by Jessica Ruano / Ottawa / Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sporks, handcuffs, dynamite, a cross bow, and a light-up crystal wand — the perfect ingredients for a kinky evening at home, or perhaps for a wild and hilarious show at the Ottawa Fringe Festival.

Running from Jun 18-28, this year’s Fringe — a festival that employs a lottery system in order to select its featured plays — showcases a variety of productions from across Canada and around the world.

Enter Richard Hemphill of Ottawa’s Punchbag Playhouse — one of this year’s Fringe lottery winners.

“I wanted to write something really cartoony, really physical. Farce has everything I like: screwball comedy, fast gags, and fast action,” says Hemphill, who wore a t-shirt depicting “The Scream” painting a la Calvin and Hobbes at our interview to promote the show’s title.

Hemphill’s play, Enter, Screaming — essentially a gender-fucked fairytale — debuts at the Ottawa Fringe later this month.

Hemphill is no stranger to the Fringe scene. His play Murder Most Stinky was voted Best of Venue in 2002, and, since then, this dedicated playwright has written three more for the festival. He also writes, performs and produces a radio comedy series entitled Remote Planet, now celebrating its tenth season on Carleton University’s CKCU fm.

“I guess I impressed the funny person enough that he let me take over the radio show. And then I couldn’t stop writing. Once you get started, all you want to do is keep playing and playing and playing. Sort of like masturbation,” says Hemphill, impishly.

For an independent theatre company, Hemphill says the Fringe Festival is the ideal place to have work produced for the first time, especially if you are experimenting with new material:

“You get an instant enthusiastic audience. It’s the easiest way to produce anything. Fringe takes all that admin stuff out of the way; they give you built-in audience and built-in publicity.”

Many of Hemphill’s works have included queer issues and, in this play, he is stretching how those themes are integrated into the show.

“What I like to do is integrate a gay element into established genres. The last gay farce I saw was aimed at such a niche community. I wanted to do something more inclusionary. [In Enter, Screaming], gayness is a twist; it’s played comical. But in the end, it’s not a romantic complication that has to be twisted back. In fact, the boys remain in love,” says Hemphill.

“The ending completely reverses expectations. You think, oh, this is a really bad wrinkle: two boys in love. But they actually stay together in the end. Queer humour can be really rich and funny; but in the wrong hands it can become crass and hateful. When I do it, it’s respectful, it’s inclusionary. I tried treating this as matter-of-factly as possible. I find when you treat it as such, it doesn’t become an issue for the audience.”

Enter, Screaming features two men in love, a pansexual pixie, a powerful fairy, and a hetero couple torn apart by a misdirected love potion on their wedding day. In the hands of John Collins — soon to be onstage in Toto Too’s Happy Birthday  — the production aims to wring every screwball laugh out of audiences. Fairy dust not included.

Punchbag Playhouse’s new work, Enter, Screaming, premieres at the Ottawa Fringe Festival on Jun 18 and runs until Jun 28. For more information, visit ottawafringe.com.

Other Fringe shows to keep an eye on this month

COMES AROUND. Ottawa writer David Whiteley’s adaptation of La Ronde features a number of steamy bisexual seduction scenes.

PITCH BLOND. Laura Anne Harris plays Judy Holliday, the Oscar-winning comedic actress who dated women and specialized in playing dumb blonds, yet sported an IQ of 170.

ON SECOND THOUGHT.
Paul Hutcheson’s “embarrassingly cute” show received the Fabulous Faggy Award in Orlando.

IN A MAGIC KINGDOM. This very personal, true-life story examines how we try to reconcile ourselves to our mortality and the mortality of those we love, with a focus on HIV/AIDS.

TEN YEARS. Adam Mugford’s semi-autobiographical comedy follows the story of a gay, single, 30-year-old man moving back into his parents’ basement.

ANTIQUE BLISS. Approximately one hundred and fifty years from now, sexually confused boys are gallivanting around doing more or less what they like (with each other) while the girls are confined to their households.

OREO. Winner of Best in Venue at last year’s festival brings you a delicious new comedy about race, identity and vibrators!

CHAOTICA. From the zany mind of clown Christel Bartelse, this one-woman madcap comedy was specifically targeted by a gay theatre festival.

For more information on the Ottawa Fringe line-up, visit ottawafringe.com.