WATCH: Edmonton Fringe Festival reviews and eye-cam

Edmonton Fringe Festival, August 13, 2014.
Edmonton Fringe Festival, August 13, 2014. Emily Mertz, Global News

WATCH ABOVE: Get a bird’s-eye-view of the Fringe grounds through Global Edmonton’s exclusive eye-cam. You can check back here any time during the festival, as the camera will being running 24/7.

EDMONTON — On of the city’s most popular summer festivals is underway in Old Strathcona, bringing Edmontonians 11 days of shows, food and fun.

The 34th annual Edmonton International Fringe Festival, themed ‘SupercaliFRINGEilistic,’ is all about bringing out your inner child.

“Our theme this year speaks to the silly in all of us, the child that relied only on his or her imagination and the pure joy of when we get to play,” said Murray Utas, the artistic director of Fringe Theatre Adventures.

“In a word: fun.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Fringe theme unveiled

This year’s festival runs from August 13-23.

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As always, Global Edmonton’s Todd James will bring you nightly reviews of a number of shows. Todd will give each show a rating out of five. You can see his reviews below:

Mama’s Boy: 4/5

You’ll likely be caught off guard by this very personal and vulnerable performance from the man who’s best known as the frock-clad deity in the very popular Fringe hit ‘God is a Scottish Drag Queen’. Mike Delamont doffs the dress and loses the Scottish brogue to tell a heartfelt, emotional story of his life as an adopted son raised by a single mother struggling with alcoholism. It’s a brave account and one Delamont clearly had to tell despite its emotional toll. Conquering his own fears, the six-foot-seven Delamont opens his soul and reveals his own vulnerabilities a well as a singing voice that chills in a performance dedicated to his mother.

Love Me Tinder: 3/5

Australia’s Marcus Ryan reminds the audience apologetically several times that his show isn’t a play, it’s a standup routine. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking this will be some kind of tribute to Elvis Presley. Oh, Ryan will don an Elvis jumpsuit, but the likeable comedian is really here to probe Edmonton audiences about online dating sites like Tinder and Plenty of Fish, and even offer suggestions for the perfect online profile selfie with help from audience members. The jokes are obvious and include some good-natured ribbing about our own city’s perpetual state of construction.

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Stories of Love and Passion: 4/5

A blend of burlesque, songs, comedy and stories of non-traditional love. Rosie Bitts proceeds to spin stories of an unusual life of sexual curiosity interspersed with torch songs performed beautifully by Miss Bitts herself. Provocatively dressed in what can be described as an old-fashioned costume befitting a lady of the evening, Bitts tells stories that are perhaps personal or fictional – it’s up to the audience to decide. But these R-rated stories, including a rendezvous with a rock star while a minor, titillate , intrigue and disturb. And then there’s the songs – jazzy numbers sung with conviction by Rosie Bitts.

Channelling Kevin Spacey: 4/5

Based on the off Broadway farce, this hilarious production features David Michaels and Jamil Chokachi, who also star in ‘Becoming Banksy’ at this year’s Fringe, and they deliver more outlandish comedy. Charlie, as played by Michaels, is tired of being taken advantage of by his unfaithful girlfriend and abusive bosses. He realizes he’s more like a wimpy Kevin Spacey character, a downtrodden sap, when he should behave more like Al Pacino. Michaels’ performance as Charlie is priceless and his take on Pacino’s bravado is gut busting. Co-star Chokachi slips in and out of a stream of characters with head spin in gusto including a waitress that Charlie is smitten with. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and if this duo occasionally gets distracted by the audience or their own antics, it only adds to the hilarity.

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A New Brain: 4/5

From Plain Jane Theatre with direction from Kate Ryan, Plain Jane takes on this 1998 off Broadway show from Tony award winner William Finn. Gordon, played by Garret Ross, is a blocked songwriter for a kids show who’s diagnosed with a life threatening brain disease. A dark theme on the surface, but the songs and story are bright, funny and infectious as Gordon confronts his life, lover, mother and boss a nasty singing frog named Mr. Bungee. The large cast is impressive including stalwarts, Jason Hardwick and Andrew MacDonald Smith in this 90 minute musical comedy.

Peter  N Chris Explore Their Bodies: 3/5

Just for Laughs performers and Canadian Comedy Award Winners Peter N Chris clearly have fun performing this goofy comedy that has the hypochondriac Chris convinced he’s dying. Naturally, Peter will enter Chris’ body to find that Chris’ brain is a dictatorial nut job who has decided to mess with his body. Loosey goosey and fun, it feels unscripted — and that has its charm even when some of the bits fall flat.

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Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany: 5/5

Ingrid Garner tells her grandmother’s story as a 12-year-old American girl whose family moves to Berlin when her German-born father accepts a lucrative job just as the Second World War is about to erupt. Unable to leave Germany, Eleanor and her family experience first-hand the Nazi scourge and the horrors of war. Based on Ingrid’s grandmother’s best-selling autobiography, Garner plays her grandmother in a performance that digs deep and wrenches the heart.

Nothing to Declare: 4/5

A last minute substitute for another production, storyteller Erik De Waal has lead a nomadic life as a performer around the world and he’s clearly travelled rough; eschewing luxury travel. But what stories he has! He weaves many of these journeys into a 60-minute travelogue beginning with his first forays into the world as a curious lad in South Africa. Best known for his Fringe hit African Folktales, De Waal is a true citizen of the world as reflected in these passionately told stories of adventure.

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Death Comes to Auntie Norma: 4/5

A comedic farce set in the 80’s that satirizes the desire for fame and fortune at any cost. Sheila is the matriarch of a dysfunctional family that includes B-Rad, a wanna be rapper,Amy,  a talentless but determined actress and Michelle,  the black sheep of the family, who aspires  to raise herself out of this trailer trash existence.  Sheila supports them all by operating a phone Sex line, a psychic hot line and a suicide prevention line  but her real dream is to get her clan on Family Feud. She’s close, until Auntie Norma comes to stay. Very funny performances and a script that has bite.

Post Traumatic Super Delightful: 4/5

A flatulent clown leads off this study of a sexual assault at a college and how various characters, including the victim and the perpetrator, are affected. This one woman show  written and performed by New Yorker Antonia Lassar strives to enlighten and educate but the mood is anything but bleak thanks to Lassar’s performance and humour that lifts the darkness and opens the mind.

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Grandma’s Dead: 4/5

Sam Mullins, an award- winning comedian and producer presents a charming and funny one-man show and if you’ve ever driven across the prairies, trapped in a vehicle with someone you’re less than fond of, you’ll relate. Sam is on a road trip from Vancouver to Invermay, Saskatchewan with his estranged brother after the death of their grandmother and Mullins tells it vividly and with real comic flair. It’s a sibling tour that gently tugs at the heartstrings while dispensing some easygoing laughs.

Naked Ladies: 5/5

Thea Fitz James walks onto the stage completely naked save for a disarmingly innocent smile as she looks each audience member directly in the eye for an interminably awkward length of time. That’s just the beginning of this challenging, multi-layered discussion of naked ladies through history, why women take their clothes off and how it connects to Freud, Leonardo DaVinci and Sherlock Holmes. Fitz James has long had a fascination with female nudity, its cause and effect, feminism and social media shaming. It’s dense, daring and brave and even features some Yoko Ono inspired performance art that involves the audience. This is what the Fringe is all about … see it!

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Edgar Allan: 5/5

From New York based duo The Coldharts, and inspired by the childhood and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Eleven year old Edgar Allan, played by Katie Hartman, has just gained acceptance to a prestigious boarding school and is determined to vanquish all rivals in his new school and does so with violent precision save for one student, also named Edgar Allan and every bit his equal, played by Nick Ryan. They agree to be friends but only one Edgar Allan will survive. Katie Hartman exudes malice even as she beautifully sings her intent. It’s darkly funny and dangerous as the pendulum of fate swings toward a very Edgar Allan Poe-like conclusion.

The Inventor of All Things: 4/5

Be prepared to be bombarded by amazing facts delivered with unbridled enthusiasm and passion. Jem Rolls introduces us to a scientist of vast importance to humanity, and yet few have heard his name. Leo Szilard was a Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction then fought hard to stop the use of the atomic bomb. But there’s far more to the story, just to try to keep up to Rolls machine gun delivery of facts and personal history of the pompous Szilard who felt it beneath him to flush his own toilet. Riotously  funny, you’ll forget you’re getting an education while being entertained by this manic performance.

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Baggage: 4/5

Certainly one of the bravest performances you’ll see at this year’s Fringe; stand up comedian Trevor Campbell reveals his own baggage to be a literal bag. A birth defect that Trevor goes into great detail about means that he’s permanently fitted with a urostomy bag and suffers from physical oddities that though don’t prevent him from functioning normally, makes for awkward moments on, say, a third date, which is where Trevor begins his story. From there it’s a disarming and revealing trip into Trevor’s world, from time spent in hospitals as a child to his very specific musical tastes including his beef with artists like Bryan Adams. And spoiler alert…Trevor reveals all!

Cartoon in a Cartoon Graveyard: 3/5

An aging cartoonist continues to toil at her drawing board some 50 years after her comic strip pipsqueaks about a cranky cat, a docile dog and a faceless owner first became a hit. Edwina Thorncliffe is grumpy and arthritic but unwilling to let go of these characters until a young artist turns up at her door. Her creations, Catgut, Hang Doggy and His Nibs watch aghast as it appears the 21st century has caught up to this dog eared black and white cartoon. It’s well scripted and performed and though it never quite breaks out of its panels for anything beyond mild chuckles, it’s a gentle and endearing comedy about those quaint times when newspaper comic strips were an eagerly anticipated daily event.

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Dirt City: Grime and Punishment: 3/5

Private Dick, Pinot Noir is leading the search for Dirt City’s mayor, Boy King, who’s disappeared while riding the city’s bicycle trails. There’s a dame, of course, and an empire under the streets where the power of Dirt City is really centered. The jokes are Edmonton-centric and not always on the mark, but it’s fun to watch this cast riff their way through this nearly 60 minute comedy.

Bonnie and Clyde: 4/5

It’s the Canadian premiere of this production as the famous bank robbers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, alone now and holed up in a tattered barn as the end approaches, reflect on their run as the most feared gang of criminals of their time. The rest of the Barrow gang is dead and Bonnie and Clyde are at once remorseful and  proud of their violent deeds. Based on the true story it’s an intimate, thoughtful take on these iconic figures with strong, at times chilling performances from Merran Carr Wiggins and Evan Hall.

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Ha!: 4/5

Has plenty of Ha!Ha! Has! from Wes Borg, founder of the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, now just billed as One Dead Troll No Baggie. Wes’ one-man show gives the audience the experience of life as a stand up comedian on the road. He plays Colin MacDonald, a new father telling his infant son his story as a Saskatchewan farm kid who gets a taste for comedy and, with his new wife supplying some jokes, they move to Toronto. With help from a veteran comic, he’s on the road and his career starts to take off, but there are many perils for a married father on the road. Borg masterfully jumps to and from several characters including his mom and dad and ostracized gay brother. It’s funny and sad and very entertaining. Unfortunately, Wes wasn’t allowed to finish his play, in the performance I saw he was cutoff with just seconds remaining due to time constraints. I’d have no problem seeing it again just to see those final seconds, it’s that good.

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God is a Scottish Drag Queen III: 5/5

Award winning comedian Mike Delamont takes the starch out of religion, politics, televangelists, Hutterites ( in a laugh out loud story that could only happen here) and our own city in an hilarious stand up routine that keeps getting better. You won’t need to have seen parts 1 or 2 to get these cutting observations on God and man told as if Delamont were the supreme being herself, resplendent in a new frock worn especially for Supercalifringeilistic (or so we’re told)!

What’s Wrong with You: 4/5

From Amber Nash known as the voice of Pam Poovey in the animated Archer series; it’s a very funny,  well presented story of Amber’s Southern upbringing and her struggles in the entertainment business, from working strip bars to judgemental agents. Amber tells her story to an always curious James Lipton of ‘ Inside the Actor’s Studio’. It’s a funny, sharp and physical 45 minute piece.

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Typhoon Judy: 5/5

From Guys in Disguise with direction from Darrin Hagen, it’s 1964 and Typhoon Judy finds America’s sweetheart, Judy Garland, picking up the pieces after a disastrous concert in Australia where she was heckled by an abusive crowd for her apparently drunken performance. Now in Hong Kong during a powerful storm and ready to pick up the pieces, the great Garland is ready to rehearse but her band is absent and a solitary piano man played by Nick Samoil, clad in white, plays and listens as Judy regales him with stories of Hollywood and her husbands past and present. The stories delight but the songs capture the imagination with Peterson perfectly embodying the diminutive dynamo with a series of costume changes and spine tingling renditions of songs including, ‘ Somewhere over the Rainbow.’

Jon Bennett: Fire in the Meth Lab: 4/5

Australian Storyteller Bennett has come from Melbourne to tell this funny and disturbing account of brotherly love. His brother is in jail when Jon decides to tell his older sibling’s story as an addict with many addictions and how in a twist of fate his addiction to and creation of meth saved his brothers life. It’s a story of a painful and complicated sibling relationship and how a brother can still love his brother despite their cruelty. Bennett tells the story in a relaxed and engaging manner that puts the audience at ease immediately with disarming humour, honesty and seamless use of multimedia effect and an introduction to late 80s Australian pop star Jason Donovan is worth the price of admission.

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Blackpool and Parrish: 5/5

From Edmonton playwright David Belke, first seen at 1993’s Edmonton Fringe Festival. It’s an apocalyptic comedy, a battle between the agents of good and evil as doomsday approaches but evil Harry Blackpool and agent of good Rachel Parrish, played wonderfully by David Ley and Kristi Hansen, are about to retire and leave the battle of Armageddon to their respective offspring who are a bit behind this 5000-year-old story that includes a secret romance between good and evil. One of Belke’s finest and wittiest scripts, it’s as fresh and inspired as it was 22 years ago with an unstoppable and talented cast.

Tangled Up in Blue: 3/5

Is it possible for two friends to make the transition from the friend zone? It’s an age old question explored in this comedy/drama. As complicated as the Dylan song it shares its name with, this two-person play has its poignant moments and gentle relatable laughs . When she sets him up with a blind date questions about the future of their own friendly relationship are raised. Katie Spournell, who also directs, and Spencer Jewer make good sparring partners with different perspectives on love and friendship.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: 4/5

Adam Keefe is terrific as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in a physical performance reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s in the film adaptation. But there’s more to Keefe’s contorted performance in this drug addled journey through Las Vegas with Raoul Duke, his attorney and a bag full of dangerous narcotics. Keefe does an excellent job condensing this search for America into 60 svelte minutes of psychotic debauchery.

Becoming Banksy: 4/5

‘Becoming Banksy’ is a two-person comedy playing on Stage 1 from Off Broadway Productions out of New York. It’s a lively and cutting  production with a dynamite cast as they tell the story of British expat Will Banks who, after his wife leaves him, travels to New York to sell Mary Kay products and indulge his love of painting landscapes. It isn’t long before he’s mistaken for the infamous graffiti artist Banksy. At first reluctant he soon plays into the charade, garners millions of Twitter followers and becomes the talk of the Big Apple until a tabloid reporter threatens to expose him.  Jamil Chokachi and David Michaels give breathlessly comedic performances in a tightly scripted comedy that takes swipes at media and a gullible public. Fom the creators of Channeling Kevin Space,y Becoming Banksy plays The Edmonton Fringe before making its New York City Off Broadway debut.

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Loon: 4/5

From the brilliant Wonderheads company out of Portland, Oregon, ‘Loon’ is a one-person puppet show featuring the oversize masks and wordless physical expression that has made Wonderheads a Fringe favourite. Francis is a lonely man mourning his beloved ‘Mom’ and in search of love. This returning work never fails to capture the imagination and tug at the heart strings as Francis falls for the Moon. Though not as engaging as last year’s Grim & Fischer, it still contains the humour, pathos and emotion somehow presented through these large static masks that seem to magically change expression right before our eyes.

Deadmonton: 4/5

‘Deadmonton’ is an eery and dark drama from Edmonton’s Allspice Theatre. Two lovers with macabre tastes find each other and begin a killing spree. Set in our own city and featuring deceptively evil performances from Alex Forsyth and Carmen Niewenhuis, it’s a surprisingly chilling account of two lovers drawn together by a taste for blood.

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Lust and Marriage: 5/5

‘Lust and Marriage’ is an R rated one-woman show from Dance Naked Productions founder Eleanor O’Brien out of Portland, Oregon, and it’s just the thing for daring Fringers who aren’t easily embarrassed. Eleanor tells her story of a search for a soul mate that instead becomes an exploration of an open relationship with two lovers with guidance from renowned gay sex columnist Dan Savage. Eleanor’s performance is intense, wild, sexually explicit and very funny. It’s one of the must-see shows at this year’s Fringe. Adventurous audience members are invited to share their own experiences of Lust and Marriage.

American Idiot: 4/5

‘American Idiot’ is from the Scona Alumni Theatre Company, which has produced such Fringe musical productions as Awakening, Rent and Dog Fight. Based on the album of the same name from pop punk rockers Green Day and the Tony Award winning musical, it’s another passionate and exuberant production, from the in-your-face, take-no-prisoners opening number featuring the title song to its conclusion. The narrative may be fuzzy but there’s no denying the punk energy of this large talented cast in this ambitious rock musical.

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