One of Edmonton’s most popular summer festivals is underway in Old Strathcona. The Edmonton International Fringe Festival will bring Edmontonians 11 days of shows, food and fun.
This year’s festival theme is “That was Then, This is Fringe.”
“We’re hoping to inspire audiences to take a chance and really experience all of the vibrancy the festival has to offer,” Fringe artistic director Murray Utas said when the theme was revealed earlier this summer.
The festival brings Edmontonians together with 1,600 live theatre performances in over 40 venues. The fringe runs from Aug. 11 to 21.
As always, Global Edmonton’s Todd James will bring you nightly reviews of a number of shows. This year, Todd is set to review upwards of 41 shows.
Todd will give each show a rating out of five. You can read what James had to say about the shows and watch his reviews below:
Epic Tragedy: 3/5
It’s date night in Ancient Athens in this send up of Greek mythology as Dede and Ed meet on a literal blind date at the struggling Cafe Hubris. A Greek chorus looks on and offers commentary as the fates and the oracle play matchmaker, but this is a couple with baggage, only the ancient Greeks could imagine in this hammy but fun production.
The Taxi Driver is Always Listening: 3/5
Sean Proudlove is a comedian who moonlights as a cab driver, or perhaps it’s the other way around? This multimedia production, including pre-taped vignettes shown onscreen along with illustrations of various types of passengers, reveals the secrets of the hack. Turns out fares aren’t invisible to this observant cabbie as he tells of one strange encounter after another. It feels light on actual content, with the hit and miss filmed pieces filling in the gaps but there are a few good laughs and Proudlove works hard with occasional help from ‘dispatch’.
Little Orange Man: 4/5
Ingrid Hansen is a one woman dynamo as Kit in this wacky, but highly original play about an outcast little girl who lives in her own fertile dream world. Kit acts out fairy tales as told to her by her grandfather, whom we meet in the form of an orange puppet. Hansen is a marvellous entertainer, employing a variety of props songs, puppets, fruits, vegetables, sandwiches and the audience to tell this manic and fun story.
Diamond Girls: 3/5
Anyone who has seen the 1992 film ‘ A League of their Own’, will already be familiar with this story of The All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Formed by Chicago Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley while the boys were overseas fighting Hitler, Diamond Girls focuses on some of the sixty players called up from Saskatchewan. Inspiration for the movie, Regina’s Mary Baker, and some twenty other players, managers and husbands are played well by Malia Becker, but some of the characters and the plot get lost in the lights.
With You: 4/5
Anyone who has dealt with the mental health issues of a loved one can relate to this story from Shawn Pallier, as he recounts his relationship with his mother before and after her suicide. Coming to grips with her death, Shawn looks back, as many do, with some degree of guilt. Was there something he could have done to prevent her suicide? With You gets to the heart of the difficulties a child has in dealing with a parent whose behaviour could be mystifying and frightening. Pallier tells this story with heart, humour and the understanding that only someone who has experienced a tragedy of this magnitude can have.
The Panto Girls: 4/5
The Panto Girls takes the audience into the dressing room of two veteran actors, brilliantly played by Andrew Cullum and Oliver Hume, as nightly they apply their makeup and costumes to become ‘The Ugly Sisters’ in a Christmas run of Cinderella. They play sisters, but as they learn backstage after cavorting in front of the audience in garish makeup and outlandish dresses, they have more in common than either could have imagined. Poignant and funny, the script is tight and intriguing and these skilled actors make these complicated performances look effortless.
Zeppelin Was a Cover Band: 4/5
Zeppelin Was a Cover Band makes a strong case that much of Led Zeppelins mighty catalogue contains covers of blues and folk songs often uncredited to the original writers. It’s not a shocking argument: it’s long been accepted that guitarist Jimmy Page mined material from traditional songs — but a good artist borrows; a great artist steals. Writer and performer Stefan Cedilot gives a passionate discourse and Zeppelin primer, starting with its predecessor The Yardbirds. Track-by-track comparisons of Zeppelin tracks against songs by Ledbelly, Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson only give further evidence of the bands power and mission to become the loudest, most aggressive band of all time, and the importance of constantly exposing traditional blues and folk songs to the next generation. As Cedilot air guitars and sings along, it’s impossible not to feel the Thunder of the Gods.
What Gives?: 4/5
Teatro La Quindicina revives the thirty-year-old musical from Stewart Lemoine. Set in a Manhattan Loft, two struggling songwriters get inspiration from the Canadian gals next door. Songs from Lloyd and Smart performed by this tough-to-beat cast (Jocely Ahlf, Rachel Bowron, Jason Hardwick, Andrew MacDonald -Smith) are infectious and fun. With a companion piece called ‘Stump the Panel,’ featuring a condo meeting hijacked by game show host Deems Willoghuby, it’s another Teatro production that shouldn’t be missed.
Papa Squat: 3/5
Paul Strickland’s one-man show is set in the trailer park town of Big Fib, and Strickland tells a whopper about Papa Squat: a soft-spoken musician and the owner of a store of sorts where he dispenses songs and forecasts the future thanks to a wonky kneecap. The real story is his love for a girl named Rue Merazit, and why he’s left her and the quirky characters of Big Fib behind. Strickland is a wonderful storyteller and musician and does not fail to entertain with this family-friendly story.
V.R. Dunne: 3/5
Howard Petrick, a performer from San Francisco, sets this spoken word piece in 1969, 35 years after the Minneapolis Truckers strike. Petrick portrays Vincent Raymond Dunne, one of the pivotal figures in the American labour movement as he tells his story leading up to the massive and violent strike that eventually lead to The Teamsters forming a powerful national union. It’s a story worth hearing, but Petrick’s dry delivery makes for a tough sell for most Fringe audiences.
Asking the Internet: The Yahoo Answers: 3/5
Travel the Internet of the 90s and wax poetic about dial up! Online forums are addressed through dance, answering actual Yahoo responses to questions such as, “How do you unbake a cake?” Or “Why won’t my dad let me own any Steve Urkel objects?” It’s an oddly intriguing concept performed well by the four female members of Occurdance over an operatic soundtrack and featuring an excerpt from the podcast, “My Brother, My, Brother and Me.”
Jesus Master Builder – A Divine Comedy: 3/5
His followers love the way of the Lord, but his customers are less than pleased. Sure, Jesus can turn water into wine, but his wiring and drywall skills leave much to be desired. Jebediah is getting pressure from his wife and the first ever condo association when the son of God, his twelve subcontractors and even Michael Hutz from ‘Hutz on Huts’ can’t get Jesus to finish the job. It’s a pun filled script that occasionally hits the nail on the head capably performed by this large cast.
Prepare for the Worst: 4/5
Guys in Disguise hit their high-heeled stride in this comedy set in the 1950s, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was on the minds of two housewives in the ‘burb of Willow Way. Jenny and Arlene are hosting a Nuclear Preparedness Women’s Committee meeting, but Arlene is distracted by a philandering husband and Jenny’s new bomb shelter. This script from Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt is smart and funny, and performances from Schmidt and Paul Welch are altogether enjoyable.
Nighthawk Rules: 4/5
After a 10-year absence, this Sterling Award winner returns to the Fringe and it’s not to be missed. Berry and Dick are as close as friends can be, but Berry’s new girl has demands. Topping the list is the removal of Dick from their lives. But Dick won’t let go unless Berry can best him at an epic drinking game. Collin Doyle and James Hamilton’s script is certainly ‘dude’ relatable and the battle of the bottle and bong is gut-busting. But there’s a tenderness to the story that goes deeper than the bottom of a shot glass with hilarious performances from Chris W. Cook and Christopher Schulz with direction from Taylor Chadwick.
Get Lost: 5/5
British Fringe veteran and spoken word artist Jem Rolls non-stop delivery on stage mirrors his style of travel. The ever manic Rolls dives into exploring the world with such gusto and lack of forethought that anything can and does happen. Last year Jem gave an enlightening discourse on the oft overlooked scientist Leo Szilard in his brilliant ‘The Inventor of All Things,’ and this year he strings together his travel tales from the far flung corners far away from anything remotely tourist-friendly. As an ignorant world traveler who finds himself in one harrowing situation after another, Jem has learned to cope reciting his own mantra, ‘The Human Race, Don’t you Just Love It? Yes I do!’ You will too.
An Evening with The Heaven’s Gate Singers: 3/5
Two priests walk into a comedy club… it sounds like the set up to a bad joke, but it’s the premise of this three person comedy. Father Bob and Father Delgheti get the performing bug while singing songs together at the bedside of a dying nurse and hit the road with help from a booking agent, landing gigs in the most unlikely of places for two men of the cloth, including prisons and gay weddings.
The Flying Doctor: 3/5
Based on the 17th century play from French playwright Moliere, this absurd comedy is set in Edmonton in the 1920s. Lucy is betrothed to the aged but wealthy Mr. Ottercreek, but in love with Valentine. A valet steps in to pose as a doctor, giving Lucy and Valentine time to run away and be alone before she’s forced to marry. Rory Turner ignites the proceedings in a dual role and the rest of this cast keeps pace in this light hearted, if somewhat yellowed by age farce.
Drunk Girl: 4/5
Thea Fitz James who presented Naked Ladies at last years Fringe bellies up to the bar with Drunk Girl, a challenging piece about women and alcohol and its implications on young women who have embraced a culture of drinking. Fitz James takes us through a brief history of alcohol and its effect on feminism and its contribution to sexual assault. It’s eye-opening and entertaining as the actress and playwright engages the audience with drinking games and even sing-a-long’s, but there’s a serious undertone and hard questions asked.
Stephanie Morin-Robert was diagnosed with retinal blastoma at age two, but losing her eye to cancer was a blessing for this talented comedian and storyteller. At age seven, coping with bickering parents and the loss of her beloved cat, Stephanie attempts to at first hide her disability, then embrace it in this very funny bit of storytelling that features contemporary dance and a too close for some look at Stephanie’s glass eye. It’s quite literally an eye-popping experience.
The Ballad of Frank Allen: 5/5
Fringe veteran and favourite with past shows, Zachary Adams and Trampoline, Shane Adamzcak is Frank Allan, a janitor at a science lab accidentally shrunk to microscopic size and now living in the beard of Al, a lonely slacker with relationship problems. For the next year and a half, Frank will try and protect Al from himself, guiding him with the tweak of a nose hair as he stumbles through life unaware of Frank’s presence in his bristles. Brilliantly written by Adamzcak, the script riffs on beards, relationships and desire paths and features wildly funny performances including hilarious songs from Adamzcak and the bearded St. John Cowcher.
Bella Culpa: 4/5
“A Little Bit Off,” a duo from Portland, Oregon presents Bella Culpa, a slapstick comedy featuring two peculiar servants, who turn buckets, broom, a sponge named Stewart and other props into broad physical humour that had the crowd in stitches. There’s some audience participation as well in a very silly but irresistibly funny scenario with this award winning pair prat falling and clowning through a series of physically challenging gags.
The Air Loom: 4/5
This gripping and well produced drama explores schizophrenia in dual stories while the two person cast literally weaves a perplexing contraption on stage. It makes for an intriguing prop as the audience is addressed by 19th century doctor John Haslam and his patient James, considered to be the first documented case of schizophrenia. The doctors diagnosis is brutal, cold-hearted and unflinching. Fast forward to the present and a daughter struggles to live with her mother’s disease with similar attitudes from doctors and others. It’s a riveting probe into the disease and its misconceptions with part of the box office donated to the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta.
British slam poet Steve Larkin is a force to be reckoned with, with his rapid fire delivery and a story taken from his time as a poet in residence at a high security prison. In an experimental program to help rehabilitate prisoners through poetry, Steve finds himself teaching dangerous criminals, including pedophiles; men so hated by other inmates that they’re referred to as NONCE: Not On Normal Courtyard Exercise. Larkins spouts in prose and poem with intensely funny stories of his incarcerated students and his unsatisfied girlfriend and even takes a jab at Fringe critics and their reviews.
(I-m) Position: 5/5
It’s the first time at the Fringe for Luciterra, a Vancouver based, all-female dance company — and what a treat it is for Edmonton audiences. This beautifully performed production explores the connection, misconnection and disconnection of society in a sensual and dynamic work from nine talented performers, set to hypnotic electronic music. Thrilling and inspiring!
Legally Lemoine: Two Comedies in Search of Justice: 4/5
Two one act plays from Stewart Lemoine performed by the Novus actors, a troupe of lawyers with acting chops. Romantic foibles are explored in two very different eras. Lemoine directs a revival of his Widow’s Crimes set in a 1920s Balkan Spa and a new piece finds Lemoine sending up a speed dating event that gives the cast a chance to tear into some witty and wise Lemoine dialogue.
Feather Fall: 5/5
A highly original concept from Edmonton’s Campfire Tales, set during the War of 1812. Kendrick Hackett (Oliver De La Harpe) runs the Upper Canada Gazette with his new reporter Lucy (Morgan Galavan). Both are non-human celestials who live amongst humanity in a constant unseen war with demons. Lucy does the forbidden and falls in love with a young soldier exposing herself to a malevolent demon who delights in human suffering. The script from director Ricardo Espinoza is crisp and the drama unfolds with passionate performances and swordplay to boot in this otherworldly war story.
Basic Witch: 4/5
From Toronto comedy troupe Fomosapiens, Basic Witch is set in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts where they have a bit of a witch problem. A series of sketches from these Second City-trained comedians and actors lampoon the 17th century and 2016, with comedy bits ranging from witch hunts to the Vagina Monologues and Donald Trump with sketches that tap into fear and paranoia then and now.
The Seminar with Madge and Taffy: 3/5
If your comedic taste leans to wacky, take in this seminar for a Dream Dump device that promises to rid yourself of dreams that only cause unhappiness when they ultimately are unfulfilled. From the makers of Fringe hit Camel Camel, it’s at its best when this funny duo is trying to sell seminar attendees but gets lost when they open the portal to an otherworldly demon casino that threatens Madge and Taffy’s friendship. We need more Madge and Taffy and less of the underworld in this madcap symposium.
Bat Boy: The Musical: 5/5
Inspired by the famous image and headline on The Weekly World News this musical about a half bat half boy is a blast from the moment of capture with rollicking tunes and outrageous performances. The townsfolk of Hope Falls call for the death of Bat Boy after he’s discovered in a cave, taken in and taught to behave like a human boy. There are deep themes underneath the irreverent and funny script with high energy songs belted out by a talented cast and band in this quirky rock opera.
Everybody Says Sondheim: 2/5
Three Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts graduates pay tribute to the legendary Tony, Grammy and Oscar award winning composer, Stephen Sondheim. With songs from Sweeney Todd to Into the Woods,it’s an earnest but light on content production.
Vasily Djokavich: Russia’s Number 1 State Approved Comedian: 4/5
Played by Victoria comedian Morgan Cranny in a show written by Cranny and Mike Delamont, best known for the Fringe favourite God is a Scottish Drag. Vasily lumbers onto the stage under the watchful gaze of a portrait of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s democratically elected president for life on his first tour outside mother Russia and attempts to learn about Canadian and Edmonton culture while delivering jokes that won’t get him shot in the face in his homeland. This is a character that has legs and with any luck Cranny and Delamont will explore this Russian bear further.
Wolfman Crossing: 2/5
Set in the small northern Alberta town of Wolfman Crossing, a courier, mechanic, and cop discuss the mysterious disappearance of several hitchhikers. There may really be a wolf man according to the local legend that gave the town its name. An appearance by an L.A. reporter seems to prove the point but the town has secrets yet to be revealed. This would-be psychological thriller plods along with out getting to the point or the wolf man.
Call Me Kirk: 4/5
Californian Michael Schaldemose squeezes into a tight, Star Fleet Captain uniform and goes where many a fringe play has gone. One actor, multiple characters. But his Captain Kirk is the planet that the crew and guests on board the Enterprise for a United Federation of planets conference, orbit. You’ll marvel at Schaldemose’s weaving of angry alien races of lizards, Klingons and Kahn into this nod to the original series and The great Shatner himself. Hear Shatner sing his version of Bohemian Rhapsody, recite his “I am Canadian” rant and deftly captain the Enterprise as James Tiberius Kirk.
Radio Star: 3/5
It’s a 1940s radio drama with New York actress Tanya O’Debra in full period costume behind the microphone in a mock radio studio. O’Debra provides the voices of several characters and many of the sound effects during The Iron Lung Cigarettes Mystery show featuring the adventures of the hard boiled private dick, Nick McKittrick. The inventor of the snuggles blanket has been murdered and McKittrick is on the case with plenty of raunchy double entendres and one line zingers. Detective spoofs have been done to death, this one stands out thanks to its unique setting in a radio studio. It makes for a static presentation but O’Debra’s masterful voice work that includes advertisements for the shows sponsor helps makes up for a tired pun filled script.
Cowboy: A Cowboy Story: 5/5
I saw the debut of Cowboy five years ago, since then Accidental Humour Co. has taken its multimedia shows to a new place in productions such as Happy Whackin’ Jim McCrackin. William Banfield returns in the role of the prospector and the local lady of the night who has stolen the heart of the mysterious Cowboy. Cliff Kelly, channeling a steely eyed Clint Eastwood, now embracing an outlaw life, is a thorn for a conniving sheriff when his love for Lucy awakens his heroic tendencies. The rock solid cast and crew is on top of their game and they have to be to make this blend of multi screen visuals, featuring lush location footage and onstage choreography work together, and it works well while being blazingly funny.
Big Bayou Black: 4/5
A one-person play from Melissa Murray of Portland Oregon, she tells her story of growing up in the Louisiana Bayou on a plantation with her brothers and sisters and oft pregnant stepmom Debbie. An outcast thanks to an unfortunate hair incident at age seven, Melissa regales with her southern charm on tales that involve her pet rock Rupert, sibling mischief and old fashioned punishments involving switches and having ones mouth washed out with soap. Melissa’s deep southern accent is laid on thick and so are the stories of a childhood that left scars but encouraged kindness.
Lolita a Three Man Show: 5/5
For the First time at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, Minneapolis troupe Four Humors ( or Humours for a Canadian audience) presents Lolita a Three Man Show, based on the Nabakov novel and the Stanley Kubrick film as told by three idiots (their words not mine). It’s the story of forbidden love as Humbert, played in the Kubrick film by James Mason and here by Ryan Lear doing his best Mason impression, falls for the 12-year-old Lolita, played by Jason Ballweber squeezed into an oh-so-tight bikini. It’s a sight that once seen can’t be unseen. It’s laugh-out-loud funny as the casts non sequiturs and sudden realization of just what’s happening in Nabokov’s still-controversial story begins to sink into this very funny trio of actors. Inspired and altogether fun!
The Guitar Teacher, an Arctic Romance: 4/5
San Francisco storyteller Randy Rutherford is back with guitar in hand and a well told yarn to spin about his life in Anchorage, Alaska where he meets a bronzed guitar god at the Crazy Moose bar who becomes his guitar teacher and opens up a world of love and betrayal. Randy is a wonderful storyteller and musician, all the more impressive as he’s afflicted with profound hearing loss. It’s unnoticeable though as he tells of his life changing encounter with a six string master and his girlfriend, a wounded angel who takes Randy’s heart.
Described as a non-fiction musical, this production from Plain Jane Theatre honours the working man and woman with songs by Stephen Schwartz, Lin Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame), James Taylor and more. Based on the Studs Terkel bestseller; Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, the story is best described in the title as the talented six person cast with musical accompaniment tell their stories of toiling away at various jobs through lively and often emotional songs such as “Brother Trucker,” “Just a House Wife,” and “Cleaning Woman.” Directed by Kate Ryan, it’s a poignant, relatable and funny musical featuring some stand out vocal performances.
A sheet of paper, a string and a paper clip are handed to audience members as a means to tap into each persons psychic energy. Soon after, the audience is spellbound by the telepathic feats of ‘The Greatest Medium Alive,’ Ava Fournier played by a brilliant Clare Mullen. With her ‘honourable assistant and host,’ played by Phil Zyp, this surprising story of two grifters who have the tables turned upon their two-bit con celebrates its 20th Fringe anniversary, filled with unnerving special effects and audience participation that includes awkward hand holding. Solid work from this veteran cast, in a well crafted production that has the power to ‘creep out’ its audience.
Nashville Hurricane: 5/5
At times Portland, Oregon musician, actor, writer, and street performer Chase Padgett has an otherworldly look about him, as he slips into the various characters that occupy the at-times tragic life of the world’s greatest guitar player you’ve never heard of, The Nashville Hurricane and his rise to infamy under the tutelage of a Svengali-like blues mentor. Padgett is brilliant again with staggering six string skill demonstrated in a tour de force acoustic performance of “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and this boy can tell a story too! If you liked his Fringe hit, 6 Guitars Nashville Hurricane is a must see.