Toronto
6 min

Spin your Fringe

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ACTING UP. What could be more gay than a man dressed up in a fairy godmother dress talking about being a boy's favourite toy? Credit: Xtra files

Wonder Toys



What could be more gay than a man dressed up in a fairy godmother dress talking about being a boy’s favourite toy? The doll’s name is Mandy, embodied by writer and performer Thomas Corless with more pathos than drag queen sass in this one-doll show.



Mandy’s ostensible goal is to dismiss a few of the myths about dolls. The doll’s-eye-view shtick quickly wears thin – who cares how hot it is inside a doll’s box? But there’s something strangely affecting about a guy in a poofy dress describing a doll’s sense of alienation.



More emotionally involving is Mandy’s account of the childhood of her owner, a girly-boy named Terry. The description of a painful birthday party episode captures the humiliation sometimes felt by children who find themselves outside heterosexual norms.



For good measure, Corless packs his meandering monologue with camp references: the Spice Girls, Cher and Barry Manilow crowd into the first couple of minutes.



On the downside, this 38-minute piece is too static, and would benefit from a dose of dramatic structure. Corless could also deliver his lines with more gusto.



But Wonder Toys has flashes of wit and a mood all its own. Many a more polished production has been less memorable. (CG)



Remaining performances: 8:30pm on Jul 12, 1:30pm on Jul 13 and 7pm on Jul 14; Factory Studio (125 Bathurst St).





The Vagina Dialogues



There’s something familiar about HAG Productions’ Vagina Dialogues, which I noticed as soon as I sat down and the dialoguers filed into their semi-circle positions on stage. The sense of déjà vu became even stronger when a woman on stage approached the audience and, in almost camp counsellor style, suggested everyone move closer to the stage. I suddenly wished I had brought my chamomile tea.



Vagina Dialogues feels like a combination of a lot of the lesbian powwow, spoken word events I’ve been to since I came out. That doesn’t make it any less fun, just, like I said, very familiar. Like a joke you’ve heard a million times but still find funny.



Dialogues takes Eve Ensler’s original concept, aimed at the fur-coat feminists, and dresses it down for the fuzzy legged lesbians, bulldaggers, girlie girls, Amazons and contented in-betweens. With its 17-member cast, Dialogues can boast stories from a stunning diversity of dykes.



Juanita Evans, in her piece “Didn’t Even Know I Had One,” describes finding herself with a speculum in the 1970s feminist revolution, while Taunee Grant, in a powerful piece titled “Jump, Run, Androgynite!” confesses to the pains and limitations of androgyny and transition. Overall, Dialogues, directed by Margaret Smith, offers a cozy performance worth checking out. (MT)



Remaining performances: 3pm on Fri, Jul 12 and 11pm on Jul 13.





The Next Best Thing



Nothing happened in Samuel Beckett’s absurdist chestnut Waiting For Godot, and that was the point. In TheatreFixe’s The Next Best Thing, a fictional theatre troupe works toward putting on Godot. This makes it a play about a play in which nothing happens.



Thus the plot is slender. Producer Michael (played by Michael Lazarovitch, the play’s real-life co-producer) battles to get his show staged, leaving answering machine rants for his backer and cast member Peter (Peter Madden), who has withdrawn to his apartment to count down the days to the end.



Meanwhile, Michael Reinhart (the real-life playwright) and Daniel Jade Levia entertain while they rehearse their roles as the tramps in Godot. They bicker about theatre, liken the piece to masturbation and debate the merits of performing without an audience.



Konrad Nespiak’s direction keeps the dialogue clipping along, mostly disguising its intentional lack of direction. Rubber-faced Levia makes an especially engaging tramp, and Kinnon Elliott’s design backs it all up with sophistication.



While Waiting for Godot comments on the absurdity of life, The Next Best Thing comments on the absurdity of theatre in a time when a formalist work like this has serious difficulty finding an audience. This is a funny and well-crafted first play. What will happen if Reinhart turns his considerable writing talent to a weightier subject? (CG)



No more performances remaining.





Simple Cataclysms: Songs Of Kurt Weill



In theatre a straightforward combination of the best ingredients can be more satisfying than a much more elaborate concoction.



Simple Cataclysms serves up a baker’s dozen of Kurt Weill’s songs interpreted with operatic splendour by mezzo-soprano Nancy de Long, backed up in cabaret style by Brian Jackson on piano and Dick Felix on bass. Moments of musical bliss collide with the delightfully obnoxious interruptions of stage veteran Mark Christmann in the role of Weill’s early collaborator Bertolt Brecht.



Christmann’s cartoonish German playwright has an accent so guttural you’re afraid he’ll choke on it. Christmann also directs, and co-wrote the very witty dialogue with Mariella Rowan.



De Long plays the straight man to Christmann’s kinky Brecht – an act that could become tiresome in less capable hands. But Christmann’s playful interjections (“We are intellectual Germans in the ’30s,” he quips) are as welcome as de Long’s sublime warbling.



They string the songs together with an entertaining and educational exchange that sketches in the trajectory of the Jewish-German composer’s Berlin-to-Broadway career.



While Simple Cataclysms makes you long for those cabarets where “Mack The Knife” and “Alabama Song” were performed in their heyday, it also makes you grateful for a present that’s home to two performers so wonderful at what they do. (CG)



Remaining performances: 10:30pm on Fri, Jul 12 and 2:30pm on Jul 14; George Ignatieff (15 Devonshire Pl).





Top Gun! The Musical



Significantly, one of Top Gun’s songs is called “Asses In Seats,” about how a show needs to put them there to make money. The production tells the story of the ups and downs of making a show out of that war-mongering Reagan-era classic Top Gun, painting Hollywood and Broadway clichés in broad strokes. And it’s a Fringe hit, attracting those coveted asses in droves.



Scott White’s catchy tunes paired with Denis McGrath’s clever lyrics make for solid entertainment. Colin Viebrock directs a strong cast, who inject their two-dimensional characters with plenty of life.



Among the outstanding performers are the very funny Dmitry Chepovetsky as Maverick (Tom Cruise’s erstwhile character), and Alison Lawrence, who deserves a bigger slice of the limelight as Wendy, the lovelorn stage manager.



David Collins’ General, the fictional show’s intimidating producer, gives the show an ersatz political edge. The character points out that films like Top Gun are a form of propaganda, which seems like stating the obvious.



Gay actor Steven Gallagher combines comic flair and questionable judgment as the actor playing Maverick’s rival, Iceman. He resurrects that hoary gay stereotype, the lascivious limp-wrist, contributing lines like “Do we have time to add a steam room scene?” This is the sort of act some gay men slide into after a beer too many, and seeing it on stage made me cringe.



The US hero film proves a facile butt for jokes, and unsubtle humour casts a sophomoric pall over this talent-rich production. Sure it’s entertaining, but there are more compelling ways to get laughs – even in a musical – than taking easy potshots at American pop culture. (CG)



Remaining performances: 11:30pm on Thu, Jul 11, 12:30pm on Jul 12 and 4pm on Jul 13; George Ignatieff (15 Devonshire Pl).





Gypsies



Written by Pencil-Neck T Berto, Gypsies is a classic “stand by your man” fairytale (even if he drinks too much, can’t keep a job, forces you to move from small town to small town and hits you every once in a while) that goes terribly wrong on a hot night in 1988.



Samatha Wilson, the star of this one-woman show, ably channels the spirit of the central character Linda, a former wild child, now worn-out mom, in addition to the cast of characters that surround Linda in the small town bar where the play takes place.



There are parts of the play that seem out of step with the narrative, including some flashbacks with Linda’s father that stick out as being a little on the cheesy side. Gypsies could also do without a lot of its sound cues, which chime in at odd moments making the production seem, at times, clumsy. Aside from that, the overall effect of Berto’s Gypsies is poignant, the final scene hitting the mark that the opening barely misses.



Pencil-Neck Production’s Gypsies brings new meaning to the song “Freebird,” and is worth seeing. (MT)



Remaining performances: 11:30pm Thu on Jul 11, 5:30pm on Jul 12 and 4pm on Jul 14; Helen Gardiner (79A St George St).





The Death Of My Dentist



Starring writer Gideon Forman as the narrator and Mel Downey as dentist Dr Dean, it is perhaps not surprising that The Death Of My Dentist has a little to do with loneliness. It’s unfortunate that the awkward presentation of this play makes it hard to keep track of any message the characters might be trying to get across.



Directed by Robert Kennedy (the indie filmmaker’s theatre debut), The Death Of My Dentist, which runs for a little less than half an hour, feels like an unrehearsed high-school presentation, where the two students, despite having studied their material, failed to figure out how they planned to deliver their ideas. The two actors seem ill at ease when on stage together, almost as if they are pretending not to notice each other, and yet they are afraid one will trip the other up.



Some of the better moments happen when Dr Dean is left alone to ruminate on stage. As a man who fears solitude and yet is unable to feel compassion for the people around him, Dr Dean is a worthy character study, badly presented in this play. (MT)



Remaining performances: 10pm on Thu, Jul 11, noon on Jul 12 and 6:30pm on Jul 14; Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman Ave).



* Fringe plays cost $8 to $10; check out the hotline at (416) 966-1062 for Patron’s Picks, noon performances added on the final Sunday (Jul 14).