Byron’s top Fringe picks
sight unseen 2018
Some promising St Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival theatre shows
By Byron Toben
Byron Toben has covered the Montreal Fringe each year from its origin in 1990. His reviews ran first in print in the Montreal Downtowner, then in his own handout, The Daily Playlet, and finally in the Senior Times. Digitally, he wrote many for The Charlebois Post and for Rover Arts, and since July 2015, as the near exclusive English reviewer for the bilingual Westmount Magazine.
He comments: “Based on my experience and intuition, the following 18 shows are my 2018 top picks – sight unseen. I have not included dance or French language shows as I do not feel qualified to evaluate those many fine shows.”
Here in three tranches are my picks.
Top six: my own must sees
A Man Alone
Al Goulem’s one-man show
I’ve been eagerly awaiting this show since Al Goulem gave me an early heads up when I chanced to be seated next to him at Infinitheatre’s excellent Fight On! show two months ago. Of his many stage appearances here, I particularly enjoyed his cop role in Butcher as well as his one-man stint in Urban Tales, both at the Centaur. By the numbers, this show features him playing 26½ characters, wearing 12 different outfits and singing five songs.
Jem Rolls (London, UK)
Jem Rolls is back again, advertising himself as having been in “More Fringe festivals than anyone on Earth”. He is one of the alltime Fringe faves, along with TJ Dawe, Keir Cutler and Rick Miller. Not sure if this current show relates to Dostoyevsky’s great novel or a certain world leader or both or neither. Jem does talk fast, but with good enunciation.
Flute Loops (Vancouver)
Last year, Devon More impressed us with her Berlin Waltz, where she travelled the length of the Berlin Wall in song, illustration and comment. Now upping her hyper game, a quantum physics student attempts to warp space-time in a “sub atomic pop opera”. Quirks and Quarks abound.
The Many Legged Musical (Syracuse)
From the company that brought us last year’s clever Orson Welles/Shylock comes, can you believe it, a musical based on Franz Kafka’s famous story of a man who morphs into a cockroach! I gotta see this one.
Buyer & Cellar
For the past 15 years or so, Donald Rees and his Brave New Productions have staged some fine small indie productions ranging from authors like Albee, Gurney and Durang, on subjects like Beethoven and Chekov, to homophobia as well as some original scripts. Now Mr Rees, who has acted in some of those shows, stars in this comedy about Barbra Streisand’s mansion. Should be a hoot!
Al Lafrance, Jon Bennett (1/2 Australia)
Local Al Lafrance has teamed up with frequent Aussie visitor Jon Bennett in six “silly, stupid and different every time short shows”. Two likeable silly guys who have captured the interest of an otherwise pretty serious search for important meaning. Short at 30 minutes for $10, but if you like animals, they ask only $5.
Next six, picked on merits of their directors
Find Me merits attention as it is directed by Andrew Cuk, who teaches theatre at John Abbott. He’s always quite inventive. This play is based on a true story of a woman, Verity Taylor, who, at 20, was placed in a high security psychiatric hospital for the rest of her life for burning a chair.
This one is directed by Donna Byrne who, among other plaudits, directed a bang up stage version of The Great Gatsby out at Hudson in 2016. This one features a 50ish bachelor mama’s boy who invests in a “love potion” with his dodgy cousin.
The Autism Monologues
Multi talented Jen Viens, noted for her acting and singing, here adds to her directing chops in weaving the stories of autistic people told from their own perspective. “A theatrical journey of discovery.”
What The Hell Happened To My Lawn Furniture?
Jeff Gandell, well known in local story telling circles, and a performer in the last two Fringes, here directs Jeff, a listless loner on a quest to discover how his lawn furniture disappeared from his 16th floor apartment.
Betch a Sketch
Directed by Donald Rees, who stars in another show above, and written by a trio of QDF folk – Steph McKenna, David Noel and Caleigh Crow – details the efforts of five women to hijack your imagination. Live music by Sacha Crow.
I Think I’m Dead
Al Lafrance directs himself in his own play based on his experiences with unconsciousness. Won best solo show at Halifax fringe 2017 and plaudits in Adelaide, Australia, where he teamed up with Jon Bennett for a “silly” show, above.
Six other shows, based on clever themes
Around The World In Eight Mistakes (Seattle)
Having twice reviewed Geordie Theatre’s dynamic Around the World in 80 days, I was drawn to this title. Oh, its about world immigration… and written by the UK’s best spoken word artist. Add to bucket list.
Crime After Crime (After Crime) (Toronto)
Everyone loves Sex T-Rex from prior Fringe shows. Here their physical comedy examines crime story fads in the 50s, 70s and 90s.
Interstellar Elder: Badass Gramma in Space
More physical comedy from Ingrid Hansen who delighted in earlier Fringes with Little Orange Man and The Merkin Sisters.
¿Hablas Ingles? (Australia)
A bearded Australian (Marcus Ryan) with a backpack visits South America with no idea of what to find, except material for this praised solo show.
Awkward Hug (Vancouver)
Fringe Icon TJ Dawe has dramaturged this show and since TJ is not here this year, this is the next best possibility. A coming of age story by award winning actor/writer Cory Thibert.
The Eulogy (Virginia)
An absurd parody of a funeral speech that has won awards around the world. Many characters with inept and inapt speeches.
Well that’s 18 picks for 2018.
An encore, you roar?
OK, just one more, and it bodes to be a good one.
Don’t Read The Comments
By and performed by Sarah Segal-Lazar who created Fringe hits like Talk, Mackerel and In Memoriam and featured in Segal Centre (no relation) hit show Bad Jews, comes this trendy tale set at a TV talk show about sexual encounters and consent.
The Theatre portion of the St Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs to June 17.
Most shows perform six times each over that period, totalling 500 artists in 800 performances.
Bring your magic markers to highlight your own picks in the huge free program. There are 12 master venues and six more off venues. Most shows run 60 minutes, a few are 30, 45 or 75.
Most cost $10 plus $2.50 tax.
Best are all-inclusive multi-show passes.
• 3 shows for $33
• 6 shows for $66 (one free beer)
• 10 shows for $99 (one free beer)
• Carte Blanche for $275 (two free beers)
Many free shows at the beer tent park corner St. Laurent and Rachel (mostly musical)
For more info or purchases, check montrealfringe.ca or call 514 849-FEST (3378)
Images: courtesy of the St Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Read also: Tova nails Golda on or off her balcony
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.