The annual Fringe Festival is back with a plethora of cutting-edge dramas, hilarious comedies, and unabashed kookiness (we have yet to see The Princess of Porn: The Musical, but would venture to guess that it falls into that last category). Tickets to the plays are relatively inexpensive (around $10), but there are over 100 shows to choose from and not all of them are worth your hard-earned dollar. Here’s the scoop on some of what Fringe has to offer this year:

 

Peter n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel — George Ignatieff Theatre

In this snappy send-up of murder mysteries, two friends crash their car on a creepy, isolated road and are forced to seek shelter in a creepy, isolated motel. The ever-bickering and thoroughly clueless duo soon discovers that a series of murders have been committed there and, not surprisingly, that it’s the sociopathic motel manager who’s responsible. (The culprit is revealed within the first five minutes of the show, so no, that wasn’t a spoiler). With few props and a whole lot of enthusiasm, comedy duo Chris Wilson and Peter Carlone perform all of the roles in the play and take plenty of jabs at the clichéd tropes that define the mystery and horror genres (“I don’t have a very good feeling about this,” Peter says at one point. “For one thing, listen to the ambient music playing.”) The actors frequently veer from parody to sketch comedy, using the play as a platform to showcase a variety of oddball characters. While these insertions into the overarching plot occasionally seem extraneous, for the most part, Peter n’ Chris and the Mystery of the Hungry Heart Motel is well crafted, clever and undeniably funny. —BK

 

Photo courtesy TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL

A Funeral for Clowns — The Annex Theatre

Let anyone with a fear of clowns be warned: these red-nosed, large-footed, supposedly-hilarious-but-actually-kind-of-disturbing performers are about as creepy as they get in A Funeral for Clowns. The play takes place in a funeral parlour, where a dysfunctional group of clowns has gathered to mourn the passing of a family member. As they argue and grieve, the family is joined by a professional mourner, a mime, the deceased’s clown colleagues, and the spirit of the dead clown himself. It’s all rather bizarre, but the actors handle the material admirably as they transition from the over-exaggerated mannerisms of clowns to the subdued grief of the characters behind the costumes. In theory, A Funeral for Clowns could have been an innovative reflection on the absurdity of mourning and the sadness that so often hides behind our smiles. The dialogue, however, isn’t particularly inspired, and at times, it’s downright painful (“I think if I had a fish,” says the dead clown during a monologue. “I would have named him Sad.”)  All in all, the play’s contrived attempts at profundity undermine an otherwise promising premise. —BK

 

Golem — Tarragon Theater Mainspace

Golem, a play by the Sick With Baby theatre company, attempts to both explore and defeat the inner demons of its protagonist, Casey Cohen. Heavily focused on what it means to be Jewish, the entire play takes place in Casey’s mind. He has an ongoing inner dialogue with Solomon, a fellow Jew and undeniably obnoxious individual who Casey accidentally killed, and his rather bland Muslim best friend, Ali. Although the play has an intriguing beginning, the rest of the script is circuitous and repetitive, constantly rehashing the same issues with a blatancy that leaves no room for subtext. Coupled with some mediocre acting, the only engaging feature of this play is its frequent witticisms. When the show came to an end, I was left wanting to hear more about the trials of Casey’s gay best friend (who only gets one monologue), and less about the trials of a non-practicing Jew. Overall, Golem is a good start for this student group, but it needs reshaping in order to reach its full potential. —IP

 

Photo courtesy TORONTO FRINGE FESTIVAL

Absolute Alice — The Factory Theatre Mainspace.

Absolute Alice presents a contemporary adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s children’s story, Alice in Wonderland. Set in the Toronto underground, the script of this modern interpretation is drawn entirely from Carroll’s novel, producing an interesting intersection between 19th century diction and the play’s rough, contemporary setting. With explosive acting that complements the play’s larger than life characters, the cast kept the audience on their toes with surprises, quirks and plenty of laughs. Accompanied by a beautiful set and dazzling costumes, the production lives up to the many other successful interpretations of Alice’s story, putting its own strange twist on the classic. For fans of Carroll’s original work, the cast’s zany interpretations are delightful, and for newcomers to Wonderland, the whimsical set and innovative acting are more than enough to make this play a hit. —IP

 

Sex, Bollywood and Other Lies — Randolph Theatre

As one of the only shows at the Fringe that combines dance and theatre, Sex, Bollywood and Other Lies is a unique production that aims to subvert both the taboo of sex in Indian culture and the stereotypes often associated with Bollywood. Although this is an admirable goal, the play often skims over key issues instead of digging into their roots. The story follows the wannabe Bollywood romance of Trish and Raj, along with the tumultuous relationship that follows their one night stand. This proves a rather thin plot line, and the numerous dances interspersed throughout the show seemed to be the focus of the production. Dancers of diverse ethnicities perform Bollywood, contemporary and Indian classical dance numbers, but even this aspect of the show falls short; most of the cast seemed to have a contemporary dance background and the Indian classical numbers suffer as a result. Sex, Bollywood and Other Lies seems geared towards a South Asian audience with an understanding of Hindi and Bollywood, but the play’s genuinely funny moments might not be entirely accessible to a more diverse crowd. —IP

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