Byron’s Fringe Picks
Sight Unseen 2023
A look at some promising St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival shows
By Byron Toben
June 1, 2023
Once again, my annual list for the 2023 Montreal Fringe Sight Unseen, in English or bilingual, is based on the track record of repeat performers and/or promotional materials of newcomers.
In 1990, Edwards Albee wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Three Tall Women. Over the years, Montreal Fringe repeat stars have been two tall men in a festival with a high percentage of talented short women. So it is again – sort of – with my first two of a baker’s dozen Sight Unseen choices below:
… my annual list for the 2023 Montreal Fringe Sight Unseen, in English or bilingual, is based on the track record of repeat performers and/or promotional materials of newcomers.
The ever-innovative Keir Cutler (Teaching Shakespeare, Teaching Detroit, Lunatic Van Beethoven, etc.) returns this year, not as a performer, but as the playwright of Civilized, here performed by award-winning Métis actor John D. Huston and directed by film and TV actor Paul Hopkins. It deals with the ill-treatment of indigenous people.
Mr. Cutler, who has often chosen venues other than those assigned by the Fringe, does it again by appearing at the McCord Museum as an Off-Fringe entrant.
Off-Fringe D – June 7 to 11
jem rolls Maximum Crusoe
jem rolls is one of the few making a living from appearing in Fringe shows coast to coast in Canada as well as elsewhere and relaxing in warm spots during the winter while creating his next rapid-fire tome on politics and sociology. Here, after his latest stay on a remote Indian island, he finds himself adopted as a guru by a young Indian. Quite a change of pace for this UK-born and bred performer.
Salle 8 – Le Ministère – June 10 to 13 and 15, 16
Alright: Solving the Problems of Living
Storyteller Nisha Coleman, well known to Fringe audiences since her debut about being stranded in Paris with her violin a few years ago, now with a few other shows and books to her credit, returns with contemplations “from the gutter to the stars.” Direction by Paul Van Dyke makes this a formidable combination.
Salle 1 – Theéâtre La Comédie – June 8, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17
Glad to see Anton Golikov’s Raise the Stakes Theatre back in action again, this time directing the story of Chinese dissident artist Lin Bo describing his imprisonment in a notorious camp as written by Christopher Chen.
Salle 5 – MainLine Theatre – June 10 to 13 and 16, 17
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl In Hitler’s Germany
Ingrid Garner has adapted her grandmother’s memoir about being stranded in WWII Berlin. That best-selling memoir by Eleanor Ramrath Garner is now an award-winning performance.
Salle 9 – Studio Multi Media – June 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18
The Climate Scientist
Playwright, director and designer Ryan Litvak and several other collaborators have devised this playlet with “four lovable losers about nothing.” That formula worked for Seinfeld so it enticed me to include it in this list. Can serious concerns about the climate evolve from nothing?
Salle 5 – MainLine Theatre – June 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 18
Ruby Rocket, Private Detective
I’ve been hooked on private eye shows ever since The Maltese Falcon movie. Here, Stacy Halal, who wrote and stars in this show, doesn’t always get her man but is joined by a cast of leading Montreal improvisers.
Salle 2 – Petit Campus – June 8, 10, 11, 14, 16, 17
Tango in the Dark
Everyone loves Tango, even clumsy-footed me. So I can’t resist adding this show about “Pointe Tango”, which redefined Argentine Tango. Alexander Richardson directs and, with Erin Scott Kafadar, co-choreographs. They promise “rapid footwork, spins and gravity-defying lifts.”
Salle 3 – La Chapelle – June 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18
Everybody Knows – Post-modern Leonard Cohen Dance Theatre
Playwright Rita Sheena directs, choreographs and designs this piece which takes on the pains of existence through music, dance, physical theatre, comedy, spoken word and “of course, Leonard Cohen.”
Salle 9 – Studio Multimedia – June 10 to 13 and 16, 17
Everything is Super Wow
A slapstick tragedy by Ira Cooper involves Mr. Coffeehead, puppets and original music.
Off Fringe H – Free Standing Room – June 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18
Ha Ha Ha Da Vinci
Phina Pipia, from the state of Washington, has received praise as “mesmerizing” for performing this show in California. A tuba lights the way as she combines illusion, music and theatre into the unexpected. Somehow, a bed and a radio are involved. I love anything Italianate, so the title hooked me.
Venue 9 – Studio Multimedia – June 8, 10, 13, 14, 17, 18
Tomatoes Tried To Kill Me But Banjos Saved My Life
Keith Alessi overcame a threatening illness made worse by tomatoes by quitting his corporate job and strumming his banjo to sold-out crowds off-Broadway and in Edinburgh. Promises to be a “heartfelt healing experience.”
Venue 8 – Le Ministère – June 8, 11, 14, 15, 17, 18
Aliya Kanani: Where You From, From?
Ms. Kanani takes us, not around the world in 80 days as Jules Verne did, but to 30 countries, ten schools and six languages, all in one hour, with “tales of fitting in, sticking out and standing up.”
Venue 2 – Petit Campus – June 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18
So, here are my dozen Sight Unseen picks for the 2023 Montreal Fringe, out of about 90 shows involving 500 artists in 20 venues. Don’t ignore the many excellent French shows, which I also enjoy but feel incompetent to review.
There are free musical events at the beer tent on Rachel and St-Laurent, which opens on June 8.
Tickets are capped at $15 (a few are less) and 100% of ticket sales goes to the performers.
The best bet is to purchase multi-show passes: Ménage à Trois – 3 for $ 39; Gold – 6 for $ 74; Platinum – 10 for $119; or Carte Blanche – unlimited for $325.
They all include $5 off a fringe T-shirt purchase; the Gold and Platinum include one free beer at the Fringe Park, and the Carte Blanche includes two free beers.
Images: courtesy of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.