Thursday, July 6, 2017

Toronto Fringe 2017 Day #1

From left to right: Kira Renee, Catherine Wylee, Grace Thompson and Isabel Kanaan in Nourishment. Photo by Hashmita Alimchandani 

So here I am back at blogging. I had every intention of blogging through the fringe last year but I just ended up utter exhausted. I haven't done anything theatre related since then. Until now.

This year, I put out an open call for word of mouth (WOM) tickets. The way they work is that you get a ticket to a performance early in the run (usually a performance they anticipate may be slower selling tickets) in the hopes that you'll spread the word to your social circles to get them excited enough to go. Family circumstances mean that my fringing will have to be limited so writing reviews of them on the blog seems a good way for me to hold up my end of the bargain.

So on day #1, I saw two shows (link takes you to their fringe page where you can buy tickets):


Nourishment

I loved this show. It presents us with various aspects of being a woman in 2017, told through four women in one family - Gram, her daughter-in-law Ginger, and her grand-daughters Brie and Olive. (The scenes with Ginger taking care of Gram particularly hit home.)

The central conceit is that the kitchen, at times used as a tool of oppression for women, can also be a sacred space where women can gather. From there the women, all with very different perspectives, share stories and incidents of their lives.

Near the end, one of the characters asks, "why do we lie to our daughters and tell them they can be anything they want to be?"

It's a damn good question. I'd never thought about it until the show posed it to me. I saw how so many of the stories had to do with societal expectations of women. It was a very engaging way of addressing so many of the issues we face going about the world as women.

For women, this show will be full of familiarity. I found myself nodding quite a bit as the various characters talked about issues that affect them. Men will find some scenes unrecognizable but I hope they will be willing to take a look into the lives of women. Only in truly understanding how our roles have been laid out by society, how we're all battling with those expectations, will we be able to free.

Magic to the future

One of the hardest things to do well in theatre is a show about being unprepared to do the show. It's a fine line between authenticity and appearing professional. Unfortunately, this show doesn't walk it. Which is a shame as the performer is engaging and the show is very strong on the comedy side. The magic is simple, and is meant to be. (I'll cop to being a tough audience on the magic front as I've recently seen most of those tricks at Tricks in the Six and the other one has been a higher-stakes staple of Keith Brown's shows for years.)

It's not like our host doesn't have it in him. The pre-show is a projection of his showreel, the material sent to bookers to show why they should be hired. So here lies my problem. I spent most of the show feeling bad for him, wondering if he missed his tech rehearsal, instead of fully engaging with the show. He told me after the show that it was all intentional so it's possible that's the reaction he wanted. (And maybe that's why he's showing us his showreel pre-show.) But that's not why I go to theatre. I wanted to revel in the absurd parallels to Back to the Future and be amazed by feats of magic. I wanted to walk out being impressed by how the show was put together.

I fully admit that my experience is born from my background as a theatre professional and that other audience members will have a very different experience. However, there's a high bar for quality in Toronto and I suspect regular fringe goers will have a similar response to mine.

I really wanted to be able to recommend this show unreservedly since not only is Tim Hoffman an out-of-town performer (and I like to support those) but his stage manager Lindsay Taylor produced Absolute Magic last year. And I'll repeat, the show is fun if you're able to give yourself over to it. I hope it finds its audience.

ETA: Wayne Leung also saw the show last night and had a different impression. So maybe it is just me.

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