Reviews from the Fringefest: Three excellent productions worth seeing

The Ottawa Citizen – June 17, 2011
by Patrick Langston

Track shoes on? The marathon known as the 15th annual Ottawa Fringe Festival opened Thursday night and continues until June 26 with 60 companies delivering more than 300 performances in 15 downtown venues.

Ottawa’s independent theatre scene is well-represented by both new and long-established companies offering comedy, drama and the totally unexpected. They’re joined by performers from the Canadian and international fringe scenes.

“It’s going beautifully so far,” said a remarkably calm Natalie Joy Quesnel, the Fringe’s executive producer, on opening night. She was relaxing in the Fringe Courtyard — the place to go for conversation, food and a cool one — next to Arts Court on Daly Avenue.

We agreed, squeezing in three shows, all of them excellent, for review.

Watch for more reviews over the next few days.

Padre X
Looking Glass Productions
Arts Court Library

War, Padre X tells us, is “the closest thing to hell a human being can experience on this earth.” Actor and writer Marc Moir stares into that hell, and we along with him, in his true story of a Second World War chaplain whose two greatest obligations were to God and his fellow soldiers. At the centre of this compelling show is the catastrophic Allied invasion of Dieppe, where countless men lost their lives and Padre X discovered the meaning of his. Moir’s depiction of the chaplain from small-town Ontario is nuanced and satisfying, a mix of the decent men once portrayed by film actor Jimmy Stewart and the memorable cadences of CBC Radio storyteller Stuart McLean. The show is too long, and the short intermission — feeling so out of place in a fringe performance — breaks the momentum, but Padre X’s story, like the legacy of the war, resonates deeply.

When Harry Met Harry
flaming locomotive productions
Academic Hall, University of Ottawa

If ever there were polar opposites, it’s Harry and Rodney. Harry, the focus of Allan Girod’s very funny and surprisingly poignant one-man show, is an uptight, obsessive introvert whose chief joy in life is keeping the papers on his desk in military-like alignment. Rodney is the oily animator of interpersonal skills workshops, those appalling events meant to get you in touch with your inner whatever and to build team spirit. Needless to say, when Harry is sent to Rodney’s workshop after a series of customer complaints about his communication style, the results are not pretty. Australia’s Girod is a brilliant physical performer, using his supple six-foot-nine frame and facial expressions to telegraph not just the emotions but the entire world view of these two guys. One minute he’s Harry, all gangly limbs and constrained gait; the next he’s Rodney, every gesture a testament to self-confidence and entitlement. To see Girod breathe life into these two characters, each commanding in his own way, is sheer delight.

Dying Hard
A Vagrant Theatre
SAW Gallery

We all whine about how demanding our jobs are, what tyrants we have for bosses. Dying Hard could cure us of that forever. Mikaela Dyke, a riveting actor, has adapted for the stage six of Elliott Leyton’s first-hand accounts of miners and their families in 1975, whose lives were both supported and destroyed by Newfoundland’s fluorspar mines. Men went underground to earn a living only to wind up with silicosis or cancer or bodies crippled from accidents. Their wives, already caring for children, ended up looking after their husbands as well and stretching inadequate compensation cheques beyond the breaking point. Some of these people stayed positive, others turned bitter. None escaped the legacy of mining. Dyke’s characterizations are vivid and telling, and her use of verbatim theatre technique, in which interviewees’ exact words are used for the script, is thrilling. Only one — old Pat Sullivan — needs work: his accent is so thick that much of what he says is incomprehensible. While the show has some humour, and the fortitude of these people is inspiring, Rebecca Flynn has the final word: “We have a thick graveyard, a fat graveyard.”

Fringe festival tickets and information: 613-232-6162,

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