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Montreal’s Fringe theatre festival comes of age at 21

Byron Toben

June 2011

The Montreal Fringe Festival has reached the age of 21. This year, there are more venues, more days and more shows.

Of the 38 English shows, here are my picks:

Teaching Hamlet. Fringe mainstay Keir Cutler, joined by Brett Watson, returns with the world premiere of his latest “teaching” series. To see or not to see? There is no question.

jem rolls Is Pissed Off. An all-new show from British performance poet jem rolls. This lower-case acerbic observer of life has been a Fringe favourite for eight years. He might not be happy, but his act is enjoyable as all get out. Included this year is Steven Harper Saves The World.

A Different Woman. The 1925 autobiography My First Thirty Years, the true story of a Texas childhood, was banned, copies destroyed and author Gertrude Beasley institutionalized for life. Her crime? A sharp tongue on women’s rights, education and politics. Bertrand Russell condemned the reaction. New Orleans actress Veronica Russell received raves for this adaptation in New York.

Suspended Pieces. Longtime Dawson Theatre teacher Barb Kelly adds to her directorial kudos with her own play, dealing with a mother’s determination to rescue her daughter from schizophrenia. Watch for Jane Gilchrist as the granny. Proceeds support L’Abri en Ville, a local charity dealing with mental illness.

The Motherhouse. Two young students from Concordia have devised this semi-fictional play about the takeover of the Grey Nuns Motherhouse by Concordia. The order was founded by Marguerite D’Youville in 1737; one hundred nuns live in the building.

Being Ernest, based on Oscar Wilde’s perennial classic, is one of Byron Toben’s Fringe picks. Photo courtesy of Brave New Productions

How We Went to Mars. Based on sci-fi guru Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s story and adapted by Elizabeth Cano, fresh from her production of sci-fi Shades of Grey last year, this is a must for fans of that genre.

Remember Ezra, a darkly comic and subversive psycho-drama about memory loss manages to be funny, according to Beckett-influenced author André Simoneau.

The TTroject. Those Two Ts are supposed to be the Greek letter for P (Pi). Ioanna Katsarou and Dimitris Bozinis based this show on the oldest play in Western civilization, The Persians by Aeschylus.

The Naledi Project. Botswana-born Kimberly Sundstrum with rhythm, blues and R&B.

Crossroads. Beijing Opera classic directed by Shijia Jiang features seven actors in traditional garb.

Here’s to Love. New York City, 1962: A journalist playboy and a feminist advice author are in this cast of nine budding young talents. Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde’s perennial classic is updated and transferred to Louisiana. Enjoy it in the exciting new off-venue café gallery AvenueArt/Studio 120 King.

Doing Good. Jess Salomon, former war crimes lawyer turned comedienne, travels the world trying to do good, in the face of humorous and not-so-humorous obstacles.

Madwomen’s Late-Nite Cabaret. Canadian-born, U.S.-based Julie Lyn Barber has crafted a Mel Brooks revue of famous women singing mad songs. Joan of Arc does Smoke Gets in My Eyes and Medusa pines for Hair.

The Only Bar by Théâtre Ste. Catherine boss Alain Mercieca has been jazzed up by director/choreographer Robin Henderson of DanceAnimal fame. Mercieca’s lyrics are buttressed by guitar whiz J.P. Mortier’s music.

The Templeton Philharmonic. Directed by Toronto Second City regular Kevin Matviw, this two-hander, a fast-paced series of vignettes, involves a pantheon of characters created by Toronto Factory Theatre alumna Gwinne Phillips and Briana Templeton

Other shows that look good: Am I Blue, The Anger in Ernie and Earnestine, The Birth of Weza, Blink,blink.blink, Callback, I’m Still Here, The Finkle’s Theatre Show, Lydia Lockett, Radio Star, Small Talk, Trial of the Century, Who Are Those Guys?

Festival runs till June 19., 513-849-FEST (3378). Most tickets are about $10. Gold six-show card costs $55. Platinum 10-show card costs $85.



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