Sunday, June 11, 2006

Notes from the Montreal Fringe 2006.

Well, I didn’t get to as many shows as I would have liked. What a gross couple of days weather-wise. Here are my hastily scribbled thoughts on the shows I actually got to. You may want to take into account the fact that my feet were soggy during most of them and so I was a little grumpy.

Better Parts by Nicole Stamp. This is a one-woman monologue/song performed by Stamp, accompanied by Paul Clifford on an acoustic double-bass playing everything from Mozart to Lou Reed. Walking home from her job as an office temp, Stamp fantasizes about a perfect life.

I missed this when it was at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto and was glad to catch Stamp's escapist poetry here. Stamp is perfectly charming and when she sings, she knocks people off their seats. Literally in the case of the show I caught last night, when an entire row of chairs collapsed five minutes into the show. Clifford didn’t miss a plucked string and Stamp didn’t lose her cool.
Better Parts over in 25 minutes or so – but being left wanting more isn’t a crime, especially at the Fringe, where an hour can be an eternity.

Gaetan Charlebois gave the Parisian comedy duo Les Goubeens a rave in the Gazette yesterday, so I went to check them out. The story behind the troupe (I am told) is this: They arrived in Montreal from France a month or so ago, saw there was a sketch comedy festival going on, got a slot when another group backed out and then – when they realised the festival was an English one – translated their entire show in one night and killed a packed opening house. (A friend who was there that night recommended them strongly.)
I suspect these two goofs need an audience to feed off of because the sparse-attended show I saw last night was decidedly lacklustre, while the five-minute set they performed at the Fringe club later that night in front of a packed room was lively and entertaining.
Comedy’s such a subjective thing, though, and at no time was I blown away like I have been by such great Fringe double acts as Sabotage (The Pyjama Men) and Hoopal. Les Goubeens are undeniably tight, but their schtick -- a surreal talk show, jokey hip-hop, a musical based on The Three Little Pigs/Iraq -- mostly wasn’t working on me and my soggy feet.

Earlier in the evening, I saw Without Annette’s Radio Daze, an improvised radio show made up of a serialized drama, advertisements and news bulletins. It takes place in the dark, putting the emphasis on listening rather than watching. This a format that doesn’t really showcase this particular troupe’s strengths. The two women members are quite verbally dextrous, but a couple of the male members who do fine physical comedy are just not as funny when you can’t see their bodies and faces.
I don’t really get why Radio Daze took place in a black-out anyway – it’s an unnecessary handicap. Part of the fun of watching live radio shows is watching the sound effects be made and whatnot. (I have seen “blind Harold”, mind you, and it can be quite good.)

On Friday, I went to see dis + graced: Medea/Josephine – a one-woman show about two famous women wronged by powerful men. The connections between the two characters, one fictional, one historical, are actually quite interesting... But watching this 20-minute extract from Medea followed by a 20-minute bio-play about Josephine (taken from her letters) was not. New Orleans actor Amy Woodruff cannot sustain her one-note Medea; her Josephine has more depth and range. (I might actually switch the two halves around -- how can you follow murdering your children?) The video projections, as is almost always the case with such things, were unneccesary and, in fact, undercut what was going on live.

The Chinese Clown Cabaret is delightful and disjointed. Clown Jane Chen is joined on stage by her real-life mom Tair, a former computer programmer who is a charmingly awkward performer. The two argue over how long Jane has to practice her ukulele before she can go out with her friends and perform a variety of songs, including one about a racehorse getting maced. Odd and unique, but too loose.

The 13th Hour –- the talk-show hosted by Anders and Dan from Uncalled For at 1a.m. every night -- is a lot of fun. But it’s a party, not a show. The 11-second dance parties are awesome. The beer gets better and better the more you drink. Highly recommended, I think.

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