Montreal Fringe Festival reviews 2019
Five enjoyable Fringe shows that deliver the goods
By Byron Toben
My annual “sight unseen” picks are proving justified.
I have not been able to catch as many thus far as in previous years, but thoroughly enjoyed the five described below and feel all five would be good candidates for the Centaur’s annual Wildside remounting come next January.
Takes its title from a review of a book by Fringe vet Keir Cutler’s mother, May Ebbitt Cutler. She was a remarkable woman of Irish Protestant descent who put herself through college in Montreal, studied journalism at Columbia University in New York, worked at the United Nations, returned to Montreal to marry labour lawyer (and later, judge) Philip Cutler and raise four sons. She also found time to start Tundra Books, specializing in Canadian books and become the first woman mayor of Westmount.
This presentation by Keir (who has appeared in 15 Fringes) deals with her 1967 book The Last Noble Savage, which she often read to him as a child. That book celebrates a First Nations woman she had encountered on frequent trips to a hideaway in the Laurentians.
All in all a heart-warming tale.
I Can Only Give You Everything
A show created by versatile actor Al Goulem, seems to be listed as a one-man show. However, it soon morphs into a four-man show with the addition of three more talented actor friends of Mr Goulem, one of which is much in demand Marcel Jeanin. Three volunteers solicited from the audience make this one-man crew a septet.
Essentially, they create a long form sketch comedy with hilarious brief episodes linked by a theme and a plot (sort of). Thus, you might wish to see this piece twice as the theme is random based on audience suggestions, which may differ each time. The time I saw it, it involved bayou habitants, a calve birthing, extra-terrestrials, time travel and even a Jewish baby baptism (!) by a confused evangelical minister
Great improv and great fun becomes a part of “everything”.
Piaf and Brel: The Impossible Concert
Opera trained Melanie Gall has toured Canada and indeed the world with her homage to these two great French songsters. She alternates renditions of their signature tunes and lesser known ones with a bubbling patter about their respective lives and loves. Despite their overlapping times on earth (Piaf was 14 years older than Brel), they never met personally nor sang together hence this concert is “impossible”.
Ms Gall, who has other tribute shows to Irving Berlin and Vera Lynn, will appear at the Ottawa Fringe June 16 to 23 with Ingénue, her show about Deanna Durbin (Ann Frank’s pin up star!) coupled with Judy Garland.
The dynamic Ms. Gall is a welcome addition to other shows I have covered for Westmount Mag – Piaf portrayed by Toronto’s Louise Pitre, as well as Montréal’s Claire Garand and Brel, as in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s multi singer homage.
The latest by Alastair Knowles, well known here for his frequent appearances as half of James and Jamesy. This non-verbal marvel stars him (all dressed in white head to toe) opposite a giant roll of white paper (I would guess 30 feet high and 6 feet wide) in which he, assisted by a single black pen/cutter, creates images thereon. Slowly, successive images become smaller and efforts more exhaustive as the digital age, for better or worse, takes over. Directed and co-scripted by wife Stephanie Morin-Robert, this mime parable uses dance techniques and even a wind machine in keep audiences involved.
Written and performed by Stephanie Morin-Robert also well known here for her priors, such as Merkin Sisters, puts her dancing training to good use in her depiction of her life growing up with one glass eye. An on stage projector/magnifier is put to frequent use for close ups. Amusing anecdotes such as losing her glass eye while awaiting a fly ball in a softball game did not prevent the spheroid from plopping into her glove as she searched the grass for the glass with her free hand. Sometimes one-person shows with only one theme can become boring, a one-trick pony, but it is a tribute to Ms Morin-Robert that such is not the case here. In fact, I look forward to viewing her related Fringe show, Eye Candy later.
The St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival continues until Sunday June 16.
Images: courtesy of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, unless indicated otherwise
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.