Reviews: Shadows, The Rooftop Guy, Prisoners Dilemma, Billy Stutter, Underneath it All, Wild Abandon, MAL

by Alvina Ruprecht, CBC Radio
June 21, 2010

Written and acted by Margo MacDonald, Shadows is a glimpse into the life of Eva Le Gallienne, famous British actress producer and director who made her professional life in United States. We see the important periods in her life in rapid flashbacks. Her work with her Repertory company, her roles in Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland as well as Hamlet and Hedda Gabler, Mainly we have an intimate look at her stormy lesbian relationship with Jo, another actress who was dedicated to Eva but Eva’s own demons get the better of both of them.  Two excellent performances by Sarah Finn as the beautiful Joe and Margo MacDonald as the tortured Eva. The play pinpoints the fact that living as a lesbian, even as a famous actress was not easy during the first half of the 20th Century… MacDonald is captivating and utterly convincing as we watch her live her passion for her work and for Joe and we see her slow degeneration into alcoholism and depression. A plum role for an actress, which Ms McDonald played most beautifully. Director Diana Fajrajsl created flashbacks that made the shifts in time very clear, she also transformed a gas explosion into what looked like a theatrical stage effect so the whole play looked as though we were watching theatre within theatre. This is very intelligent directing on Fajrajsl’s part.  Good set by Lynn Cox and a haunting musical background. Shadows is the best show I’ve seen yet in the Fringe.  Be warned. This is not a comedy. It’s serious theatre.  Plays at the Leonard Beaulne Studio downstairs at the University of Ottawa Theatre department.

The title reminded me of Jim Carey’s Cable Guy so I expected brilliant comedy… Not so.  This is a bore. A badly written script full of clichés about working for the Civil Service. It highlights an office joker who gets on everyone’s nerves and so they are out to teach him a lesson. Well he got on my nerves too and so did the play, plus this director really didn’t seem to know how to set up a text on stage…  A couple of decent actors – Jen Jarvis and Tom Charlebois – but this was a waste of their time. Still, Civil Service humour is always appealing to some… no matter what.

A cocky little encounter written by Sterling Lynch. Two women are sitting in what appears to be a holding cell but it is not clear. The main thing is they are not allowed out.  One tries to make polite conversation and periodically flips into the world of the Simpsons to break the ice and disrupt the logic of the situation.  She is played by Brianne Tucker.  The other woman who is nervous and apparently a bit more naive, is played by Nadine Thornhill. She isn’t interested in anything else except getting out.  Half-way through in walks the guard, played by Jody Haucke. He gives the two women a serious situation to resolve and whether they are let go depends on how they calculate their answers.  That’s when we see who is able to manipulate the situation to her own advantage. Lots of tension here in a situation made for interesting theatrical possibilities but the direction was not particularly good.  Wayne Current should have imposed a style on this play that was not necessarily so realistic.  The guard, Jody Haucke got it. He was playfully threatening, so we are never sure he is serious.  The others on the other hand, were trying too hard to be “natural” and you leave with the impression that something didn’t quite work.  Plays at Leonard Beaulne Studio.

This a spoof of an Irish play by a group from Toronto who asks the question: what makes Irish Identity?  The playwright shows us just that by taking all the stereotypes of Irish drama and turning them into an Irish folktale filtered through a Jewish folktale as told by a contemporary Cyrano de Bergerac and even Oscar Wilde. So, Irishness is more or less exploded into little pieces.  This is written by Dan Hershfield who obviously knows theatre and has a very refined sense of humour.  Billy is the outsider who appears to have a serious stuttering problem, which means he can’t speak. A man appears in the midst of Billy’s little community, and this sudden intruder, as though we were in a Pinter play, becomes the perfect cheating, drinking gambling womanizing villainous Irish lover. There is also a sweet brother; a wide-eyed girl oozing with affection and in the midst of all the goings on there is silent Billy. There are secrets in the air but Billy  doesn’t dare open his mouth to tell all,  or maybe he cant open his mouth,  so  he takes out his frustration by boxing and digging graves. Is he the symbol of this impossible Irish identity that literally can’t speak its name? Maybe that’s the whole point. Although   very well acted and directed. I think the weakness was definitely in the writing where satire produced situations that were often too predictable but at the same time, the play was so burdened down by characters who talk and talk and talk that the humour did not always get through. BILLY STUTTER plays at Arts Court Theatre

Written and directed by Catriona Grozier, UNDERNEATH IT ALL is an accidental encounter in a broom closet that turns into a perfect little Fringe moment.  A man and a woman find themselves in this tight dark space where they are forced to deal with each other for 45 minutes. It takes place in real time.  The play focuses on the transformation of their feelings and it worked.  I especially liked actor Dean Adema who seems to be capable of much greater things. He is an enormously charming stage presence and has a rich speaking voice that tells you he is a singer. Marika Lapointe as the girl is a very angry character to begin with.  Thus, she had a very broad spectrum of emotions to cover in those 45 minutes, and I thought she could have wrung much more nuances out of the situation.  Anyway, it’s a good show, the time goes by very quickly and we are almost sorry when it ends. So, UNDERNEATH IT ALL plays in the Arts Court Library and by the way, the library is the worst venue at the Fringe, so get there early and don’t sit beyond the first 4 rows otherwise you wont see anything.

A play written by the very talented Canadian Daniel McIvor – performed by Zack Counsil.  A disjointed monologue where a young man, to get away from all the oppressive things about his parents and his immediate surroundings, escapes into his own fantasy world where a traumatic event brings it all to an end. The ending worked but the rest of it did not connect too well. I think the director and the actor have to take another look at the text and see what they missed. That was also at the Leonard Beaulne Studio.

Rachelle Ellie from Toronto has always wanted to be a serious actress but in spite of herself she is drawn into the world of clowns. So for the whole hour, she puts on different kinds of clown acts with wild costumes, that all inevitably come back to her alter ego: MAL… the angry, frustrated vicious clown who ends up in a frenzied wrestling match with balloons.  Ms Ellie is very talented but it began to feel rather repetitive. MAL plays at the Mercury Lounge.

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