Fringe 2017 Reviews, Part 1

Note that the following reviews are the completely subjective opinions of the specific writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other members of Assaulted Fish.

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Gina Leon & Michael Germant in Gruesome Playground Injuries

Gruesome Playground Injuries

Playwright Rajiv Joseph was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” an epic, phantasmagorical investigation into the Iraq War. “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” which came out after “Bengal Tiger,” seems to get a lot of stick from reviewers for basically not being as ambitious as “Bengal Tiger.” While it is true that “Injuries” is more of a string quartet compared to the symphonic sweep of “Bengal Tiger,” it is a no less sophisticated and affecting play. This becomes manifestly clear when it is blessed with strong performances, as it is in this mounting by Island Productions. “Injuries” tracks best friends Doug and Kayleen as their lives intersect over 30-year period, usually because one or both of them have sustained some kind of horrendous wound. The physical damage suffered by Doug and Kayleen corresponds to the emotional damage inflicted on them, sometimes by the outside world, sometimes by each other. Daredevil Doug’s injuries tend to be physically disfiguring, while the introverted Kayleen bears the more invisible scars of child abuse, eating disorders and self-harm. The play jumps around in time and makes great demands on the actors, who may have to play anywhere from ages 8 to 38 and varying levels of physical and emotional pain from scene to scene. Fortunately, Michael Germant and Gina Leon dig deep and are more than able to meet the challenge. Germant in particular invests Doug with an open sincerity that keeps him grounded and likeable even as his motivations and injuries become increasingly operatic and implausible. Emotionally intense, blackly comic and profoundly moving. – KF

Cry-Baby: The Musical

You’ll have a (ahem) wail of a time at “Cry-Baby: The Musical”. It’s a fun and witty takedown of 1950s tropes: innocent upper class good girl meets wrong-side-of-the-tracks bad boy with a heart of gold. This high-energy production features a talented, diverse cast anchored by some stand-out performances, particularly Victor Hunter who plays the titular lead Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker and Synthia Yusuf who plays the loopy Lenora Frigid. There’s potential to play Cry-Baby Walker strictly for laughs, but Hunter imbues the character with heart and nuance. Similarly, Yusuf transcends what would typically be a “crazy lady” role by giving a committed, pitch-perfect comedic performance. In dialogue or song, every performer nails the comedy and choreography. It was a sell-out crowd on Monday evening, so make the trek to the Firehall Arts Centre and see this solid production before it’s too late. – MD

5-Step Guide to Being German

Paco Erhard has a problem. All his life he has been taught to be ashamed of being German to the point where he is terrified of offending Jews and sometimes introduces himself as half-Spanish to “take the edge off of being German.” Suddenly, recent events in the US and UK have thrust Germany from being the reprehensible “runner-up” in two World Wars into the unfamiliar role of being the guardians of European and world democracy. What is a self-respecting, guilt-ridden German to do?

Well, make hilarious stand-up comedy apparently. Although the “5-Step” conceit gets dropped fairly early, the majority of the show is a self-deprecating exploration of the quirks and contradictions of being German. Erhard’s show makes you realize how much we North Americans have bought into the stereotype of Germans as homogenous, humourless, efficiency robots. Instead, Erhard portrays a Germany that is filled with local and regional diversity and suggests that the German love of order comes from a long history of trying to hold those fighting regions together. Erhard also does not shy away from talking about the Germany’s dark past and how it has shaped his own self-image as a German on the World stage.

While Erhard is merciless in lampooning German culture (a particularly funny bit involves driving habits on the Autobahn) he takes equal aim at other European cultures (he compares the British claim of “ending slavery” to saving someone from being punched in the face by not punching them anymore) and even throws in a few barbs at the US and Canada. But ultimately his goal is to point out how silly and dangerous national chauvinism can be and how it is better to laugh at our differences than fight over them. Erhard is an energetic performer who is both intelligent and funny, which may not make him a good German (in his view, Germans tend to compartmentalize these two qualities), but makes him well worth seeing. – KF

7 Ways to Die, A Love Story

Alexander Forsyth and Joylyn Secunda are charming performers who propel this “romantic comedy about suicide” through their excellent movement, mask and mime work with nary a word being spoken. Their characters, Irving and Rachel, are strangers and neighbours: they live in the same building across the hall from each other. There’s chemistry between the two, but neither of them act on it, preferring instead to retreat behind well-secured doors. It’s never made clear why Rachel wants to kill herself, but she attempts to do so in stylized, prop-heavy fashion — and is thwarted each time by Irving’s increasing concern for her welfare, which starts off as neighbourly but develops into much more. One caveat: although Rachel and Irving [Spoiler Alert] ultimately overcome their isolation and loneliness by finding each other, suicide is a serious, complex topic and I had difficulty reconciling the idea of romance being a way to save someone from self-harm. – MD

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Some of the cast of Cry-Baby: The Musical

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