Arts & Entertainment
3 min

The 2015 Ottawa Fringe Festival’s queerest

A guide to the must-see plays at this year’s theatre spectacular

The Elephant Girls

Maggie was an enforcer. She was a tough-as-nails bull dyke who beat people up, broke their legs and even chopped off a finger if one of the girls betrayed the gang. But she loved Alice Diamond, their queen.

When playwright and history buff Margo MacDonald heard about the historic gang The Forty Elephants, an all-female offshoot of the better-known Elephant and Castle Gang, she had to know more. The Forty Elephants was a shoplifting ring that worked in London from approximately 1870 to 1950. They eventually severed ties with the boys, and in about 1916, when Alice Diamond took command, they began operating with grim efficiency.

“I found in my reading that some people said they kept a few men around to do the dirty work, but one paper swore that wasn’t true; what they had were several women who dressed as men and acted as the gang’s enforcers,” MacDonald says. “As soon as I read that I thought, Oh, that’s what I’m going to write about.”

So she invented Maggie, the lesbian enforcer. While there’s no record of Maggie, she’s the sort of figure who could easily have existed. Extrapolating from newspaper clippings and police reports, MacDonald imagined what this gang must have been like and came up with a one-woman show — she gave Maggie a story to tell.

In men’s clothing, MacDonald plays Maggie, a dapper, hard-talking Brit. The gang’s long gone and she’s reflecting on her life and her time with The Forty Elephants. It’s a tale of brutality, the gang’s downfall and unrequited love for the woman who made them a force the police preferred not to tangle with.

In On It

Brian and Brad’s relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was theirs. It was their project that they could decide to continue or end, depending on how things seemed to them. But Brian was robbed of that choice when a driver veered into the wrong lane, killing Brad.  

Now Brian’s out for closure. He’s writing a play about the driver who took away his partner — why did his car cross the road’s centre line? Was it intentional? And Brad’s ghost is there, seemingly intent on hashing out their unfinished relationship business.

Director Adam Smith of Too Much Sugar Productions says he and his co-director Matt Minter chose to produce Daniel MacIvor’s play about Brian and Brad because “MacIvor makes you work for a play, and it’s a beautiful puzzle once you’ve fitted it together.”

First produced in 2001 in Vancouver, this humorous and poignant work certainly does make the audience think. On one side of the stage, Brian struggles to write the play amid the spectral Brad’s interruptions. And as each scene is completed, we cut to the other side of the stage where it is then performed.

“Then we go back to [Brian and Brad’s ghost] and they’ll argue about whether it was a good scene,” Smith says. “And as they’re going through this process, they’re exploring their relationship, whether they were a good thing or a bad thing and what the death meant.”

Magical Mystery Detour

Sandra just received a letter written by her recently-deceased mother saying she should take that trip after all. Sandra and her mother had planned to travel from London, England to Land’s End (the most westerly point of mainland Cornwall) to see the 2012 Transit of Venus.

Sandra’s busy, stressed-out, and her relationship just ended — in order words, a contemplative road trip to some remote place is the best thing for her.

This one-woman show, which premiered in 2012 at the Boulder International Fringe Festival, is the third part of Gemma Wilcox’s trilogy about Sandra. It’s a stand-alone piece, so those who haven’t seen The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over and Shadows in Bloom can still enjoy it.

Sandra gets diverted repeatedly on her trip, running into various silly characters — human, animal, steel (a car from Scotland) and mythical. “The trip is like her life,” Wilcox says. “Much of what she thought she’d be doing with her life isn’t happening.”

“With the support of [various characters she meets], she learns to stop struggling so much against what’s happening, and allow herself to grieve [for her mother] and to come to terms with no longer being in a relationship.”

The play is loosely based on events in Wilcox’s own life (minus the talking cars, dogs, flies and the like) and she’s considering doing a fourth part based on a surprising recent development: her first relationship with another woman. “I never had any idea I’d be with a woman and here I am. I do really want to write a piece about this happening at 37 [years old].”

Ottawa Fringe Festival
Wednesday, June 17–Sunday, June 28, 2015
ottawafringe.com