, projection, and music, we watch Bruce and wonder if he will let the darkness consume him.

This production is a truthful, touching view of what it’s like to live with a little darkness monster inside you. Jackson gives an earnest and engaging performance and adapts large and expressive choreography to the intimate space very well. It is difficult for one person to carry a show for sixty minutes, but because there was so much for him to play with it felt like a full team was on stage with him. As soon as one premise becomes comfortable, we move on to another, and this momentum kept me very engaged right to the end. I personally loved the video projections- one in particular reminded me of the people in my life who mean so much to me, and I left the theatre with a full heart and a big grin for having been reminded that love is beautiful, and the darkness doesn’t have to be your only friend.

If you love your grandma, see this play.

“Once You’ve Found It” continues its run in Venue #1 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

* Review author Lauren Allen is a Saskatoon based theatre artist. She has previously written for The Feedback Society and She is currently appearing in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals”, also as part of the Storefront Fringe Festival…

Now Is The Time To See “Stick or Wizard?”

“Stick or Wizard?”, featuring Oli Weatherly (photo by Emily Valentine)

“Stick or Wizard?” is a simple, irreverant Fringe experience that not only tells its audience there is a little Wizard in each and every one of us – but puts it on display for all to see and enjoy.

The show is an interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ exploration of the magic that can be found all around us when we slow down to look for it. Patience is a virtue and as our Wizard teacher, Oli Weatherly carefully takes his time to establish a playful connection with his audience that is the key ingredient in this show’s success or failure. An audience that is equally patient in tuning into the same wavelength as the artist, such as this was, is in for a treat. There is no doubt that having an eager young child amongst us for this performance helped everyone let go of their expectations and inhibitions a little more easily, and on this particular day, we were all reminded of the joy and laughter to be found in a sing-along and silly dance, the wonder that exists in the act of exploration and discovery, and the peace experienced when we take a moment to catch our breath. I left the room wondering what other goodies were left in the Wizard’s stash of magic tricks – which he makes clear at the very beginning are not the type of ‘tricks’ that one might be expecting from a Wizard at all.

This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and the performance piece may not be recognized as a fine work of art, but it is silly and whimsical and even a little bizarre. For a few moments it perfectly captures the magic of theatre, which, to Weatherly’s point, is really no different than the magic to be found in life’s everyday moments when you open yourself up to them – because, really, that magic lies in oneself. It all sounds quite fluffy, but there is a tangible vulneribility at play here as well, and although details that would detract from the mood or safety of the space are never revealed, it is clear that Weatherly has come from a bumpy and darker place, and it seems that it is for both himself and his audience that this work is shared as the antedote to the dark clouds that often cast shadows on us all.

Not only was it a pleasure to be reintroduced to the Wizard in me, but it was an incredible experience to witness the same transformation in so many others, too. That, for me, makes “Stick or Wizard?” truly magical…

“Stick or Wizard?” continues its run in Venue #3 of The Storefront Fringe Festival

There’s A LOT Going On “In Ireland…”

Nathan Coppens & Lauren Allen in “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” (submitted photo)

Much like the play’s title, “In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” attempts to fit an awful lot into relatively little time and space – and it’s mostly worth the effort…

There are two stories intertwined here, one being a fun and versatile vehicle (pun fully intended) enhancing the accessibility and pathos of the other. The first is a contemporary comedy, centred on a couple’s trip in Ireland, with each on their own particular quest while there. The second slyly uses the first to delve into some of the country’s dark history, as well as its relevance to us today – especially as playwright Rod MacPherson neatly ties it all up in the end.

Nathan Coppens carries much of the load, flipping between one character and another – each distinct and memorable. His strong physicality serves him well throughout, and adds significantly to the comedic surface of the piece. Lauren Allen has a strong presence as well, but presents in a quieter and much more controlled manner, perfectly suiting her primary character while also serving to ground the overall production. There are a number of interactions between the two as a married couple that make it clear that they share a special chemistry that is essential to pulling off such a whimsical stage partnership. While much of the action is frantic, they each do have some very subtle, touching buttons where they could afford to take an extra beat or two, and allow the audience to settle in, share, and appreciate the moment.

The production is harried from the outset, and director Andrew Johnston’s use of the stage and placement of props and costumes initially felt messy, with set pieces apparently pulled from corners of this church venue, all contributing to a distracting level of discord. This, however, bothered me less and less as the show progressed, and as Coppens and Allen owned the space, finding and replacing each piece with an ease only available through muscle memory and confidence. The energy in this high-octane romp started to flag as they rounded the bend on the home stretch (particularly noticeable in the surprisingly anti-climactic realization of Tom’s “quest”) – but Coppens left enough in the tank to deliver a closing that was not only satisfying but impactful for an appreciative audience.

“In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” is a quirky little show, well-suited to the character and pace of the Fringe. It is a production that entertains while offering many laughs, a few touching surprises, and a dose of reality, too.

“In Ireland We Rented A Car From Criminals” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

“The Elephant Girls” Hit Hard!

“The Elephant Girls” is a tough tale, carefully and craftily woven, and delivered with a powerful punch…

Written and performed by Margo MacDonald, it is the fact-based fictionalized story of the all-women gang, ‘the Forty Elephants’, that terrorized London in the early 1900’s – and an intriguing and engaging tale it is! This is a mesmerizing exercise in storytelling, embedded with bits of theatricality that delight the audience at the same time as they remain immersed in the raw and gritty narrative. While we are certainly content to simply sit and listen to the yarn spun by MacDonald as ‘enforcer’ Maggie Hale, moments such as her cockney rhyming slang, the unveiling of the arsenal, and the simple but dramatic scene transitions add heightened entertainment without drawing from the brooding mood and gravity of the story, all neatly established with a fantastic under-played introduction that makes one lean in from the moment the dim spotlight comes up.

The costuming of Maggie, designed by Vanessa Imeson, is immaculately precise, punctuated with every hair being perfectly in place. The setting is simple, but coupled with the costume and few props, it quickly evokes the time, place and tone of Maggie’s tale. I must imagine that the direction of Mary Ellis not only supported MacDonald’s vision of a piece written and performed by herself, but also played a significant part in the tight staging that remained fluid throughout; never stagnant, but never overwhelming. The objective eye surely helped, as well, with an unusually impressive maintenance of energy throughout, with a perfect sustained build offering natural ebb and flow, yet conserving enough to execute an impressively powerful climax. This is an incredible challenge associated with any one-person show, as they are simply exhausting and difficult to sustain (especially in the heat of our local Fringe!), so I feel compelled to give this credit where it is due. Creating, exchanging, and sustaining tension without a counterpart on stage can be very difficult as well, but again, with a well-written script and deft skill, MacDonald is able to deliver. She also does a masterful job of addressing her audience as she speaks, making most everyone feel as though she is talking directly to them. The only hitch in delivery was whenever it came time for MacDonald to address the ‘third-party’, the person to whom she was speaking within the context of the narrative, and this, at least in part, may be due to how effectively she was addressing the audience otherwise. Greater clarity in defining this individual (versus us, the patrons) might be helpful, though I wonder if the convention is necessary at all. It’s a small quibble, but it made for the only rare moments where suspension of disbelief was set aside to try to make a sense of who was being spoken to.

Not only is “The Elephant Girls” staged and performed with excellence, but there are also some poignant and provocative moments that are equally horrifying and beautiful. This is a brilliant production, not to be missed, that offers as much impact as entertainment.

“The Elephant Girls” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival

Additional “…Support” Required

Brian Abrams and Helen Bretzke in “Life Support” (photo provided by Director Tim Fort)

“Life Support” is a complex play, offering complex points of view on a complex topic. It’s hard work, and the audience could benefit from a bit more help.

Martha Bailey has written a play tackling the technicalities and intricacies of what it means to be alive, or possibly more to the point, what it means to be dead. Definitely dead. Ambitious, and wracked with logical, emotional, and faith-based perspectives and arguments, the play is as challenging as the dilemma it presents, as a judge presides over a case to determine whether or not an unnamed character, with an oft-invoked family (including a young child), should be removed from life support.

I had the benefit of attending a “talk back” afterwards, during which director Tim Fort alluded to the premise of the Judge, played by Brian Abrams, being visited by apparitions akin to “A Christmas Carol”. In hindsight, it was most helpful in wrapping my head around what had just transpired. I clearly recognized in the moment that the judges interactions with the multiple characters played by each Len Whalen and Helen Bretzke was not naturalistic, but I honestly never felt like I had any firm grasp on what was happening. Although something more subtle than Marley’s visit to Scrooge stating what was to come would certainly suffice, it would be beneficial to the audience to have some means of establishing the convention at the outset and clarifying the rules of engagement for what was to come.

If not delivered through some means of exposition, then the onus of communicating such a premise falls on the actors. As the Judge, Abrams’ stoic and unemotional delivery makes sense in regards to the character and the plot. However, a performer’s job is often to lend understanding, credibility and legitimacy to the work of fellow cast, not just one’s own, and his interactions with his counterparts never offered any such insight. Bretzke’s performance was a highlight, offering distinct characters with distinct delivery even if, as the representative of the logical, much of her material was repetitive (if not redundant) – essentially the same argument delivered by different representatives. The softer sides of the argument, presented by the characters played by Whalen, offered greater breadth and variety, but his presentation thereof was less intriguing. The most engaging of his characters, the Rabbi, was probably the most multi-dimensional in the play – but was regrettably very difficult to hear and fully understand much of the time.

Given Colour & Light’s mandate to perform new theatre works that are offbeat and on point, I believe that “Life Support” is the right work at the right time, in the right venue. However, if there is any means to better position the audience to understand and navigate what is about to unfold, it would likely be a more beneficial and insightful experience for all.

“Life Support” continues its run in Venue 1 of the Storefront Fringe Festival...

“Dreaming Pink” Through The Eyes Of A Child

“Dreaming Pink” is a fun and touching piece of theatre that tickles the funny bone at the same time as it warms the heart. It is a well-crafted story, scripted by Bryce Fletch, of familial strife, love, and support through the eyes and imagination of a child…

As the precocious young Linzi, Maddy Kerr clearly has a lot of fun dealing with the trials and tribulations of daily life through her space travels, pirate adventures, and epic battles. Her comedic timing draws lots of laughs, and her emotional range is impressive for her age. Unfortunately, several of her lines are lost, and as the excitement of opening night melts away, I hope that Kerr is able to slow down her line delivery and focus on her diction – without losing any of her dynamic energy. As Linzi’s father Andy, I have to commend Tyler Anderson on his commitment to the role, and immersion in the many conflicted emotions he must navigate over the course of the play. As fully engaged as he is, though, there is a credibility that is lacking in his role of dad. It may simply be a function of age and/or life experience, but it is a hurdle that must be overcome. That said, there is a real, tangible and loveable bond between Anderson and Kerr (think older, protective sibling?), evident from the outset, that works and makes the plight and stakes of the family turmoil accessible and believable for the audience nonetheless. The ensemble of Daniela Rojas, Jeremy Gardiner and Will Tracy does a fantastic job in their role of fleshing out Linz’s imagination, supporting their leads and the story, without ever drawing focus.

While many of the scene transitions and some of director Kemi King’s staging seem haphazard, she and her production team have successfully brought together an overall look and feel that effectively evokes both the stark reality of Linz’s life and the rich immensity of her imaginary world, especially through creative movement (choreographed by Holly Lorenzo) that underscores and emphasizes the size and scope of Linzi’s beautiful imagination.

I’m not sure what family fare this year’s Storefront Fringe Festival has to offer, but “Dreaming Pink” is certainly a treat worth catching, whether you have children in tow or not.

“Dreaming Pink” continues its run in Venue 3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival